As with her six earlier collections, these poems are drawn from the transpersonal realm of history and cultural memory, but they display an increasing horror at the bloody repetitions of history, its service of death, and the destructive savagery of power separated from intelligence and restraint. The poems describe “a sordid drama” in which the players wear “eyeless masks,” and the only thing time changes is the name of the enemy. Underneath it all, driving “the art that” in both senses “keeps nothing at bay,” swim the enormous formal energies of life, the transitive figure that moves on in the depths, something glimpsed in the first light, something stronger than hope.
“It is a relief to come across work in which a moral intelligence is matched by aesthetic refinement, in which the craft of the poems is equal to their concerns.”--Christian Wiman, Poetry
Eleanor Wilner is a former MacArthur Fellow and the author of six previous collections of poetry, including Otherwise and Sarah’s Choice, both published by the University of Chicago Press.
Before Our Eyes gathers more than thirty new poems by Eleanor Wilner, along with representative selections from her seven previous books, to present a major overview of her distinguished body of work. A poet who engages with history in lyrical language, Wilner creates worlds that reflect on and illuminate the actual one, drawing on the power of communal myth and memory to transform them into agents of change.
In these poems, well-known figures step out of old texts to alter their stories and new figures arise out of the local air—a girl with a fury of bees in her hair, homesick statues that step down from their pedestals, a bat cave whose altar bears a judgment on our worship of war, and a frog whose spring wakening invites our own. In the process, ancient myths are naturalized while nature is newly mythologized in the service of life.
Before Our Eyes features widely anthologized works such as “Sarah’s Choice” and “Reading the Bible Backwards.” In the new poems, Wilner records the bewildering public shocks of the current moment, when civic life is under threat, when language itself is attacked, and when poetry’s lens of collective imagination becomes a way to resist falsity, to seek meaning, and to really see what is before our eyes.
Poetry’s archives are incomparable, and to celebrate the magazine’s centennial, editors Don Share and Christian Wiman combed them to create a new kind of anthology, energized by the self-imposed limitation to one hundred poems. Rather than attempting to be exhaustive or definitive—or even to offer the most familiar works—they have assembled a collection of poems that, in their juxtaposition, echo across a century of poetry. Adrienne Rich appears alongside Charles Bukowski; poems by Isaac Rosenberg and Randall Jarrell on the two world wars flank a devastating Vietnam War poem by the lesser-known George Starbuck; August Kleinzahler’s “The Hereafter” precedes “Prufrock,” casting Eliot’s masterpiece in a new light. Short extracts from Poetry’s letters and criticism punctuate the verse selections, hinting at themes and threads and serving as guides, interlocutors, or dissenting voices.
The resulting volume is an anthology like no other, a celebration of idiosyncrasy and invention, a vital monument to an institution that refuses to be static, and, most of all, a book that lovers of poetry will devour, debate, and keep close at hand.