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Swan Electric: Poems

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"Bernard has written a gorgeous, tough, haunting book."—Frank Bidart
April Bernard's idiosyncratic and profoundly emotional voice combines flights of fancy, moral sternness, and wit in broadly explorative poems—from a memoir sequence about the East Village in the 1980s, to "disheveled" sonnets of self-interrogation, to darkly comic hallucinations.

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Swan Electric: Poems

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Overview

"Bernard has written a gorgeous, tough, haunting book."—Frank Bidart
April Bernard's idiosyncratic and profoundly emotional voice combines flights of fancy, moral sternness, and wit in broadly explorative poems—from a memoir sequence about the East Village in the 1980s, to "disheveled" sonnets of self-interrogation, to darkly comic hallucinations.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
“A marvelous poet.”
W. S. Merwin
“A poet of obvious gifts and power and ambition, unsparing and brilliant.”
The New Yorker
At the heart of Bernard's latest collection is a series of poems about living in the East Village in the nineteen-eighties. The series, named for a Kurt Weill song, forms a sort of loose-leaf memoir, and includes just the personalities we might expect -- poets, musicians, and art critics, most of them thin and poorly dressed. In "Dial-an-Edict," the speaker and her cohort live like gentry in a dull provincial town; dispatching wisdom via telephone, they "pretended to know the (one or two) things we did not." Bernard misses none of the irony intrinsic to her youthful ideals, yet she also manages to distill the pain of a hopeful, uncertain time. Her characters struggle to remake the world, even if, in the end, it is only "the world of our friends and their friends."
W. S. Merwin
A poet of obvious gifts and power and ambition, unsparing and brilliant.
Publishers Weekly
Throughout this heterogeneous second collection, Bernard's speaker works hard to read significance into personal encounters and recollections, ranging from vague, internal musings to memories of the East Village in the 1980s to imagined encounters with dead writers, celebrities and animals, among others. In the opening poems, Bernard's speakers circumnavigate a generally somber internal landscape, often using the natural world as a point of reference. Sea, sky, sun, wind, light and snow make frequent appearances, and seem to occasion some of the book's most vague and tortuous musings: "How often is too often, what if this heat tore through me constant as the sky I tear apart...." Quite often, the poems' speakers seem frustrated or even bored by their own interiority ("...oh it's just the same old dream of melting"). Similar problems haunt the East Village sequence, in which an evocative, though essentially familiar cast of characters the "squatter," the "lover of a famous poet" play out the routines and pretensions of countercultural life, but rarely offer the reader either a surprising insight or a startlingly good story. In the book's final two sections, Bernard seems to reach for an imaginative or fantastical escape from the biographical and its attendant ennui; the result is that speakers encounter Jimmy Stewart or the dancing bear from Captain Kangaroo. Occasionally though, the freewheeling imagination seems poised to succeed, with flashes of music and humor that could well suggest strategies for future work: "Seek error. Forgive soot. Let the lion find his own way about the house, and provide him a swinging door. Feed the lion." (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393325089
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/19/2003
  • Pages: 88
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

April Bernard

April Bernard is the author of three poetry collections and a novel. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, the Boston Review, the New York Review of Books, and elsewhere. She lives in Bennington, Vermont.

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Table of Contents

See It Does Rise 15
Tatters 16
Masabeesec 17
Ktaadn 18
Sonnet in E 19
The Wise Word, The Good Word 20
English as a Second Language 22
Hogback 23
Dome 24
Four Winds 25
NY Sch 26
Music through the Ceiling 27
Was There No Telephone? 31
They Were All Crazy 33
What Would Happen Then 36
Cold and Dignified 37
Dial-an-Edict 38
Fears 40
Cosi fan tutte 41
The Next Little Dollar 42
Fire Power 44
Summer Out of Town 45
Coffee & Dolls 47
Opera Interlude 49
Hell 51
Funny Weather 52
Failed Marriages of the Movie Stars 57
Wampeer 58
That's What I Said 59
She Runs with Her Skirts Up 61
Pierced 62
Procedurals 63
Sport 64
Across from Grace 65
Fort-Da 66
Go Between 67
Not Rome 68
Although Many Things Make Me Nervous and Sad 69
As Fish 71
Large Crow 75
Jimmy Stewart 76
Dancing Bear 77
Dead Brother 79
The Women Who Won't Appear 80
Blake and Snake 82
White Tree 84
Coda: Swan Electric 85
Notes 87
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