Ultima Thule

Overview

Ultima Thule (pronounced "thool") is the mythical farthest point north, the coldest and remotest spot on earth. It is also the name of the most inaccessble changer in Mammoth Cave, which McCombs brings to life in his poetry. The cave's limestone formations and the underground river that carves its spaces make a sort of echo chamber for the heartbeats of the author and his friends and neighbors, of whose lives the immense but buried cave is the dominant feature and metaphor. ...
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Ultima Thule

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Overview

Ultima Thule (pronounced "thool") is the mythical farthest point north, the coldest and remotest spot on earth. It is also the name of the most inaccessble changer in Mammoth Cave, which McCombs brings to life in his poetry. The cave's limestone formations and the underground river that carves its spaces make a sort of echo chamber for the heartbeats of the author and his friends and neighbors, of whose lives the immense but buried cave is the dominant feature and metaphor.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A worthy addition to the recent American literature of place, this year's Yale Younger Poets collection keeps to Mammoth Cave, Ky., where McCombs lives and has worked as a guide. The opening sonnet sequence is written in the persona of Steven Bishop, a slave who was a guide to the caves in the mid-1800s. Whether or not McCombs's period-ventriloquism is accurate, his just slightly stilted diction transforms ordinary observations into pleasing verse. "He told of tides/ and how the ocean is affixed as with a chain/ to moonlight," McCombs writes in "Star Chamber," while "Echo River" makes a more musical point: "By slapping/ the water with the flat of my paddle,/ there comes a sound like the ringing of bells." Building on these understated pleasures, McCombs sneaks broad sexual comedy past the reader in "Visitations": "It is the women/ on the tours that give me pause, delicate/ ghost-white, how, that night, I'm told,/ they wake to find themselves in unfamiliar/ beds, and lost, bewildered, call my name." The poems that follow miss the peculiarly off diction of the opening sequence--and even in those poems, McCombs goes back maybe too often to his key words: "silence," "light" and "night." But the compellingly eccentric word choices and odd history and geography come together often enough to make this the finest Yale Poets selection in years. Apr. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
It's always interesting to see what will be chosen next for the renowned "Yale Series of Younger Poets," and last year's choice proved particularly strong: it went on to become a National Book Critics Circle finalist. The title, which hints metaphorically at the mythic cold north, is also the name of an inaccessible passage in Kentucky's Monmouth Caves, where McCombs worked as a ranger. In a quiet, steady voice polished as the cave's limestone walls, McCombs delivers a history (both geologic and human) of the cave. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Harlan
Named for the most remote cavern in Mammoth Cave National Park, Ultima Thule, chosen by W. S. Merwin as the winner of this year's Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, lucidly mines Kentucky's cave country as its subject matter...Throughout, Mammoth's fantastical underworld is calmly revealed... through McCombs's translucent, musical language.
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300083170
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2000
  • Series: Yale Series of Younger Poets
  • Pages: 72
  • Sales rank: 979,409
  • Product dimensions: 5.53 (w) x 9.27 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One

Salts Cave


We slip the constant fifty-four
with ninety-eight point six, ten of us,
in the wobbling balance of lantern light.
We rattle and clink over breakdown
into rough-edged canyon, the cave
still holding a river's shape as it narrows
and deepens. And still the signs of life:
cane torches, half a gourd bowl,
and human feces — cold two thousand years.
They came here mining salts, the limestone walls
scripted with gypsum, epsomite, mirabilite.
We choose our steps, careful to leave no sign
of passing. Near Mummy Valley a flat slab
propped upright and markings — turtle?
dancing figure? map of the cave?
Twenty centuries and only one moment
when burnt torch end scraped limestone.
Mark, record, leave behind,
trace of what held heat, what is mine.
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Table of Contents

Foreword by W. S. Merwin ix
Acknowledgments xiii
I. ULTIMA THULE
Candlewriting 3
Star Chamber 4
Visitations 5
Bottomless Pit 6
Echo River 7
Shadow World 8
Cartography 9
Cave Formation 10
Doctor Croghan 11
Brush Fire 12
Indian Mummy 13
The Church 14
Dripstone 15
Tuberculosis Sanitarium 16
Tours 17
River 18
The Others 19
Fame 20
Ultima Thule 21
II. THE RIVER AND UNDER THE RIVER
Ponds 25
SaltsCave 26
Cave Wind 27
Moonbow 28
Sinking Stream 29
Floyd's Lost Passage 31
Kentucky 33
April Fifth, Nineteen Hundred Eighty-Three 35
Watermelons 36
Freemartin 37
Flowstone 38
The River and Under the River 39
III. THE DARK COUNTY
Dismantling the Cave Gate 43
June 44
Farming 45
Broken Country 46
Solution Cave 47
Premonitions 48
Comet Hale-Bopp 49
Pushing a Lead 50
Stephen Bishop's Grave 51
Cave Mummies 52
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