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The Book of a Hundred Hands (Kuhl House Poets)by Cole Swensen
Synopses & Reviews
The hand is second only to language in defining the human being, and its constant presence makes it a ready reminder of our humanity, with all its privileges and obligations. In this dazzling collection, Cole Swensen explores the hand from any angle approachable by language and art. Her hope: to exhaust the hand as subject matter; her joy: the fact that she couldn't. These short poems reveal the hand from a hundred different perspectives. Incorporating sign language, drawing manuals, paintings from the 14th to the 20th century, shadow puppets, imagined histories, positions (the "hand as a boatless sail"), and professions ("the hand as window in which the panes infinitesimal"), Cole Swensen's fine hand is "that which augments" our understanding and appreciation of "this freak wing," this "wheel that comforts none" yet remains "a fruit the size and shape of the heart."
"The title is accurate: 100 short, smart, off-kilter poems about the human hand — its physiology, its uses, its role in history, its symbolism and the art forms that depend upon it — form Swensen's entertaining latest collection. As in previous works, Swensen (Try; Such Rich Hour) sometimes fashions poems from adapted or partially erased found texts, especially those from previous centuries. Her strongest pages, though, rely on observation and wit, taking apart ordinary syntax and context, then bringing them back again by the end of the poem. 'The Hand as Origami' depicts prehistoric migration as a version of a children's game. Sections near the end of the volume devoted to American Sign Language and to shadow puppetry turn ordinary description into a set of double- and triple-meanings. Such a large set of similar short works may be more impressive dipped into than read straight through: nevertheless, these passages about palm and fingertip, tendon and thumb, are far more than five-finger exercises and could be the form that will find this poet, much admired in academia, an audience outside it. (Oct.) " Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Cole Swensen is the author of nine other books of poetry, including Such Rich Hour and Try (Iowa, 2001 and 1999). Her work has won the National Poetry Series competition, the Iowa Poetry Prize, the San Francisco State Poetry Center Award, and a Pushcart Prize, and she has been a finalist for the National Book Award. She is also a translator of contemporary French poetry, prose, and art criticism. Currently on the faculty of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she divides her time among Iowa City, Washington, D.C., and Paris.
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