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Supernatural Love: Poems, 1976-1992

Supernatural Love: Poems, 1976-1992

by Gjertrud Schnackenberg

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The poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg, whom William Logan once called "the most talented American poet under the age of forty," published her first book of poems in 1982. She has since become one of our most respected authors of verse.

Schnackenberg's first three books, collected in Supernatural Love, show the thrilling evolution of a unique voice in today's


The poet Gjertrud Schnackenberg, whom William Logan once called "the most talented American poet under the age of forty," published her first book of poems in 1982. She has since become one of our most respected authors of verse.

Schnackenberg's first three books, collected in Supernatural Love, show the thrilling evolution of a unique voice in today's letters. From an early mastery in which precision and heartbreak are inseparable, her poetry accelerates book by book through the searching, dense, and metaphysical imagery--as well as the cascading syntax--which have become her signature. Whether we are witnessing her classic portrait of Darwin in his last year or discovering the vertiginous brillance of her elegy for the Byzantine monuments of Ravenna, we find in Schnackenberg gemlike poems offered as visionary documents, unmistakable in their glittering range and passion--and never the same twice.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[Schnackenberg] submits the claims of aesthetic form to a searing interrogation . . . a visionary encounter with 'the source of poetry.'” —Rosanna Warren, The New Republic

“Profound, sweeping, emotional . . . One thinks of Blake's insight, 'Eternity is in love with the productions of time.'” —Stephen Yenser, The Yale Review

“A dazzler . . . Rich, even ornate at times, [Schnackenberg's] poetry carries its weight as if it were no weight at all, by its thematic intensity and by the sheer beauty of its imagery.” —Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times

Library Journal
Schnackenberg does not write the intimate little odes so dear to the hearts of many of today's current writing instructors. Grand and imposing, her poems storm through civilization, paying homage to art's greatest figures in language that is formal, articulate, and cool and glittering as a knife. Even when she touches on personal issues her neighbors, her father's death she works large. This year, she coupled a fine selected works with a new book-length poem that plunges back into Greek myth, ultimately investigating the tension between art and life. Decidedly different reading. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.65(d)

Read an Excerpt



The kitchen's old-fashioned planter's clock portrays
A smiling moon as it dips down below
Two hemispheres, stars numberless as days,
And peas, tomatoes, onions, as they grow
Under that happy sky; but though the sands
Of time put on this vegetable disguise,
The clock covers its face with long, thin hands.
Another smiling moon begins to rise.

We drift in the small rowboat an hour before
Morning begins, the lake weeds grown so long
They touch the surface, tangling in an oar.
You've brought coffee, cigars, and me along.
You sit still, like a monument in a hall,
Watching for trout. A bat slices the air
Near us, I shriek, you look at me, that's all,
One long sobering look, a smile everywhere
But on your mouth. The mighty hills shriek back.
You turn back to the hake, chuckle, and clamp
Your teeth on your cigar. We watch the black
Water together. Our tennis shoes are damp.
Something moves on your thoughtful face, recedes.
Here, for the first time ever, I see how,
Just as a fish lurks deep in water weeds,
A thought of death will lurk deep down, will show
One eye, then quietly disappear in you.
It's time to go. Above the hills I see
The faint moon slowly dipping out of view,
Sea of Tranquillity, Sea of Serenity,
Ocean of Storms
... You start to row, the boat
Skimming the lake where light begins to spread.
You stop the oars, midair. We twirl and float.

I'm in thekitchen. You are three days dead.
A smiling moon rises on fertile ground,
White stars and vegetables. The sky is blue.
Clock hands sweep by it all, they twirl around,
Pushing me, oarless, from the shore of you.


Steinway in German script above the keys,
Letters like dragons curling stiff gold tails,
Gold letters, ivory keys, the black wood cracked
By years of sunlight, into dragon scales.
Your music breathed its fire into the room.
We'd hear jazz sprouting thistles of desire,
Or jazz like the cat's cry from beneath
The passing tire, when you played the piano
Afternoons; or "Au Clair de la Lune."
Scarlatti's passages fluttered like pages.
Sometimes you turned to Brahms, a depth, more true,
You studied him to find out how he turned
Your life into a memory for you.

In Number 6 of Opus 118,
Such brief directions, Andante, sotto voce:
The opening notes like single water drops
Each with an oceanic undertow
That pulled you deeper even as you surfaced
Hundreds of miles from where the first note drew
You in, and made your life a memory,
Something that happened long ago to you.

And through that Intermezzo you could see
As through a two-way mirror, until it seemed
You looked back at your life as at a room,
And saw those images that would compose
Your fraction of eternity, the hallway
In its absolute repose, the half-lit room,
The drapes at evening holding the scent of heat,

The marble long-lost under the piano,
A planet, secretive, cloud-wrapped, and blue,
Silent and gorgeous by your foot, making
A god lost in reflection, a god of you.


Walking home from school one afternoon,
Slightly abstracted, what were you thinking of?
Turks in Vienna? Luther on Christian love?
Or were you with Van Gogh beneath the moon
With candles in his hatband, painting stars
Like singed hairs spinning in a candle flame?
Or giant maps where men take, lose, reclaim
Whole continents with pins? Or burning cars
And watchtowers and army-censored news
In Chile, in the Philippines, in Greece,
Colonels running the universities,
Assassinations, executions, coups—

You walked, and overhead some pipsqueak bird
Flew by and dropped a lot of something that
Splattered, right on the good professor, splat.
Now, on the ancient Rhine, so Herod heard,
The old Germanic chieftains always read
Such droppings as good luck: opening the door,
You bowed to improve my view of what you wore,
So luckily, there on the center of your head.

Man is not a god, that's what you said
After your heart gave out, to comfort me
Who came to comfort you but sobbed to see
Your heartbeat zigzagging on a TV overhead.
You knew the world was in a mess, and so,
By God, were you; and yet I never knew
A man who loved the world as much as you,
And that love was the last thing to let go.


Death makes of your abandoned face
A secret house an empty place
And I come back wanting that much
To ask you to come back I touch

The door where are you it's so black
The taste of smoke is smoke I back
Away when creeping lines of fire
Appear and travel faster higher

Where are you and beneath the floor
God turns the gas jets up they soar
The way flames soar and I should run
And blackness burning like the sun

All empty underneath my hair
I start to chuckle where oh where
My brimming eyes don't understand
I press my grin against my hand


Meet the Author

Gjertrud Schnackenberg was born in Tacoma, Washington. She graduated from Mount Holyoke, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from that college in 1985. She has also received the Lavan Younger Poets Award (judged by Robert Fitzgerald) from the Academy of American Poets, and the Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

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