The Two Yvonnes: Poems

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Overview

This is the second collection from a Brooklyn poet whose work many readers will know from the New Yorker. Jessica Greenbaum's narrative poems, in which objects and metaphor share highest honors, attempt revelation through close observation of the everyday. Written in "plain American that cats and dogs can read," as Marianne Moore phrased it, these contemporary lyrics bring forward the challenges of Wis?awa Szymborska, the reportage of Yehuda Amichai, and the formal forays of Marilyn Hacker. The book asks at ...

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The Two Yvonnes: Poems

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Overview

This is the second collection from a Brooklyn poet whose work many readers will know from the New Yorker. Jessica Greenbaum's narrative poems, in which objects and metaphor share highest honors, attempt revelation through close observation of the everyday. Written in "plain American that cats and dogs can read," as Marianne Moore phrased it, these contemporary lyrics bring forward the challenges of Wis?awa Szymborska, the reportage of Yehuda Amichai, and the formal forays of Marilyn Hacker. The book asks at heart: how does life present itself to us, and how do we create value from our delights and losses? Riding on Kenneth Koch's instruction to "find one true feeling and hang on," The Two Yvonnes overtakes the present with candor, meditation, and the classic aspiration to shape lyric into a lasting force.

Moving from 1960s Long Island, to 1980s Houston, to today's Brooklyn, the poems range in subject from the pages of the Talmud to a squirrel trapped in a kitchen. One tells the story of young lovers "warmed by the rays / Their pelvic bones sent over the horizon of their belts," while another describes the Bronx Zoo in winter, where the giraffes pad about "like nurses walking quietly / outside a sick room." Another poem defines the speaker via a "packing slip" of her parts--"brown eyes, brown hair, from hirsute tribes in Poland and Russia." The title poem, in which the speaker and friends stumble through a series of flawed memories about each other, unearths the human vulnerabilities that shape so much of the collection.

______

From The Two Yvonnes:

WHEN MY DAUGHTER GOT SICK

Jessica Greenbaum

Her cries impersonated all the world;

The fountain's bubbling speech was just a trick

But still I turned and looked, as she implored,

Or leaned toward muffled noises through the bricks:

Just radio, whose waves might be her wav-

ering, whose pitch might be her quavering,

I turned toward, where, the sirens might be "Save

Me," "Help me," "Mommy, Mommy"--everything

She, too, had said, since sloughing off the world.

She took to bed, and now her voice stays fused

To air like outlines of a bygone girl;

The streets, the lake, the room--just places bruised

Without her form, the way your sheets still hold

Rough echoes of the risen sleeper, cold.

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Editorial Reviews

Tribune
This collection, in Paul Muldoon's series of Princeton Contemporary Poets, arrives trailing clouds of glory. . . . [Jessica Greenbaum] has a clear, precise, authentic and seductive narrative voice.
— Keith Richmond
Booklist
Greenbaum's work, written in the everyday patois of urban Americans, has been characterized as edgy and idiosyncratic, localized and wry, and she's earned comparisons to Whitman and Hart Crane for her lyrical familiarity with the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and environs. . . . Greenbaum's storyteller is not just interesting, but interested, and invested, in the world. Be it a kibbutz outside Tel Aviv, or Texas in the twentieth century, hers is a truly cosmopolitan perspective, refreshing and unique, but now practiced and increasingly refined.
— Diego Báez
Booklist - Diego Baez
Greenbaum's work, written in the everyday patois of urban Americans, has been characterized as edgy and idiosyncratic, localized and wry, and she's earned comparisons to Whitman and Hart Crane for her lyrical familiarity with the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and environs. . . . Greenbaum's storyteller is not just interesting, but interested, and invested, in the world. Be it a kibbutz outside Tel Aviv, or Texas in the twentieth century, hers is a truly cosmopolitan perspective, refreshing and unique, but now practiced and increasingly refined.
Tribune - Keith Richmond
This collection, in Paul Muldoon's series of Princeton Contemporary Poets, arrives trailing clouds of glory. . . . [Jessica Greenbaum] has a clear, precise, authentic and seductive narrative voice.
Los Angeles Review of Books - Lisa Russ Spaar
Readers can be grateful that the poems collected in The Two Yvonnes are between covers at last. In it we find Greenbaum, in her clear, Brooklyn vernacular—usually in the first person—exploring the preoccupations of Inventing Difficulty: issues of story and history, of the places that we inhabit and those that inhabit us, especially the specular urban turf of the city.
Booklist - Diego Báez
Greenbaum's work, written in the everyday patois of urban Americans, has been characterized as edgy and idiosyncratic, localized and wry, and she's earned comparisons to Whitman and Hart Crane for her lyrical familiarity with the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and environs. . . . Greenbaum's storyteller is not just interesting, but interested, and invested, in the world. Be it a kibbutz outside Tel Aviv, or Texas in the twentieth century, hers is a truly cosmopolitan perspective, refreshing and unique, but now practiced and increasingly refined.
Women's Review of Books - Robin Becker
Greenbaum's achievement rests in her superb control of form and tone, her quirky, self-deprecating Jewish humor, and, when required, the quiet restraint that bespeaks great feeling.
From the Publisher

One of Library Journal's Best Books in Poetry for 2012

"[Greenbaum's] great intelligence, skill with abstraction, humor, and talent for endings raise her poems far above the mundane."--Publishers Weekly

"Greenbaum's work, written in the everyday patois of urban Americans, has been characterized as edgy and idiosyncratic, localized and wry, and she's earned comparisons to Whitman and Hart Crane for her lyrical familiarity with the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and environs. . . . Greenbaum's storyteller is not just interesting, but interested, and invested, in the world. Be it a kibbutz outside Tel Aviv, or Texas in the twentieth century, hers is a truly cosmopolitan perspective, refreshing and unique, but now practiced and increasingly refined."--Diego Bez, Booklist

