Troy, Unincorporated

Overview

A meditation on the nature of betrayal, the constraints of identity, and the power of narrative, the lyric monologues in Troy, Unincorporated offer a retelling, or refraction, of Chaucer’s tragedy Troilus and Criseyde. The tale’s unrooted characters now find themselves adrift in the industrialized farmlands, strip malls, and half-tenanted “historic” downtowns of south-central Wisconsin, including the real, and literally unincorporated, town of Troy. Allusive and often humorous, they retain an affinity with ...

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Overview

A meditation on the nature of betrayal, the constraints of identity, and the power of narrative, the lyric monologues in Troy, Unincorporated offer a retelling, or refraction, of Chaucer’s tragedy Troilus and Criseyde. The tale’s unrooted characters now find themselves adrift in the industrialized farmlands, strip malls, and half-tenanted “historic” downtowns of south-central Wisconsin, including the real, and literally unincorporated, town of Troy. Allusive and often humorous, they retain an affinity with Chaucer, especially in terms of their roles: Troilus, the good courtly lover, suffers from the weeps, or, in more modern terms, depression. Pandarus, the hard-working catalyst who brings the lovers together in Chaucer’s poem, is here a car mechanic.
            Chaucer’s narrator tells a story he didn’t author, claiming no power to change the course of events, and the narrator and characters in Troy, Unincorporated struggle against a similar predicament. Aware of themselves as literary constructs, they are paradoxically driven by the desire to be autonomous creatures—tale tellers rather than tales told. Thus, though Troy, Unincorporated follows Chaucer’s plot—Criseyde falls in love with Diomedes after leaving Troy to live with her father, who has broken his hip, and Troilus dies of a drug overdose—it moves beyond Troilus’s death to posit a possible fate for Criseyde on this “litel spot of erthe.”

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Editorial Reviews

Linda Gregerson

“With impeccable timing and a fine instinct for the telling detail, Francesca Abbate evokes the plenitudes and the deprivations of human habitation, the nurturing richness of landscape, and the soul-wound wrought by casual defacement. Abbate has a superb capacity for distillation and a mastery of poetic line, and her diction is remarkably flexible, accommodating both the demotic and the lyrical. Her poems are as consistent in quality as they are varied in pacing, surface, and tone. A fine first book.”
Brooklyn Rail - Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

“This story really works in poetic form, the narrative propelled by diary-like observations and meditations. Eventually, the ‘{Chorus:}’ confirms that ‘heroes go down / singing. They go down / with mouths full of thorns.’ In Abbate’s mouth, those thorns have kept their roses.”

 

Library Journal
Retellings of classic stories can mimic the original, creating stuffed costume drama. Or they can aim for the too-relevant contemporaneous and end up flat. Or, like Abbate's first book, a reimaging of Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, they can offer such a fresh take on the original as to reveal what writing is all about. (Chaucer himself was retelling a Middle English story, which drew from the Greek.) Abbate gives us slippery teenage uncertainty, evoked feelingly throughout as our two lovers come together and draw apart in strip-malled mid-America. They reveal themselves in plaintive monolog, as Troilus declares, "I was a boy./ I believed what Beauty said," and Criseyde slowly unfolds: "How sadly my friends and I/ go after the fallen straps/ of our tank tops/ as if worn by some dawning nostalgia/ for the way the wind/ gets to the picnic table." Heartbreak awaits, signaled by a relentless Cassandra: "The halo—no mere incandescence—/ is the brand of the terribly/ fucked." VERDICT Occasionally opaque, decidedly not for lovers of the straightforward, this is vivid, twisty, and satisfying work for anyone who takes contemporary poetry seriously.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226001203
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/22/2012
  • Series: Phoenix Poets Series
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 1,444,256
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Francesca Abbate is associate professor of English at Beloit College. Her poetry has appeared in Field, Iowa Review, NEO, and Poetry, among others.
 

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Read an Excerpt

Troy, Unincorporated


By FRANCESCA ABBATE

THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS

Copyright © 2012 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-00120-3


Chapter One

    And so bifel, whan comen was the tyme
    Of Aperil, whan clothed is the mede
    With newe grene, of lusty Veer the pryme,
    And swote smellen floures white and rede,
    In sondry wises shewed, as I rede,
    The folk of Troie hire observaunces olde,
    Palladiones feste for to holde.

    Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde (I.155–61)


    [PSYCHE'S SONG:]

    Praise me, I told the water lilies, for I am half-invincible,
    half-destructible, half-mad: am, in fact, a divine half

    and a half not, and it's lonely out here and hot,
    and half a lifetime has elapsed on this floating path

    with its canopy of poison sumac, its pale, half-dead
    orchids, the dreams of bog people hidden

    under the planks—so finely pored, so stubble-bladed,
    so adept at heat and loneliness, so not half—for who

    will praise me now, I who was too clever by half,
    who had an idea but no map: narrowing road, clearing,

    the sun like the secret shining in the dark halves of all things,
    like the improbable spirit—house in a wood,

    wet seed under the weight of thought?


    [NARRATOR:]

    Of eighth grade—
      tried reading the Comedies,
    as if to live in the forest naming the flowers
    and flighty things when really

    I was a fat girl
    hurtling the length of a shotgun apartment
    and crying bullet! when she leapt.

    The photo recalls me thus: of vellum, a gulping sheen,

    a blot under the crucifix
    in her red velvet blazer.
      Homeroom: paper plates, lemonade,
    someone's pink-candled birthday cake—

    I stayed at my desk. Penned, making real
      progress:

      Once she watched a house burn and thought
      a commotion of flamingos.
      Once the spring trees cast such delirious nets
      she left someone
      for someone with his hand on the next big thing
      and that was sexy.

      Dear So-and-So,
        I wanted to be a real scholar.


    Then March. Then April
    signed its proclamation of cloud—


    [CRISEYDE:]

    How sadly my friends and I
    go after the fallen straps
    of our tank tops
    as if worn by some

    dawning nostalgia
    for the way the wind
    gets to the picnic table
    where we've set

    the Campari and soda
    the bowl of potato chips
    the bowl of green olives

    Afternoon's in the offing

    we're a small herd
    grazing small-ly
    not Edenic not like gazelles
    though by the dead tree

    whose base has been boxed
    and seeded with nasturtiums
    and morning glories
    Helen raises a quick finger

    to the weather's indifference
    I hear you what's to love is
    a good question
    For me it's laziness

    sure But also a stoicism
    I was an orb gliding
    over the town's pale rivers
    the sun in her corner

    queenly a dead pearl


    [PANDARUS:]

    Troilus I said we're just dumb boys you know
    the sound of a loose ball joint on a broken road
    but as for will or won't she leave it to fate
    I said and me I said I'll help

    All afternoon I sat on his bed
    watching the kite festival in the park
    its snakes flashing through high clouds

    Tending him Troilus feverish Troilus a litany
    of whens a boy with clocks for brains

    But I told myself someday you'll wake
    less Troilus and the thought was like waking
    to an accordion dawn
    like I grew another pair of eyes
    that opened on another room coastal full
    of bone light and the smell of something cold
    and mere something (funny) like raw squid

    And I was a story shut inside this
    remembering Troilus kite-tossed
    in his sheets and how the garden
    that day was more wind than green

    Troilus listen I said between the words
    "tree" and "bur oak" a forest sidles in
    I don't know what I meant

    I was thinking "girl": "Cressid" thinking
    "April": Troilus finally dying like the rest of us


    [TROILUS:]

    Sniffly weather, the sky all prologue.
    Lean hard from the hilltop
    so the wind can catch you.

    I stayed in bed, Pandarus quoting old potions
    from Pliny to make me laugh:

    "Wolf's liver in thin wine,
    lard of a sow fed upon grass—
    or was it the flesh of a she-ass
    taken in broth?"

    My ribs quaked so coughing I imagined
    the boat of me after.
    The river crumpled

    like sheets someone couldn't crawl from
    fast enough. I told him:

    Pliny's also known for choking to death
    on the ashes of Mt. Vesuvius.

    I told him: Criseyde at the picnic in the rain
    in her black dress.

    I stayed in bed and I think

    I slept, Pandarus narrating my dreams
    like a radio play I got in fits:

    meat and the mouth and the hand that fed you
    petal shroud door in the garden
    harbinger harbinger


    the dial sliding back and forth
    until, when I woke, the windows
    were frost-cast

    and he was on his feet,
    muttering something about how
    we had a house to build now.

    He handed me the pewter vase
    from the nightstand to spit up in.

    Something dry down there.
    Fly husk, I guessed, or maybe
    an old stem bit?

    No, a scrap of paper
    balled tight.
    Hocus Pocus. Here is the body—
    I fished it out. I ate it.


