Pub. Date:


by Dan Chiasson


View All Available Formats & Editions


From the acclaimed poet—a refreshing, singular collection of poems about boys and boyhood, historical cycles and personal history, memory and meaning.
Bicentennial summons the world of Chiasson’s seventies childhood in Vermont: early VCRs, snow, erections, pizza, snowmobiles, high-school cliques, and the Bicentennial celebration,  but his book is also an elegy for his father, whom he never knew and who died in 2009. In these poems, Chiasson movingly revisits the kind of autobiographical poems he wrote as a young man, but with a new existential awareness that individuals are always vanishing in time, and throughout the collection he ponders time’s conundrums. “All of history, even the Romans, / they happen later, tonight sleep tight,” he tells his sons at bedtime. “You’ll learn this later. Tonight, goodnight.” In the topsy-turvy world of Bicentennial, history has both happened and is waiting to happen; boys grow up to be men; men never forget what it is to be boys; and fatherhood is the best answer to fatherlessness.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385349819
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/04/2014
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Dan Chiasson is the author of three previous collections of poetry, most recently Where’s the Moon, There's the Moon, and a book of criticism, One Kind of Everything: Poem and Person in Contemporary America. His essays on poetry appear widely. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Whiting Writers Award, Chiasson teaches at Wellesley College.

Read an Excerpt


In this alternate basketball nobody plays,
Both players try to tie the score:
That way, at the buzzer, the game isn’t over.
Look, a show of courtesy: the winning player
Is helping the loser score, the way
Our youths assist the cold, suffering elderly.
Or here, a boy is helped to understand
The exotica of his changing body:
When X turns to Y you do not die;
When Y turns to Z we call it joy;
This process crests until someday
You fall off the edge of the alphabet.
The players play even when they do not play;
See, in just this way, we grow old
Alongside the returned jays and fat magnolias;
The game goes on forever this way, the players
Suspended in infinite overtimes,
The score climbing in never-changing change—
Until the day the backboard shatters
And the blackboard blossoms
With arcane formulae and blackbird wings.
7. lullaby

Oh, all the stars, and the Big Dipper,
And their reflections in the ocean:
It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter;
And the creatures, their weird behaviors,
Some made to thrive, and some to die;
Part of their natures, part of their natures;
It doesn’t matter, it happens later:
All of creation, the seven days,
The famous storm, the rainbow after;
One day the cardinal, he wakes up red;
One day the jay realizes why
Of all the creatures, he got his color:
This happens later, tonight, good night.
When someone wins, somebody loses:
Something is ravaged, something is fed;
All of history, even the Romans,
They happen later, tonight sleep tight.
You’ll learn this later. Tonight, good night.
The Flume

Here we go up again, up again, the mountain
The men who have assembled it for years
Assembled yesterday, so that you and I
Headed who knows where together, but
Headed there together, will see
From the top the bottom, from the bottom the top,
Then feel the inside-outside-all-over-nowhere
My God I Am Going to Die, Not Someday, Now
Sensation that, once we plateau, feels silly,
Since when were we safer than when we sought
The danger that when it subsided returned
Us to the dangers it had blotted out?
There are no fears, here at the start:
This is when, the book just opened,
Knowing you will one day know the story
You don’t know yet changes the story
You are getting to know, the way we know
Before we know what anything means it means
Something: a fireworks display, the birthday
Of the Country; that’s me; my uncle and I
Are racing through the past on the Python,
Which men assembled absentmindedly that day
And, so you could visit it with me,
I assembled here again inside my memory;
Now, when you remember how things were
Today, you will also remember yourself
Looking forward to yourself looking back,
A looking back that, here in your past,
You do already, you already say
About what happened yesterday, remember when . . .?
—The future doing its usual loop-de-loop,
The sons all turning into fathers
Until the absentminded men take the ride down.

Table of Contents

1 One on One

Overtime 3

Away We Go 4

Obituary 6

One on One 8

The Donkey 13

Inscription 15

The Flume 16

Star Catcher 18

Interviewing Janet Malcolm 19

Nowhere Fast 20

Cosmonaut and Newsboy 22

Opening Lines 23

Father and Son 32

Vital Signs 33

2 Arm in Arm

Echolalia: A Play in Ten Acts 37

The Ferris Wheel in Paris: A Play 40

Arm in Arm 47

3 Bicentennial

Box and One 53

Where Are They Now? 65

Algebra 66

Bicentennial 67

Acknowledgments 81

Customer Reviews