"This collection, in Paul Muldoon's series of Princeton Contemporary Poets, arrives trailing clouds of glory. . . . [Jessica Greenbaum] has a clear, precise, authentic and seductive narrative voice."--Keith Richmond, Tribune

"While Greenbaum finds it 'odd that just one key / let me in my front door / and into my life every day,' her fluidly, even propulsively written second collection is itself a splendid key to everyday experience."--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (Best Books 2012: Poetry)

"Readers can be grateful that the poems collected in The Two Yvonnes are between covers at last. In it we find Greenbaum, in her clear, Brooklyn vernacular--usually in the first person--exploring the preoccupations of Inventing Difficulty: issues of story and history, of the places that we inhabit and those that inhabit us, especially the specular urban turf of the city."--Lisa Russ Spaar, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Greenbaum's achievement rests in her superb control of form and tone, her quirky, self-deprecating Jewish humor, and, when required, the quiet restraint that bespeaks great feeling."--Robin Becker, Women's Review of Books

"In breathtaking free verse, Jessica Greenbaum's poetry is packed with descriptive moments of humor, music, imagery and imagination. Entering her narrative-driven world feels like an exhilarating roller coaster ride or a kaleidoscope of surprises."--Greta Aart, Cerise Press

"In these autobiographical poems, Greenbaum maintains a light touch and keeps the focus steadily away from psychological theorizing about who did what to whom. She stays resolutely rooted in the down-to-earth, the comic, the commonsensical, and the moral, while not evading the sad and grievous. Greenbaum's poems are domestic and communal, buttressed by a sustaining network of allegiances and loyalties among a circle of friends and family. . . . Greenbaum's subjects may be quotidian, but a handful of poems have an originality and insight that moved me."--Zara Raab, Verse Wisconsin

Library Journal
Greenbaum's wondrous poems seem to bloom out of nowhere, like "a yarn store/ only open after six," in which "shelves lined the walls like mini-bunk beds/ and resting skeins filled them/ in colored waves / of quiet…." If this second book (after Inventing Difficulty) contains echoes of Elizabeth Bishop—a mining of the ordinary fueled by a childlike imagination—it also depicts a life lived with children in an urban, contemporary voice: "what could be more spazzy than arriving early for a book party?" Humor usually wins out over pain, as in "Packing Slip," which inventories the author's physical and mental state, or the shaggy-dog story of the title poem, whose speaker is mistaken by friends for another friend, throwing into question the notion of identity itself. The formal poems seem a bit rushed, but this is a minor flaw. Greenbaum spins magic from organic form: the sporadic dribble of a neighbor boy's basketball, or the "sheer luck" of coincidence in the date "Seven Seven Seventy Seven," which frames a coming-of-age summer in pregentrification New York. VERDICT A joy to read: deliciously long, unhurried poems that always arrive where they don't seem to be going; for all poetry collections.—Ellen Kaufman, New York
Publishers Weekly
Most of a life takes place between the covers of this second book from Greenbaum (Inventing Difficulty). With fluent free verse broken up by sonnets, an abecedary and a pantoun, in allegories, comic anecdotes, and pivotal, confessional memories, Greenbaum lets us travel along with her as she grows from too-patient girl to agitated student, from the mother of a sick young child to “all the sensations of being alive” after the child (to judge by the poems) has moved out. Always eloquent, Greenbaum can seem sentimental. Most of the time, though (as with Carl Dennis), her great intelligence, skill with abstraction, humor, and talent for endings raise her poems far above the mundane. Greenbaum deals especially well with the tricky, cliché-ridden subject of joy. “Gratitude’s Anniversary” connects a childhood “place of thrill and peacefulness” (and solitude) to her happiest moments as an adult. “No Ideas but in Things” follows a squirrel that the poet can’t chase from her house, though it seems really to be about empty nesters and about missing the people you love: “We name life/ in relation to whatever we step out from when we/ open the door, and whatever comes back in on its own.” (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691156637
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/2012
  • Series: Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 548,932
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Jessica Greenbaum is the author of the award-winning poetry collection "Inventing Difficulty". Her poems and essays have appeared in the "New Yorker", the "Nation", "Poetry", "Southwest Review", and elsewhere. She is the poetry editor of "upstreet".
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Next Door 1
Promised Town 3
House Phone 5
Anthology 7
What We Read Then 9
The First, Youngest Men 11
Seven, Seven, Seventy-Seven 12
The Voice of Peace 14
Houston in the Early Eighties 15
Without Measure 17
Stowaway's Ascent 18
One Key 19
Packing Slip 21
A Line from Jimi Hendrix Comes to Mind 22
Early April 23
"This" and "That" 24
When My Daughter Got Sick 25
Beauty's Rearrangements 26
What For is For 28
Before 29
Cosmic Page 30
A Poem for S. 31
Little White Truck 32
Sonnets for the Autobiographical Urban Dweller 33
Baldo's 34
Perfume's Journey 35
Little "the" Rules the World 37
Gardens, Passover 38
Streaming Nancy 39
The Use of Metaphor 42
God 43
The Gold Standard 44
Marriage Made in Brooklyn 45
Gratitude's Anniversary 47
What to Expect 48
My Hands in Winter 49
Firefly 50
One Block from the Navy Yard 51
The Moment We Can't Stay 52
For You Today 53
No Ideas but in Things 54
The Two Yvonnes 56

Dedications 58

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    Posted December 7, 2012

    Knockout

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