Natural History

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Apr 2, 2009 - Poetry - 86 pages
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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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Contents

THE SUN
23
THE ELEPHANT
25
PURPLE BUSH
27
THE HYENAS
29
THE BEAR
31
FROM THE LIFE OF GORKY
33
GEORGIC
34
PLINY
35
INSCRIBED ON A LINTEL
41
NEWS
42
RANDALL JARRELL
43
THE PIGEON
44
THE ELEPHANT III
45
THERE ISA STAR IN THE SEA
46
GEORGIC II
47
THINGS I SAWWITH MY OWN EYES
48

FROM THE LIFE OF GORKY II
36
THE ELEPHANT II
38
MAKING PURPLE
39
PLINY II
40
FROM THE LIFE OF GORKY III
50
WHICH SPECIES ON EARTH IS SADDEST?
51
XIVTHESOIL
53
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About the author (2009)

DAN CHIASSON was born in Burlington, Vermont, and was educated at Amherst College and Harvard University, where he completed a Ph.D. in English. His first book of poems, The Afterlife of Objects appeared in 2002. A widely published literary critic, Chiasson is the author of One Kind of Everything:Poem and Person in Contemporary America. He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a Whiting Writers’ Award, and teaches at Amherst and Wellesley colleges. He lives in Sherborn, Massachusetts.

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