A Glossary of Chickens

Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets

Book 62
Princeton University Press
Free sample

With skillful rhetoric and tempered lyricism, the poems in A Glossary of Chickens explore, in part, the struggle to understand the world through the symbolism of words. Like the hens of the title poem, Gary J. Whitehead's lyrics root around in the earth searching for sustenance, cluck rather than crow, and possess a humble majesty.

Confronting subjects such as moral depravity, nature's indifference, aging, illness, death, the tenacity of spirit, and the possibility of joy, the poems in this collection are accessible and controlled, musical and meditative, imagistic and richly figurative. They are informed by history, literature, and a deep interest in the natural world, touching on a wide range of subjects, from the Civil War and whale ships, to animals and insects. Two poems present biblical narratives, the story of Lot's wife and an imagining of Noah in his old age. Other poems nod to favorite authors: one poem is in the voice of the character Babo, from Herman Melville's Benito Cereno, while another is a kind of prequel to Emily Dickinson's "She rose to His Requirement."


As inventive as they are observant, these memorable lyrics strive for revelation and provide their own revelations.

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About the author

Gary J. Whitehead is the author of two previous collections of poetry. His work has appeared in the New Yorker and has been featured on Garrison Keillor's public radio program the Writer's Almanac. Whitehead teaches English at Tenafly High School in New Jersey and lives in New York's Hudson Valley.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Mar 7, 2013
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Pages
72
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ISBN
9781400845965
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Language
English
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Genres
Poetry / American / General
Poetry / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Almanac is a collection of lyrical and narrative poems that celebrate, and mourn the passing of, the world of the small family farm. But while the poems are all involved in some way with the rural Midwest, particularly with the people and land of the northwestern Illinois dairy farm where Austin Smith was born and raised, they are anything but merely regional. As the poems reflect on farm life, they open out to speak about childhood and death, the loss of tradition, the destruction of the natural world, and the severing of connections between people and the land.

This collection also reflects on a long poetic apprenticeship. Smith's father is a poet himself, and Almanac is in part a meditation about the responsibility of the poet, especially the young poet, when it falls to him to speak for what is vanishing. To quote another Illinois poet, Thomas James, Smith has attempted in this book to write poems "clear as the glass of wine / on [his] father's table every Christmas Eve." By turns exhilarating and disquieting, this is a remarkable debut from a distinctive new voice in American poetry.
______



From Almanac:
THE MUMMY IN THE FREEPORT ART MUSEUM


Austin Smith
?


Amongst the masterpieces of the small-town
Picassos and Van Goghs and photographs
of the rural poor and busts of dead Greeks
or the molds of busts donated by the Art
Institute of Chicago to this dying
town's little museum, there was a mummy,
a real mummy, laid out in a dim-lit
room by himself. I used to go
to the museum just to visit him, a pharaoh
who, expecting an afterlife
of beautiful virgins and infinite food
and all the riches and jewels
he'd enjoyed in earthly life,
must have wondered how the hell
he'd ended up in Freeport, Illinois.
And I used to go alone into that room
and stand beside his sarcophagus and say,
"My friend, I've asked myself the same thing."

"For the sake of contraption (like Frost) and of character (like Robinson), John Burt will do a great deal, and his scope and scansion require a great deal, for his theme is nothing less than the reinvention of heroism (King Mark, Mary of Nazareth, St. Francis, Paolo and Francesca, Ariadne) and the invention of a new heroics (Woodrow Wilson, Willard Gibbs). As attentive to ekphrasis as to the sonnet's narrow room, Burt feels what he knows, and he knows that we can learn from the past only by repeating it. A grand achievement!"--Richard Howard.

Almost all these poems are narrative, telling stories that turn on some small but crucial shift of sensibility. One hears in them a speaking rather than a singing voice, a voice which, for all its formality and gravity, remains oral and sociable, a voice which tells things rather than spins charms. Their predominant mood is lucid asperity, sometimes breaking out into the angry Calvinism they always barely keep down, sometimes striving to achieve a humane skepticism that always just eludes them.

The book consists of two sections, one concerned with the cruxes and contradictions of private feeling, the other with the unraveling of the public world. Each section centers on a long narrative poem that culminates the building tensions of the poems that precede it and makes possible the resolutions that follow them.

Sonnet I from "St. Francis and the Wolf" Saved at last, not at the last of me, I knelt two-legged, made of guttural air A little yelp to sound like human prayer. The saints were cautious, understandably.

I took the cup, and managed not to drool, But dreamed the wine was blood, as I'd been taught, And vainly curbed the vain bent of my thought. I knew myself an angel, felt a fool.

Could God have erred in making teeth and maw? Then for his glory I will bite the lamb Whose terror he transmogrifies to awe That I may do his service as I am,

Till as I am I leap the mortal gulf To rage in heaven, a perfected wolf.

Originally published in 1988.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

Almanac is a collection of lyrical and narrative poems that celebrate, and mourn the passing of, the world of the small family farm. But while the poems are all involved in some way with the rural Midwest, particularly with the people and land of the northwestern Illinois dairy farm where Austin Smith was born and raised, they are anything but merely regional. As the poems reflect on farm life, they open out to speak about childhood and death, the loss of tradition, the destruction of the natural world, and the severing of connections between people and the land.

This collection also reflects on a long poetic apprenticeship. Smith's father is a poet himself, and Almanac is in part a meditation about the responsibility of the poet, especially the young poet, when it falls to him to speak for what is vanishing. To quote another Illinois poet, Thomas James, Smith has attempted in this book to write poems "clear as the glass of wine / on [his] father's table every Christmas Eve." By turns exhilarating and disquieting, this is a remarkable debut from a distinctive new voice in American poetry.
______



From Almanac:
THE MUMMY IN THE FREEPORT ART MUSEUM


Austin Smith
?


Amongst the masterpieces of the small-town
Picassos and Van Goghs and photographs
of the rural poor and busts of dead Greeks
or the molds of busts donated by the Art
Institute of Chicago to this dying
town's little museum, there was a mummy,
a real mummy, laid out in a dim-lit
room by himself. I used to go
to the museum just to visit him, a pharaoh
who, expecting an afterlife
of beautiful virgins and infinite food
and all the riches and jewels
he'd enjoyed in earthly life,
must have wondered how the hell
he'd ended up in Freeport, Illinois.
And I used to go alone into that room
and stand beside his sarcophagus and say,
"My friend, I've asked myself the same thing."

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