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Natural History: Poems

by Dan Chiasson

PUBLISHED: 25th September 2007
ISBN: 9780375711152
ANNOTATION:
Dan Chiasson, hailed as "one of the most gifted poets of his generation" upon the appearance of his first book, takes inspiration for his stunning new collection from the "Historia Naturalis" of Pliny the Elder. "What happens next, you won't believe," Chiasson writes in "From the Life of Gorky," and it is fair warning. This collection suggests that a person is like a world, full of mysteries and wonders-and equally in need of an encyclopedia, a compendium of everything known. The long title sequence offers entries such as "The Sun" ("There is one mind in all of us, one soul, / who parches the soil in some nations / but in others hides perpetually behind a veil"), "The Elephant" ("How to explain my heroic courtesy?"), "The Pigeon" ("Once startled, you shall feel hours of weird sadness / afterwards"), and "Randall Jarrell" ("If language hurts you, make the damage real"). The mysteriously emotional individual poems coalesce as a group to suggest that our natural world is populated not just by fascinating creatures-who, in any case, are metaphors for the human as Chiasson considers them- but also by literature, by the ghosts of past poetries, by our personal ghosts. Toward the end of the sequence, one poem asks simply, "Which Species on Earth Is Saddest?" a question this book seems poised to answer. But Chiasson is not finally defeated by the sorrows and disappointments that maturity brings. Combining a classic, often heartbreaking musical line with a playful, fresh attack on the standard materials of poetry, he makes even our sadness beguiling and beautiful. "From the Hardcover edition."
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PUBLISHED: 25th September 2007
ISBN: 9780375711152
ANNOTATION:
Dan Chiasson, hailed as "one of the most gifted poets of his generation" upon the appearance of his first book, takes inspiration for his stunning new collection from the "Historia Naturalis" of Pliny the Elder. "What happens next, you won't believe," Chiasson writes in "From the Life of Gorky," and it is fair warning. This collection suggests that a person is like a world, full of mysteries and wonders-and equally in need of an encyclopedia, a compendium of everything known. The long title sequence offers entries such as "The Sun" ("There is one mind in all of us, one soul, / who parches the soil in some nations / but in others hides perpetually behind a veil"), "The Elephant" ("How to explain my heroic courtesy?"), "The Pigeon" ("Once startled, you shall feel hours of weird sadness / afterwards"), and "Randall Jarrell" ("If language hurts you, make the damage real"). The mysteriously emotional individual poems coalesce as a group to suggest that our natural world is populated not just by fascinating creatures-who, in any case, are metaphors for the human as Chiasson considers them- but also by literature, by the ghosts of past poetries, by our personal ghosts. Toward the end of the sequence, one poem asks simply, "Which Species on Earth Is Saddest?" a question this book seems poised to answer. But Chiasson is not finally defeated by the sorrows and disappointments that maturity brings. Combining a classic, often heartbreaking musical line with a playful, fresh attack on the standard materials of poetry, he makes even our sadness beguiling and beautiful. "From the Hardcover edition."

Annotation

Dan Chiasson, hailed as "one of the most gifted poets of his generation" upon the appearance of his first book, takes inspiration for his stunning new collection from the "Historia Naturalis" of Pliny the Elder. "What happens next, you won't believe," Chiasson writes in "From the Life of Gorky," and it is fair warning. This collection suggests that a person is like a world, full of mysteries and wonders-and equally in need of an encyclopedia, a compendium of everything known. The long title sequence offers entries such as "The Sun" ("There is one mind in all of us, one soul, / who parches the soil in some nations / but in others hides perpetually behind a veil"), "The Elephant" ("How to explain my heroic courtesy?"), "The Pigeon" ("Once startled, you shall feel hours of weird sadness / afterwards"), and "Randall Jarrell" ("If language hurts you, make the damage real"). The mysteriously emotional individual poems coalesce as a group to suggest that our natural world is populated not just by fascinating creatures-who, in any case, are metaphors for the human as Chiasson considers them- but also by literature, by the ghosts of past poetries, by our personal ghosts. Toward the end of the sequence, one poem asks simply, "Which Species on Earth Is Saddest?" a question this book seems poised to answer. But Chiasson is not finally defeated by the sorrows and disappointments that maturity brings. Combining a classic, often heartbreaking musical line with a playful, fresh attack on the standard materials of poetry, he makes even our sadness beguiling and beautiful.