    [CRISEYDE:]

    In those days arrows were very magic
      you woke a pomp of bone and tinsel
    fluttering on someone's pretty strings

    You woke a foreign empire
      antique, the wharf rats legion,
    the messengers doff such funny hats

    All the graffiti says find me find
      your irrevocably dazzled thing

    In her heart, Psyche calls the city Citrine

    She's grown all attention—
      under eyes saffron, lovely
    clavicle, sweet each rib

    Before bed she puts a piece of bread
      on the windowsill where daily
    she studies the smokestacks

    the lean of anonymous trees
      What crumb dawn finds
    says she had a mooring, a morning,

    a house in a wood with a lacquered bedroom
      and goldfinches dizzying the ceiling
    The jewelry box on the nightstand

    played "Lara's Theme"
      She liked taking the bottom off to watch
    how the drum spun under the teeth

    A commonplace, that the soul can't
      tell human time
    See, you're not the fence, she'd say

    I'm not your sheep


    [PSYCHE:]

    On the walls, the usual Americana.
    The place was half under
    the sidewalk, I'd nearly missed
    the five cement stairs down.

    In those lake cities
    dusk affords year-round
    a winterish distance.

    It was winter anyway, very—
    every cardinal like the throat
    in the pulse of sleep.

    She sleeps, she slept, she will sleep.
    When I woke it was like a holiday.
    Everything was shut.

      You should eat something,
    the voice said. Not yours—
    my body maybe.
    But I'm a traveler, I said,
    I travel, I do not want.

    So I ordered a chili dog,
    which I particularly did not want.

    I sat at the counter, under the girl
    in polka dots and white gloves
    sharing a Coke with Mr. Sailor,
    her never-lover.

    A commonplace, to feel meant
    for something. Another: to feel un-
    meant, like: the boat's gone,
    that thought you thought
    you belonged to.

    The wax cup of root beer
    in my hand was as cold
    as my hand: I could neither warm
    nor relinquish it.

    Go on, the voice said, eat.

    Not yours. Some ant god, maybe,
    shepherd of another petty hour.

    I wiped mustard from the tips of my hair,
    onions from my lap.
    I licked someone else's stray poppy seeds
    from my fingers.

    In the waxpaper-lined plastic basket,
    jetsam—a wreckage of napkins.
    Between such crafts we bide.


    [PANDARUS:]

    We made a sand woman on Harrington Beach
    in junior high a curving groove filled
    with two mounds a hole

    I poured half my Cokein
    double double toil and trouble

    I bet when Troilus comes
    it's still some giant wave
    thrusting him on shore not ours

    (weed-roped piles of alewives
    gulls have reaped the eyes from)

    Bougainvillea starfish pink sand
    I know I shouldn't think this

    It's my job I said I fix things

    We were in line for popcorn
    Criseyde saving our seats
    admiring her nails probably
    I'd chosen the movie
    Zombies but funny so post-credits
    we wouldn't mistake
    the strip mall's parking lot
    for one of hell's minor antechambers

    Troilus less in the movie
    than in her hair and well begun
    is half done
I thought

    When he surfaced
    the look on his face
    looked permanent

    a portrait governed

    I gave him the keys

    Said I wanted to walk just drop it
    tomorrow at the shop
    that was the Z car
    I sold last month it didn't idle
    so much as strain to be let off leash

    I figured she'd be impressed
    if he could handle it

    I had the valve job on the Volvo to get to
    in the morning

    And I wanted to think about the movie
    guy ends up keeping his zombied friend
    in the shed to play video games with

    A small cold windless rain no bugs
    crooning yes it's only a canvas sky
    hanging over a muslin tree

    to the streetlights

    No raccoon-scuffle in the garbage cans

    We're greedy if brief

Chapter Two

    Ful redy was at prime Diomede
    Criseyde unto the Grekis oost to lede,
    For sorwe of which she felt hire herte blede,
    As she that nyste what was best to rede.
    And trewely, as men in bokes rede,
    Men wiste nevere womman han the care,
    Ne was so loth out of a town to fare.

    Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde (V.15–21)


    [CASSANDRA:]

    The halo—no mere incandescence—
    is the brand of the terribly
    fucked, the soon-

    to-be-devoured. Nor do we suffer
    accordingly, but beyond that,
    in the realm of the "really interesting,"

    the desert, say, the dusky kitchen
    where knives sing. Even a vaguer
    dissatisfaction marshals the sky,

    as, in a museum in the Alps,
    one might study a model of the Alps
    casting its own shadows to scale.

