The Selvage: Poems


A magnificent new collection from National Book Award finalist and Kingsley Tufts Award winner Linda Gregerson

In eloquent poems about Ariadne, Theseus, and Dido, the death of a father, a bombing raid in Lebanon, and in a magnificent series detailing Masaccio’s Brancacci frescoes, The Selvage deftly traces the “line between” the “wonder and woe” of human experience. Keenly attuned to the precariousness of our existence in a fractured world—of “how little the world will spare ...

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The Selvage: Poems

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A magnificent new collection from National Book Award finalist and Kingsley Tufts Award winner Linda Gregerson

In eloquent poems about Ariadne, Theseus, and Dido, the death of a father, a bombing raid in Lebanon, and in a magnificent series detailing Masaccio’s Brancacci frescoes, The Selvage deftly traces the “line between” the “wonder and woe” of human experience. Keenly attuned to the precariousness of our existence in a fractured world—of “how little the world will spare us”—Gregerson explores the cruelty of human and political violence, such as the recent island massacre in Norway and “the current nightmare” of war and terrorism. And yet, running as a “counterpoint” to violence and cruelty is “The reigning brilliance / of the genome and / the risen moon . . . ,” “The / arachnid’s exoskeleton. The kestrel’s eye.” The Selvage is the boldest evidence yet that Linda Gregerson’s unique combination of dramatic lyricism and fierce intelligence transcends current fashions to claim an enduring place in American poetry.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gregerson opens her fifth volume with gritty American scenes—the farms where she grew up, with their Scandinavian immigrants, “the map// of blessed second chances writ in tasseled/ corn,” the school bus stops of blue- and of white-collar towns, occasions for lessons about place, about social class, about “honest work.” She then takes off into Latin literature, Christian tradition, Renaissance art, Greek myth. “Theseus Forgetting” compares the checkered record of that Athenian hero to the checkered records of our lives, and to the history of classical reading: “What comes to us in pieces—think// of Sappho on the midden heap—lays claim/ to us in ways the merely/ perfect can’t.” Gregerson uses her learning while trying to share it; weaker poems can read like remarks on their sources, but the strongest stand on their own, whether considering Ovid by the Black Sea (he didn’t give the place a fair chance) or reacting, without allusion or ornament, to grisly child abuse: “When I’m/ allowed to run the world you’ll/ have to get a license just to take the course on parenting and// everyone/ will fail it and good riddance we’ll die out.” She is not often so angry, but she can be that powerful, that direct, regularly. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In this fifth collection, National Book Award finalist Gregerson (Magnetic North) offers poems that reside within the margins of myth and reality, religion and science: "The fabric/ every minute bound/ by just that pulling-out that holds/ the raveling together." Most often employing winding and rhythmic couplets and tercets, Gregerson re-envisions mythology and history even as she makes metaphors of the craft of slating and the science of photography, for instance. A selvage, as referenced in the title, is a self-binding that keeps fabric from unraveling, and perhaps these poems offer a way for narrator and reader to keep the world from coming undone—though the narrator does suggest that "the only cure is living longer than the/ tyranny." In the end, these poems straddle the edge of despair ("Fragile the line between wonder/ and woe") but find balance in small salvations. Gregerson's "Obsession/ at the barricades" is rooted in language and lyric that is both elegant and shattered, and she allows readers their footing, a way to hang on. VERDICT A highly recommended book by an important poet.—Karla Huston, Wisconsin Acad. of Sciences, Arts & Letters, Madison
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547750095
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/23/2012
  • Pages: 112
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

LINDA GREGERSON is the author of Waterborne, The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep, and Fire in the Conservatory. A recent Guggenheim Fellow, she teaches Renaissance literature and creative writing at the University of Michigan. Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry as well as in the Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, Ploughshares, the Yale Review, TriQuarterly, and other publications. Among her many awards and honors are an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, four Pushcart Prizes, and a Kingsley Tufts Award.
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Read an Excerpt

The Selvage

So door to door among the shotgun shacks in Cullowhee and Waynesville in our cleanest shirts and ma’am and excuse me were all but second

nature now and this one woman comes to the door she must have weighed three hundred pounds Would you be willing to tell us who you plan to vote

for we say and she turns around with
Everett who’re we voting for? The black guy says Everett. The black guy she says except that wasn’t the language

they used they used the word we’ve all agreed to banish from even our innermost thoughts, which is when
I knew he was going to win.

At which point the speaker discovers,
as if the lesson were new,
she has told the story at her own expense.
Amazing, said my sister’s chairman’s

second wife, to think what you’ve amounted to considering where you’re from,
which she imagined was a compliment.
One country, friends. Where when

we have to go there, as, depend upon it, fat or thin, regenerate or blinkered-to-the-end, we shall,
they have to take us in. I saw

a riverful of geese as I drove home across our one-lane bridge. Four hundred of them easily, close-massed against the current and the bitter wind (some settled on the ice) and just

the few at a time who’d loosen rank to gather again downstream. As if to paraphrase. The fabric every minute bound

by just that pulling-out that holds the raveling together. You were driving all this time? said Steven. Counting geese? (The snow falling into the river.)

No. (The river about to give itself over to ice.) I’d stopped.
Their wingspans, had they not been taking shelter here, as wide as we are tall.

Slight Tremor

The fine fourth finger of his fine right hand,

just slightly, when he’s tracking our path

on his iPhone or repairing the clasp

on my watch I
will not think about

the myelin sheath.
Slight tremor only,

transient, so the flaw in the

pavement must have been my

mother’s back.


Smothered up in gauze, the sky’s
   been healing for a week or

two, conserving its basin of gruel.
   The shops have closed

in sympathy. The ferry’s ministrations
   barely mark the hour. And just

when we’d convinced ourselves that
   beauty unsubdued betrays

a coarsened mind, the fabric starts
   to loosen, lift, and daylight

all unblighted takes a gaudy good-
   night bow. What sodden

indistinction just an hour ago had all
   but persuaded us not to

regret resumes its first divisions:
   slate from cinder, ash

from smoke, warm dapple-gray from
   moleskin, dove- from

Quaker-gray from taupe, until
   the blackwater satins unroll their

gorgeous lengths above a sharpening
   partition of lake-and-loam.

Give up yet? says the cirro-strato-sable
   brush. Then watch

what I can do with orange. And,
   flood-lit, ink-besotted, so

assails the upper atmosphere that
   all our better judgment

fails. The Alps? They’ve seen it all
   before. They’ve flattened

into waiting mode. The people?
   Flat bedazzled. But

in fairness had a shorter way to fall.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments v
The Selvage 1
Pajama Quotient 4
Slight Tremor 7
Constitutional 8
Slaters’ Measure 10
Catch 17
Lately, I’ve taken to 21
Getting and Spending 25
Ariadne in Triumph 31
Theseus Forgetting 35
Dido Refuses to Speak 38
From the Life of Saint Peter 49
Her Argument for the Existence of God 58
Blink 61
Ovid in Exile 64
Varenna 67
“. . . More Instructive Than a Long Trip to Europe” 69
Still Life 72
Notes 79

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