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Like a Beggarby Ellen Bass
Synopses & Reviews
Ellen Bass brings a deft touch as she continues her ongoing interrogations of crucial moral issues of our times, while simultaneously delighting in endearing human absurdities. From the start of Like a Beggar, Bass asks her readers to relax, even though "bad things are going to happen," because the "bad" gets mined for all manner of goodness.
From "Small Lives":
After dinner, we're drinking scotch at the kitchen table.
Janet and I just watched a NOVA special
and we're explaining to her mother
the age and size of the universe—
the hundred billion stars in the hundred billion galaxies.
Dotty lives at Dominican Oaks, making her way down the long hall.
How about the sun? she asks, a little farmshit in the endlessness.
I gather up a cantaloupe, a lime, a cherry,
and start revolving this salad around the chicken carcass.
This is the best scotch I ever tasted, Dotty says,
even though we gave her the Maker's Mark
while we're drinking Glendronach
"'Bad things are going to happen,' begins Bass (The Human Line), though she insists on giving praise despite that. In the post-Confessional tradition of Sharon Olds — with a backdrop of Rilke and Neruda — and populated with images both traditional (flowers, insects, fruit) and novel (Barbies and TV), Bass tries hard to convey everyday wonder on contemporary experiences of sex, work, aging, and war: 'What if you felt the invisible/ tug between you and everything?' These poems — which contain statements as frankly narrative as 'I'd just left my husband and come out as a lesbian' — chiefly function as memoir, holding Bass's personal experience to such importance that it raises the question of where in poetry is the line between introspection and naval-gazing? While the attempts are honest, the results are mixed, as when the social experiences of the speaker are lauded, while others are employed merely as metaphor for her: 'When I get back in bed I find/ the woman who's been sleeping there/ each night for thirty years. Only she's not/ the same, her body more naked/ in its aging, its disorder. Though I still/ come to her like a beggar.' Still, those who turn to poetry to become confidants for another's stories and secrets will not be disappointed. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Ellen Bass’s new poetry collection, Like a Beggar, pulses with sex, humor and compassion.” New York Times
"In her fifth book of poetry, Bass addresses everything from Saturn's rings and Newton's law of gravitation to wasps and Pablo Neruda. Her words are nostalgic, vivid, and visceral. In contemplation of slaughtered chickens, a fly, jellyfish, and the 'thousand-pound heart' of the blue whale, Bass arrives at the truth of human carnality rooted in the extraordinary need and promise of the individual. Through Bass' eyes, a pearly orchid is not unlike the milky thighs of a woman — 'blood blooming through her veins' — and the thorax of the wasp 'expanding and contracting' has the power to make us aware of our 'own shallow breath.' In the exoskeleton of a wasp and in the earth that once fell 'ever so slightly . . . toward the apple,' Bass shows us that we are as radiant as we are ephemeral, that in transience glistens resilient history and the remarkable fluidity of connection. By the collection's end — following her musings on suicide and generosity, desire and repetition — it becomes lucidly clear that Bass is not only a poet but also a philosopher and a storyteller." Booklist
"The poetic voice of Ellen Bass seems to elicit a humble, inviting covenant between poet and reader: Come as you are, learn from me what you will. Drawing inspiration from the intimate tone of this book, I'm inclined to treat this not as a formal review, but rather as an opportunity to talk about a work that I found, read and loved — or perhaps, just perhaps, one that found, read and loved me....Like a Beggar, is described as the 'ongoing exploration of life's essential question: how do we go on?' These poems show a myriad of answers; some might be the poet's, others might be shared, but the fundamental elements are recognized in the human condition....There is a power to hope and a power to admit: 'But to this angel of wishes I've worshiped / so long, I ask now to admit / the world as it is.' In all its complexity, it is life bared to the bone, seen through the eyes of a poet who removes distance to give us what she can of tools for survival." Nicole M. Bouchard, The Write Place At the Write Time
Featured on NPR's The Writer's Almanac
Champion of the body and the universe, Ellen Bass draws us into her world of details and delight.
About the Author
Ellen Bass was born in Philadelphia in 1947. She is the author of four books of poetry including The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007), which was named a Notable Book of 2007 by the San Francisco Chronicle. In addition, she is co-author of the million-seller Courage to Heal. After a ten-year break from writing to work with survivors of child sexual abuse, Bass felt a calling to return to poetry with the acclaimed Mules of Love (BOA Editions, 2002.) In 1970, she received her masters degree from Boston University, where she studied with Anne Sexton. Her groundbreaking work, No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday) was one of the first anthologies dedicated to poetry written specifically by women. She currently teaches in the low residency MFA program at Pacific University, and lives in Santa Cruz, CA, where she has taught writing and poetry workshops since 1974.
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