Totem

Overview

“Gregory Pardlo . . . wants to explore the druidic function of art, the works of jazz musicians, painters, poets, and others who live imaginatively, expand reality, and make imagination free.”—Brenda Hillman, from the introduction

Totem, winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize, is the debut of a poet who has been listening for decades. In his youth, Gregory Pardlo heard stories of factory hours and picket lines from his father; in the bars, clubs, and on the radio he listens to jazz and blues, the rhythms, ...

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Overview

“Gregory Pardlo . . . wants to explore the druidic function of art, the works of jazz musicians, painters, poets, and others who live imaginatively, expand reality, and make imagination free.”—Brenda Hillman, from the introduction

Totem, winner of the APR/Honickman First Book Prize, is the debut of a poet who has been listening for decades. In his youth, Gregory Pardlo heard stories of factory hours and picket lines from his father; in the bars, clubs, and on the radio he listens to jazz and blues, the rhythms, beats, and aspirations of which all of which seep into his poems.

A former Cave Canem fellow, Pardlo creates work that is deeply autobiographical, drifting between childhood and adult life. He speaks a language simultaneously urban and highbrow, seamlessly switching from art analysis to sneakers hung over the telephone lines. Deeply rooted in a blue-collar world, he produces snapshots of a life that is so specific it becomes universal.

From “Vincent’s Shoes”:

On the wall above my desk: a pen
and ink affair which I copied
from a print hanging in the sushi
bar down the block:
inflected necks of pedestrians on a bridge
in the rain and here I hung
the hightops from a power line.
It was in me to do. I felt it in my gut
the way Vincent might have felt
the wheat fields and the smoking socket
of the sun rattling, tweezed days
late into the ear of an aluminum bowl

Gregory Pardlo teaches at Medgar Evers College, The City University of New York, and lives in Brooklyn.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780977639533
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2007
  • Series: APR Honickman 1st Book Prize Series
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 1,288,325
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Gregory Pardlo won the APR/Honickman First Book Prize for his debut volume of poetry, Totem. He teaches creative writing at Medgar Evers College, CUNY, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 22, 2009

    A reviewer

    Pardlo has an inimitable style, language--he cannot be classified. Not that any genuine poet can--but Pardlo for example would be particularly difficult to parody. Brenda Hillman in her Introduction tries to cast a net over him: '[Pardlo's] work brings together philosophical musings, abstract thought, rhetorical heightened diction, odd metaphors, and intense emotional utterance'. For this African American poet presently teaching at CUNY, the title 'Totem' is 'a word, an idea, a figure [of] two syllables [emblematic] of the poet's spiritual origins. It also connotes a shared guardian nature a family might hold in common it is a symbol that draws the individual into collective consciousness.' [also from Hillman's Preface] In Pardlo's more complex poems, one does find the dualisms of struggle and surrender, conflict and serenity, concern and hope, wandering and revelation. 'What odds/do those birds stand to chances anyway?/Prevention is akin to greed. Say recovery/and a sermon salts the air.../Jersey's domed capitol looks like a junkyard/of Church bells/a reliquary of Sundays/wracked and laid to rest...Another prays the next wet pebble/be the one that makes a beach./Paydirt. We should be so lucky.' [from Atlantic City Sunday Morning] The heterogeneity of objects, images, and language of Pardlo's poems is more than inventory, discursiveness, or observation. He sees the earth will be redeemed in its entirety or not at all.

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