Celebrated since the 1980s for her deftly articulate, often wittily rhymed lyric poems, Salter demonstrates those strengths and others in this sixth volume. From the start, Salter's verse can sound urbane and serious, ceremonious and supple: a nine-part elegy for a friend who died young contains a villanelle with the refrain "I know you're gone for good. And this is how:/ were you alive, you would have called by now." Other poems react to the death of Salter's mother, to her own experience of parenthood, and to life with her husband, poet and critic Brad Leithauser. Salter may be the most gifted mid-career disciple of James Merrill's work, and her detractors may say she still works in his shadow. Yet her loosely syllabic stanzas owe as much to Marianne Moore, and her best poems stand apart for their careful sensitivity both to works of art and to her own family life, sounding as much herself when sighing, "you reach an age when classics// are what you musthave read" as when she "imagines the synchronized operations/ across the neighborhood:/ putting the children to bed;/ laying out clean clothes." (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
A Phone Call to the Future: New and Selected Poemsby Mary Jo Salter
This “wholly attractive volume” that brings together twenty-five years of “elegantly shaped and voiced creations” (William Pritchard, The Boston Globe) offers a generous sampling of Mary Jo Salter’s five previous award-winning volumes and a collection of superb new poems. A mid-career retrospective of one of the major poets of her generation.
Salter (Open Shutters) is an exceptionally gifted poet whose engine fuels itself on formal challenge: she prefers the poetry "slalom" to the "slam": ... "skirting flag after flag/ of the bloody obvious;/ .... while speeding downhill,/ at the key/ moment,/ in a sort of whole-/ body trill." In this new collection, a section of new poems precedes selections from five previous books, a verse history that is confessional yet aware of the potential solipsism of that genre: "as if what really matters/ is our happiness above all, we sail/ on their wave of blessing over the sun." As she moves from family and friends to the lives of others, the poems slip from lyric into narrative, using historical figures like Helen Keller or Thomas Jefferson as larger canvases for explorations of the spirit steeped in time. Like her early teacher, Elizabeth Bishop, Salter conjures gold from the seemingly trivial or the overlooked: a child refusing to relinquish his seat in a game of musical chairs or a small gesture that foreshadows the erotic: "Once shod, you pull the creaking blinds whose slats/ narrow their sleepy eyelids into slits." For all poetry collections.
“Poems that are deeply human, brilliantly realized, and refreshingly perceptive.” —Julie Hale, BookPage
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Read an Excerpt
WAKE-UP CALLThe water is slapping wake up, wake up, against the boat chugging away from Venice, infinite essence of what must end because it is beautiful,Venice that shrinks to a bobbing, pungent postcard and then to nothing at all as the automatic doors at the airport obligingly shut behind you.Re-enter a world where everything’s much the same, where you’ve gone slack again, and don’t even know it, so unaware that you actually shrug to yourself,I’ll be back, and yes, for some lucky stiffs it’s true, sometimes it’s you, you’re sure to get more chances at Venice, and Paris, and that blessed, unmarked placewhere you sat on a bench and he kissed you that first time, so many kisses, you hoped he would never stop, you can hope, at least, not ever to forget it,or forget how your babies, latching onto your breast, would roll up their eyes in an ecstasy that was comic in its seriousness, though your joy was no less grave,but you’re not going back to so much, and more and more, the longer you live there’s more not to go back to, and what you demand in your gratitude and greedis more life in which to get so attached to something, someone or someplace, you’re sure you’ll die right then when you can’t have it back, something you don’t even knowthe name of now, but will be yours before receding as an indispensable ache; what you’re saying is Lord, surprise me with even more to miss.SONG OF THE CHILDRENApril 2005Two years since the springof the invasion, a well-conductedsymphony of fireworks on the screen,I sit at home, half-humminga tune from miles away inside my brain.I think I know, at least, the song's refrain—In the end it's about the childrenIn the end it's about the children—What's wrong with me? The music isn't coming."What is the grass?" the child asked Whitman,gathering strangeness in his outstretched palms."All flesh is grass," said Brahmsin well-aimed thunder, merciless and grand.What is the hookthe child is left with, he who losttwo parents, and a sister, and a hand?Who bears the cost?How can I tell him—I who can barely look?A shrug then: fate is fickle;so many soldiers won't be getting older;as another year's worth of recruitshoists its rifles, shoulder to young shoulder,another pen rests on my ink-stained knuckle.I have been spared, it seems, for another yearto compose the awkward rags of my regrets—In the end it's about the childrenIn the end it's about the children—Another year has curledin on itself;under the wheels of Humvees cakedwith dust, the turning, half-cocked worldis skewered on its axis.My pen is angled too—is glad enoughto bleed into long ranks and files of taxes:before my country's army rolling forwardI write my check, the white flag of coward.POETRY SLALOMMuch lessthe slamthan the slalomgives me a thrill:that solemn, no-fussOlympian skillin skirting flag after flagof the bloody obvious;the fractionallag,while speeding downhill,at the keymoment,in a sort of whole-body trill:the note repeated,but elaborated,more touching and moreelevatedfor seeming the thingto be evaded.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
Mary Jo Salter is the author of five previous books of poetry and a children’s book, The Moon Comes Home. She is a professor in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. She divides her time between Amherst, Massachusetts, and Baltimore.
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