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The Street of Clocks

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The poems gathered in THE STREET OF CLOCKS are lyrical monologues urgently delivered by a narrator who both loves the world and has intense quarrels with it. Often set against a vivid landscape—the rural America of Thomas Lux's childhood and unidentified places south of the border—these poems speak with mesmerizing intensity from rivers and swamps, deserts and lawns, jungles and the depths of the sea. They address the snakes, parrots, or sand fleas living there, as well as their human cohabitants, who are ...

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Overview

The poems gathered in THE STREET OF CLOCKS are lyrical monologues urgently delivered by a narrator who both loves the world and has intense quarrels with it. Often set against a vivid landscape—the rural America of Thomas Lux's childhood and unidentified places south of the border—these poems speak with mesmerizing intensity from rivers and swamps, deserts and lawns, jungles and the depths of the sea. They address the snakes, parrots, or sand fleas living there, as well as their human cohabitants, who are sometimes benign, as in the beautiful title poem ("Meet me there, you remember, the corner / of Paris and Porter"), and sometimes emphatically not so. The language is distilled and musical, lucid and strange, playful and dead serious, and always specific. Thomas Lux's first all-new volume in seven years is a significant addition to the work of an utterly original, highly accomplished poet. As Sven Birkerts has written, "Lux may be one of the poets on whom the future of the genre depends. He has the stuff to win readers back from their unhappy places of exile."

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
"People are getting a little sick of this ivory-tower, incredibly obscure poetry that makes them feel stupid," Lux once told me. "Poets themselves are taking the responsibility of trying to reestablish an audience and really speak to people and not be so inward and so private." While many contemporary poets attempt to reproduce a bemused and wry postmodern humor, few of them manage to capture what audiences can readily recognize as lived life. Lux, however, lives up to his convictions. Lux has a knack for discovering riches in the plainest, most immediate language. In this collection, poems about the heart's various affections and irritations inspire imaginative yet accessible worlds (you feel, for instance, as if you know the boy who lives next door to the obsessive guy who is always mowing his lawn in "The Man Into Whose Yard You Should Not Hit Your Ball"). The kind of self-absorbed language that often keeps readers at a distance cannot be found in this lovely collection of poems, in which the unexpected is blended with the familiar.
—Stephen Whited

(Excerpted Review)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Mixing shock and tenderness in ways Lux fans have long loved, this new full-length work arrives six years after New and Selected Poems 1975-1995, and should enjoy a similarly warm reception. "Cucumber Fields Crossed by High-Tension Wires" envisions the vegetables as uneasy families, with "smaller yellow-green children" orphaned when the cukes are picked; "Plague Victims Catapulted over Walls into Besieged City" finds "his sister, Mathilde" trailing "little Tommy" as they fly through the heavens--"just as she did on earth." Instinctive fear of snakes, "Henry Clay's Mouth," the anti-saint called "Thomas the Broken-Mouthed," a local bookie, wheat fields on fire, orange roughy, "prolific squid" and a "Shotgun Loaded with Rock Salt" all appear in one or another of these broken-lined, sadder-but-wiser poems--some constructed around embittered stories, others around a single, titular image. Lux's titles and premises can seem more inventive than the poems he spins out from them: some seem to sacrifice intellect for charm. Moreover, Lux's anecdotal method and his gallows humor (both indebted to dedicatee Stephen Dobyns) can grow old by the end of the book, as when a baby "swallowed by a snake" prompts the poet to croon "bye-bye baby." (Apr.) Forecast: Lux, who teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, is a perennial finalist for prestigious awards; his semipopulist, semisurrealist project places him in the same ballpark, stylistically, as the big-selling Billy Collins, and he already has some following among younger readers. Genuine popularity may still prove elusive, however, without a reading on NPR's A Prairie Home Companion or the like. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A lucid and readable eighth collection of poems, written in a recognizable voice that inspires confidence in the narration and sets the tone with a minimum of effort. His poems lack nothing because of haste: They are crafted carefully and are finished, even polished. Most involve images and lore from the author's boyhood, often from the perspective of a ten-year-old at a Saturday matinee. Although strongly evocative, these portraits of rural America of half-a-century ago are not nostalgic in the usual sense. Just as he has a propensity to focus on moral gray areas, Lux manages simultaneously to disparage and pay homage to the 1950s. Several of his poems are written with an innocent, boyish wit that, when delved, reveals a core of surreal irony. He is a careful observer and listener, and one gets the impression that much of what he is shown, and in turn shows the reader, is privileged. "In the Bedroom Above the Embalming Room" gives us only a glimpse of a mortician's wife feeding the birds-"it would be impolite to look"-but the whole scene is contained in that tableau. These are poems to which one may return for a second, even more enjoyable reading because they are written with care, as though their author had all the time in the world to get them down right.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618086245
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/24/2001
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 64
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Lux holds the Bourne Chair in Poetry and is the director of the McEver Visiting Writers Program at Georgia Institute of Technology. He has been awarded three NEA grants and the Kingsley Tufts Award and is a former Guggenheim Fellow. He lives in Atlanta.

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Read an Excerpt

Cucumber Fields Crossed by High-Tension Wires

The high-tension spires spike the sky beneath which boys bend to pick from prickly vines the deep-sopped fruit, the rind’s green a green sunk in green. They part the plants’ leaves, reach into the nest, and pull out mother, father, fat Uncle Phil.
The smaller yellow-green children stay, for now. The fruit goes in baskets by the side of the row, every thirty feet or so. By these bushels the boys get paid, in cash, at day’s end, this summer of the last days of the empire that will become known as the past, adios, then, the ragged-edged beautiful blink.

Copyright © 2001 by Thomas Lux

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Table of Contents

Contents

Cucumber Fields Crossed by High-Tension Wires 1 The Man into Whose Yard You Should Not Hit Your Ball 2 Plague Victims Catapulted over Walls into Besieged City 3 Bonehead 4 Beauty School 5 In the Bedroom Above the Embalming Room 6 So We Can See the Snakes Coming 7 Thomas the Broken-Mouthed 8 The Handsome Swamp 9 The Blister Test 10 From Grade School Window, Watching Local Bookie Arrested 11 Grain Burning Far Away 12 The Doldrum Fracture Zone 13 The Nerve Doctors 14 The Poison Shirt 15 The Road That Runs Beside the River 16 A Kiss 17 A Bird, Whose Wingtips Were on Fire, 18 Shotgun Loaded with Rock Salt 20 Slimehead (Hoplostethus atlanticus) 21 Pre-Cerebral 22 Salve 23 Jungleside 24 Regarding (Most) Songs 25 A Voiceless Parrot Learns to Read and Write and Play the Trumpet 26 Beggar’s Bowl Stolen 27 A Man Gets Off Work Early 28 Baby, Still Crying, Swallowed by a Snake 29 Rommel’s Asparagus 30 Plastic Castle in Goldfish Bowl 31 Stubblefield Dusted with Snow 32 The Downslope Winds 33 A Library of Skulls 34 Marine Snow at Mid-Depths and Down 36 An Erg 37 The War of Jenkins’s Ear (1739–1741) 38 Lucky 39 The Fish-Strewn Fields 40 Shoreless 41 Unlike, for Example, the Sound of a Riptooth Saw 42 Cordon Sanitaire 43 Henry Clay’s Mouth 44 The Language Animal 45 Pencil Box Shaped Like a Gun 46 The Corner of Paris and Porter 48 The Bandage Factory 50

Notes 51

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