You must write as if all along a flaw /Was on the bone, one place not quite right” writes Black in her third collection. These meditative, aphoristic poems deal with paying witness to illness, questioning both the future and the afterlife. The theme of “exchange”—of time, love, and knowledge—proves central to the collection’s metaphysical concerns. Poems about biopsy and chemotherapy appear alongside poems about real estate and private equity, suggesting an ominous correlation between the use and cost of the body: “To use the entire body/ Is to kneel down; her bones are the price/ Of information.” Another poem declares, “Everything feels like payment.” The biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, alluded to throughout the collection, complicates the idea of exchange by introducing sacrifice: “Every time I begin with the story of a man/ Willing to kill his son. Tell me what I need/ To know.” Cabot has a gift for abstracting the familiar in an effort to recapture memory, skillfully using negation to suspend sense: “No voice/ Heard as once imagined nor did she/ Beckon and somehow know what I did not/ Know, behind her what I loved/ All the while.” In these poems Black weaves sheer elegance and devastating knowing. (May)
"Black's voice is startling, jagged and implacable, and [her poetry] is steep, precipitous and dazzling." Los Angeles Times Book Review
* A finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Poetry *
I took care of myself. I took care
Of myself, thinking much too often
I took care of someone else.
Everything feels like payment.
from "Pay Attention"
In The Exchange, Sophie Cabot Black explores the surprising interplay between mortality and money, between the next world and this one, between the language of disease and the language of finance. Following a beloved friend through a long illness and eventual loss, these poems confront in stark emotion the aftermath, even as the outside worldthe world of debts paid and collected, of power and dominionintrudes. What is gained and what is sacrificed, and how can those profits and losses be measured when the currency involved is love?
[Sophie Cabot Black has] concocted a way of speaking in poetry that's very fresh and daring.” Billy Collins, The New York Times
“These meditative, aphoristic poems deal with paying witness to illness, questioning both the future and the afterlife. . . . In these poems Black weaves sheer elegance and devastating knowing.” Publishers Weekly, starred review
“The poems in The Exchange are emphatically alive. This fierce energy breathes life back into the hopeless soul. . . . The Exchange is Sophie Cabot Black's best and most eloquent book to date.” Carol Muske-Dukes, The Huffington Post
“Black has received praise for her taut lyrics of elusive yet enchanting elegance. [The Exchange] continues that trend, and here Black confronts various forms of trade and exchange, from stocks on the New York Stock Exchange, to life for death, to a child for the sacrificial lamb.” Booklist
“Accomplished. . . . Black's writing is distinguished by its control and lack of extravagance; we experience the pain, the loss, the moment when her friend acknowledges that he is dying as quietly illuminating moments, and all the better for it. A lovely work for many readers; surely even those who don't typically read poetry will find understanding here.” Library Journal
In her accomplished third work, Norma Farber and Connecticut Books Award- winner Black follows a friend's long illness from biopsy ("He is still afraid/ And so I lie down first") to inevitable loss ("There is/ The window. Open. Now go through"). The poems weaving through the rest of this surely voiced collection contrast a melancholic sense of what will be missed ("The meadows you meant to walk all year,/ That part of the woods you've never been") with focused moments when the violence, the sheer physicality of dying, punch through. "You must write as if all along a flaw/ Was on the bone" says the opening poem, only apparently about an injured horse; later, we learn about the "unimaginable heat" of chemotherapy: "My friend is going through the fire on his knees." VERDICT Black's writing is distinguished by its control and lack of extravagance; we experience the pain, the loss, the moment when her friend acknowledges that he is dying as quietly illuminating moments, and all the better for it. A lovely work for many readers; surely even those who don't typically read poetry will find understanding here.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
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