We Don't Know We Don't Know

Overview

Winner of the 2008 Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize for Poetry, Nick Lantz's poems introduce a startling new voice.

Taking its title from a dodging statement from former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, We Don’t Know We Don’t Know assesses what it means to claim new knowledge within a culture that professes to know everything already. The result is a poetry that upends the deeply and dangerously assumed concepts of such a culture—that new knowledge is always better knowledge,...

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Overview

Winner of the 2008 Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize for Poetry, Nick Lantz's poems introduce a startling new voice.

Taking its title from a dodging statement from former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, We Don’t Know We Don’t Know assesses what it means to claim new knowledge within a culture that professes to know everything already. The result is a poetry that upends the deeply and dangerously assumed concepts of such a culture—that new knowledge is always better knowledge, that history is a steady progress, that humans are in control of the natural order. Nick Lantz’s poems hurtle through time from ancient theories of physics to the CIA training manual for the practice of torture, from the history of the question mark to the would-be masterpieces left incomplete by the deaths of Leonardo da Vinci, Nikolai Gogol, Bruce Lee, and Jimi Hendrix. Selected by Linda Gregerson for the esteemed Bakeless Prize for Poetry, We Don’t Know We Don’t

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
On the moon,

astronaut David Scott drops a hammer and a falcon feather,

and we learn nothing

we didn’t already know.

—from “Ancient Theories”

Publishers Weekly
Exotic facts, “Ancient Theories” (one poem’s title), memorable quotations and familial griefs collide and mingle throughout this striking first collection from the Wisconsin poet Lantz. Lantz takes his title, and many epigraphs, from Donald Rumsfeld (“there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know”), but few of the poems pursue political causes. Instead, Lantz seems driven by quirky and quotable phrases, those he finds and those he creates—”As you know, the human head is the most/ commonly stolen body part”; “The whip/ makes a pleasing/ sound when it strikes.” Some pages suffer from gimmicks (“blank” lines, or words blacked out in a poem about secrets), and many others feel like collections of wonderful sentences, rather than like whole poems. Lantz’s best poems have traditional strengths and narrative surprises: “Thinking Makes It So” records a shockingly callous act, and “Of the Parrat and other that can speake” (another title from Pliny) reacts to the death of a parent, first with controlled humor, then with grief, and finally with sharpened irony—in a just world, anthologies would snap it up. (Mar.)
The Barnes & Noble Review

From Paul Di Filippo's "SMALL PRESS SPOTLIGHT" column on The Barnes & Noble Review

In the realm of the small presses, thirty-six years amounts to a geological era. To survive and flourish for nearly four decades is a proud accomplishment that is denied all but a few firms. Examples of contemporary indie publishers still vibrant at the outer edge of small press longevity include City Lights (founded 1953), Burning Deck (founded 1961), and Fiction Collective/FC2 (founded 1973). Just a tad younger than the youngest in that list comes Graywolf Press, established in 1974 by Scott Walker.

A non-profit since the middle of the nineteen-eighties, Graywolf has made its sterling reputation in the realm of fiction, poetry, memoirs and literary criticism. Their available backlist constitutes nearly three hundred titles spread across a wide range of styles and themes, and they regularly issue upwards of twenty new books per year. Partnered in various ventures with the College of Saint Benedict, enjoying a solid base in the nation's three-wolf-moon heartland of Minnesota, Graywolf has proven that quality endures.

Deriving unpredictable inspiration from both Donald Rumsfeld and Pliny the Elder, Nick Lantz delivers We Don't Know We Don't Know, a striking volume of poems that are necessarily rife, both amongst and inside themselves, with fruitful cognitive dissonance. "The Prophecies of Paracelsus" is radiant with medieval mysticism, while "Will There Be More Than One 'Questioner'?" rubs the reader's face in the bewildering human realities of torture. Employing both short, compact lines and complex broken ones, Lantz exhibits a feel for the epic noumena hiddenwithin simple objects ("The anemones in the pale cave/gasping."). Likewise, he adroitly parses the tangled emotions webbing loved ones together. "'Of the Parrat and other birds that can speake'" offers a man's melancholy musings on the death of his mother. Meditative and piercing, this book limns the tug of war between eternal verities and their contemporary manifestations.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555975524
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 3/2/2010
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 1,403,716
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Nick Lantz is the author of a second collection, The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors’ House, which won the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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