    "If the best thing about the mountains
    is our thoughts of the mountains,
    we're all fucked." Or so P. says,

    cutting his nails by streetlight
    as the cottonwoods flutter and fade
    and T. pencils sad and busy heads

    on the backs of all the envelopes.
    The lull, that predicament of ghosts,
    catches the map of the minute

    at wow, two eternities.


    [NARRATOR:]

    The afternoon grew taller when a boy on Halsted
    hoisted his slim friend for a twirl
    and yelled—a sweet growl, really—
    Jenny, you're a fucking porch pickle!
    We were walking home from the zoo,
    where who doesn't swoon
    over the seal's big love-me look.
    But have you noticed, I asked Dan,
    that all seals look like seals looking out
    of seal costumes? Ours were cows—
    gray, or mottled pewter, rather.
    You could go down the slippery stairs
    to watch them underwater, and Look!,
    a boy put his finger on the luminous
    wall, it pooped! Of course time only
    in retrospect stills. As in: funny, but I still
    see most clearly—from a tail
    like two thick furred palm fronds—that seal poop
    feathering its way to the bottom of the pool.
    After Jenny's tipsy spin, I took the day's
    only photo—Dan in his new straw hat
    under the bee-laden linden—
    and taking it remembered: shadowing
    this photo was another, fifteen years older
    of my ex-husband in his new July panama.

    Too bad the pigtailed girl at Dan's knee—
    her lips one unmatchable shade
    of popsicle blue—just missed the frame.
    In even fleeting grief, the world's a copy of.
    Fingernails, lace: such small stuff betrays the forger.


    [CRISEYDE:]

    Like the friend following you
    into the thrall of the park by night—

    through the gazebo and the swings
    to the slide—
    that no, you go caught in my hair.

    A gray epoch. Rain smoke. Stars
    in the black gutters when it cleared.
    My dreams grew big with whales
    and buck-teethed women
    whose veiled hats kept them kindly
    at a distance.

    I opened all the doors in the house
    to collect light. Pale doors. Pale floors.
    I wanted to turn ghost or water.

    He's mopey, the story said
    one morning, but you like him right?
    I was eating breakfast. Recounting,
    on the neighbor's lawn,
    the thinning herd of plastic deer.

    Tell me more about the salt trade,
    I'm bored, I said, tell me anything.


    The cat settled into her pillow on the bed.
    Juice stung my wrist—the story'd stolen
    another bite of nectarine.

    It liked making me blush. It liked:
    the ribbon shoelaces on my high heels,
    certain frequencies of cloud, the parrot
    who said only No more good time Charlie for you!

    Before he came. After he left.
    The girls at the beauty school
    gossiping over their mannequin heads.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Troy, Unincorporated by FRANCESCA ABBATE Copyright © 2012 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

[Chorus:] Everything is half here

One

[Psyche’s Song:] Praise me, I told the water lilies, for I am half-invincible
[Narrator:] Of eighth grade
[Criseyde:] How sadly my friends and I
[Pandarus:] Troilus I said we’re just dumb boys you know
[Troilus:] Sniffly weather, the sky all prologue
[Criseyde:] In those days arrows were very magic
[Psyche:] On the walls, the usual Americana
[Pandarus:] We made a sand woman on Harrington Beach

Two

[Cassandra:] The halo—no mere incandescence
[Narrator:] The afternoon grew taller when a boy on Halsted
[Criseyde:] Like the friend following you
[Troilus:] I was a boy. I listened to frog song
[Criseyde:] Already I miss Troy
[Pandarus:] Slatternday Crumbday
[Criseyde:] I didn’t know who I was we say
[Troilus:] I watched him paint all he could draw

Three

[Chorus:] We tried to remember
[Narrator:] Our usual consolation of daisies
[Criseyde:] Dear (you know I never rode horses well)
[Troilus:] What lean pickings
[Criseyde:] I knew my would-be lover
[Troilus:] Nightfall when I crossed
[Criseyde:] By night my father’s house shines
[Cassandra:] Now the accrual of was. At Booth Lake, the body

Four

[Chorus:] Then came the sand trucks
[Narrator:] We take the Hoan bridge home
[Criseyde:] If in any harbor
[Criseyde:] It was like the old world sent me a letter
[Criseyde:] The canister of Ajax glinting on the counter
[Criseyde:] Daily it storms: dams give out, a lake in the next county
[Chorus:] The way fences open

Notes

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