Synopses & Reviews
A dazzling new collection from an award-winning poet
Amy Gerstler has won acclaim for sly, sophisticated, and subversive poems that find meaning in unexpected places. The title of her new collection, Scattered at Sea, evokes notions of dispersion, diaspora, sowing ones wild oats, having ones mind expanded or blown, losing ones wits, and mortality. Making use of dramatic monologue, elegy, humor, and collage, these poems explore hedonism, gender, ancestry, reincarnation, bereavement, and the nature of prayer. Groping for an inclusive, imaginative, postmodern spirituality, they draw from an array of sources, including the philosophy of the ancient Stoics, diagnostic tests for Alzheimers disease, 1950s recipes, the Babylonian Talmud, and Walter Benjamins writing on his drug experiences.
"Amid the grab bag of discursive forms that make up Gerstler's eighth collection, single anecdotes animate several poems, as when a speaker misreads an offer for 'Beethoven's Complete Symphonies' as 'Beethoven's Complete Sympathies' and indulges in the not-so-surprising riff: 'This immortal/ master... has not forgotten those left behind/ to endure gridlock and mind-ache,/ wearily crosshatching the earth's surface/ with our miseries....' Gerstler has a bit of a Billy Collins problem, writing poems that tussle with, but never quite extend, intentionally light premises that conceal serious subjects: domestic life, evolution and chronic stagnation, magic and the supernatural. In 'Touring the Doll Hospital,' for instance, the speaker asks, 'Why so many senseless injuries?' and a few lines later, sighs, 'Small soldiers with no Geneva Convention to protect them....' Such jokes tend to sink pieces in which some version of the spirit world is invoked: 'Witch Songs' refers to an 'invitation/ written in semen and ash / can't we just reply in ink?' while, 'The Oracle at Delphi, Reincarnated as a Contemporary Adolescent Girl,' begins, 'I'm high most of the time on hallucinogenic fumes.' Often, one doubts the poet's own investment in particular poems. What to make of a long catalogue, 'Fuck You Poem #45,' which reads like an undergraduate exercise: 'Fuck you in slang and conventional English./ Fuck you in lost and neglected lingoes./ Fuck you hungry and sated; faded, pock marked and defaced./ Fuck you with orange rind, fennel and anchovy paste.' While the collection's formal heterogeneity is refreshing, too many of the pieces here feel tossed off. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
[Gerstler] has created a singular body of work, at once witty, daring, and full of pathos.... She is the wisecracker in the face of the inexplicable. (Los Angeles Times)
Sly and sophisticated, direct, playful, and profound, Amy Gerstler’s new collection highlights her distinctive poetic style. In thirty-seven poems, using a variety of dramatic voices and visual techniques, she finds meaning in unexpected places, from a tour of a doll hospital to an ad for a CD of Beethoven symphonies to an earthy exploration of toast. Gerstler’s abiding interests—in love and mourning, in science and pseudoscience, in the idea of an afterlife, in seances and magic—are all represented here. Entertaining and erudite, complex yet accessible, these poems will enhance Gerstler’s reputation as an important contemporary poet.
About the Author
Amy Gerstler is a writer of fiction, poetry, and journalism whose work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including the Paris Review and Best American Poetry. Her 1990 book Bitter Angel won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Previous titles from Penguin are Crown of Weeds, 1997, and Nerve Storm, 1993.