Synopses & Reviews
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 wont 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.
"This second book by Chiasson (The Afterlife of Objects) is split into two parts: the first tracks a burgeoning relationship ('When you ran towards me, I said, Stop there,/ stop now, you'll end up/ in a stranger's life'); the second opens with a 24-poem series called 'Natural History' (inspired, the notes tell us, by Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis). Like his editor, Deborah Garrison, Chiasson seeks an ordinary language to capture the not-so-ordinary emotions that accompany everyday life and observations ('You can't buy the tears that adorn my eyes/ on eBay or in the diamond district'), one that occasionally leans heavily on metaphor and simile, 'as if regret itself were a river and want// that was the source of the river flowed/ through the river.' But when it works, it's lovely: 'this is the rule of The Who, you shall be Muzak,/ you shall be orchestral, electronic and franchised.' But it doesn't all come together often enough to sustain this short book, even with the poems that draw on Pliny's images and diction. The love poems crash convincingly in spots, but feel like a series of unresolved accusations; the Pliny poems, taking natural history to involve a variety of human evils, end up a little too diffusely arch, even at their meanest and most outraged." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
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.