"From the Hardcover edition."

Publisher Description

Dan Chiasson, hailed as “one of the most gifted poets of his generation” upon the appearance of his first book, takes inspiration for his stunning new collection from the Historia Naturalis of Pliny the Elder. “What happens next, you won't believe,” Chiasson writes in “From the Life of Gorky,” and it is fair warning. This collection suggests that a person is like a world, full of mysteries and wonders–and equally in need of an encyclopedia, a compendium of everything known. The long title sequence offers entries such as “The Sun” (“There is one mind in all of us, one soul, / who parches the soil in some nations / but in others hides perpetually behind a veil”), “The Elephant” (“How to explain my heroic courtesy?”), “The Pigeon” (“Once startled, you shall feel hours of weird sadness / afterwards”), and “Randall Jarrell” (“If language hurts you, make the damage real”). The mysteriously emotional individual poems coalesce as a group to suggest that our natural world is populated not just by fascinating creatures–who, in any case, are metaphors for the human as Chiasson considers them– but also by literature, by the ghosts of past poetries, by our personal ghosts. Toward the end of the sequence, one poem asks simply, “Which Species on Earth Is Saddest?” a question this book seems poised to answer. But Chiasson is not finally defeated by the sorrows and disappointments that maturity brings. Combining a classic, often heartbreaking musical line with a playful, fresh attack on the standard materials of poetry, he makes even our sadness beguiling and beautiful.

Author Biography

Dan Chiasson is an assistant professor of English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His poems have appeared in magazines such as "Paris Review," "Ploughshares Slate," "Threepenny Review," and "Partisian Review," He was named "Debut Poet" by the New Yorker in 2001.

Excerpt from Book

LOVE SONG (SMELT) When I say 'you' in my poems, I mean you. I know it's weird: we barely met. You must hear this all the time, being you. That night we were at opposite ends of the long table, after the pungent Russian condiments, the carafes of tarragon vodka, the chafing dishes full of boiled smelts I was a little drunk: after you left, I ate the last smelt off your dirty plate. THE SUN There is one mind in all of us, one soul, who parches the soil in some nations but in others hides perpetually behind a veil; he spills light everywhere, here he spilled some on my tie, but it dried before dinner ended. He is in charge of darkness also, also in charge of crime, in charge of the imagination. People fucking flick him off and on, off and on, with their eyelids as they ascertain with their eyes their love's sincerity. He makes the stars disappear, but he makes small stars everywhere, on the hoods of cars, in the compound eyes of skyscrapers or in the eyes of sighing lovers bored with one another. Onto the surface of the world he stamps all plants and animals. They are not gods but he made us worshippers of every bramble toad, black chive, we find. In Idaho there is a desert cricket that makes a clocklike tick-tick when he flies, but he is not a god. The only god is the sun, our mindmaster of all crickets and clocks. THE ELEPHANT How to explain my heroic courtesy? I feel that my body was inflated by a mischievous boy. Once I was the size of a falcon, the size of a lion, once I was not the elephant I find I am. My pelt sags, and my master scolds me for a botched trick. I practiced it all night in my tent, so I was somewhat sleepy. People connect me with sadness and, often, rationality. Randall Jarrell compared me to Wallace Stevens, the American poet. I can see it in the lumbering tercets, but in my mind I am more like Eliot, a man of Europe, a man of cultivation. Anyone so ceremonious suffers breakdowns. I do not like the spectacular experiments with balance, the high-wire act and cones. We elephants are images of humility, as when we undertake our melancholy migrations to die. Did you know, though, that elephants were taught to write the Greek alphabet with their hooves? Worn out by suffering, we lie on our great backs, tossing grass up to heavenas a distraction, not a prayer. That's not humility you see on our long final journeys: it's procrastination. It hurts my heavy body to lie down. From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

Author
Dan Chiasson
Short Title
NATURAL HIST
Pages
61
Publisher
Knopf Publishing Group
Language
English
ISBN-10
0375711155
ISBN-13
9780375711152
Media
Book
Format
Paperback
Year
2007
Publication Date
2007-09-30
Subtitle
Poems
Country of Publication
United States
Residence
Stony Brook, NY, US
Audience
General/Trade