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ARCHICEMBALO Paperback – April 1, 2009


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Often breathtaking in its erudition, at other times imbued with a forceful simplicity, tricky in its sensibility yet clearly driven by affection, this third collection from the prolific Waldrep (Disclamor) might be the best book of prose poems to appear in a long while. The poems' titles—modeled after the format of old American musical instruction books—mostly inquire into definitions of musical terms: What Is a Key Signature, What Is a Motet. An archicembalo is a keyboard instrument that plays microtonal music, with more than 12 notes per octave. The fine distinctions and unfamiliar harmonies such music contains reappear in Waldrep's curious paragraphs, packed as they may be with odd words and non sequiturs: Sardine of the breath, phoretic flicker. From the bandstand click of a heel like a tooth. They also pay attention to human action and need. They have jokes (Bad parties are in evidence everywhere), anecdotes about children (Waldrep often thinks about names children give things), even embedded anthems: What is union, time's whistles and bells, the whole commodious diapason behind which a third nation lingers. Readers estranged at first might well stick with it. For all the confusing pleasures of Waldrep's phrases, they contain valuable instruction, too. (Apr.)
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Review

"This beautiful collection of prose poetry proves that poems in paragraph form are still new and amazing experiments. G.C. Waldrep turns the prose poem upside down by focusing on what he knows best -- music theory and history, which come to life is compact, language-driven texts. Each poem has a question for a title, such as "What Is Pulse" or "What Is Cadence." This setup explodes into visionary and audio linguistics that accompany the experience of encountering the poem while transforming the reader's senses into a fresh dimension of understanding. Archicembalo is the winner of the Dorset Prize and deserves to be read, reread, and listened to, because the music from this kind of prose poetry never ends." --The Bloomsbury Review, May 2009<br /><br />"Waldrep (Disclamor) here reveals the transparency of poetic language and its affinities with nonlyric genres such as politics and history and its links to routine activities. The poems are ultimately answers to questions posted by their titles, recalling the Archicembalo, a musical instrument of the 1500s designed to experiment with tonality and allowing for call-and-response. The poet makes rich use of a wide range of symbols, from `General Electric, Mutual Omaha' to a sacred city in Iraq: `The Country around Karbala is desert, meaning a dry wind and sand and/ pilgrims in like season.' While lucid, these poems are written in a fabulist style with a complete absence of narrative linearity and must be read attentively. They create a sense of absence that yearns to be present, of a present on the verge of disappearing, and a new language to be rolled around the tongue and set sailing. Recalling works by Russell Edson and Max Jacob, this collection redefines poetry writing. Recommended for academic and large public libraries." --Sadiq Alkoriji, South Regional Library, Broward City, Florida --Library Journal, April 15, 2009<br /><br />"Waldrep's title denotes an antique keyboard instrument with 24, or many more, keys per octave. Notoriously hard to play, such instruments made subtle and challenging music, with notes a conventional score could not include. Waldrep's sometimes bewildering, often exciting prose poems make their own unconventional music, replete with slippages, repetitions, suggestions: `Every sound is tropical, every sound is perishable,' he writes. `My aunt sends one wrapped in butcher paper & string.' Most poems take quizzical titles from musical terms (`What Is a Threnody,' `What Is a Motet'), and most take rhetorical gifts from Gertrude Stein; yet Waldrep's poems, far more than Stein's, revel in the variety of their subjects. Some include clear scenes and characters, as when the poet helps a boy cross a cold road: `we walked slowly, because he was not yet done with being five.' The poet also leavens his intricate compositions with self-consciously playful asides: `Nothing is what it appears to be, I say. To which you reply, yes it is.' Waldrep (who studied the labor movement for his Ph.D. in American history) attends to the meaning of work, to the hardship of lives unlike his own: `Who Was Scheherazade' begins `My job was to pick rocks."' Yet his great triumphs combine such outward sympathies with self-conscious attention to inward oddities, to fleeting thoughts, to the vectors of energy in abstract words: `If I subtract sacrifice from appetite from what fierce attention do I then compromise a strict union, have I faltered, have I made an argument for grace.'" --Stephen Burt -- New York Times Book Review, August 3, 2009 --New York Times Book Review, August 3, 2009

Waldrep (Disclamor) here reveals the transparency of poetic language and its affinities with nonlyric genres such as politics and history and its links to routine activities. The poems are ultimately answers to questions posted by their titles, recalling the Archicembalo, a musical instrument of the 1500s designed to experiment with tonality and allowing for call-and-response. The poet makes rich use of a wide range of symbols, from 'General Electric, Mutual Omaha' to a sacred city in Iraq: 'The Country around Karbala is desert, meaning a dry wind and sand and/ pilgrims in like season.' While lucid, these poems are written in a fabulist style with a complete absence of narrative linearity and must be read attentively. They create a sense of absence that yearns to be present, of a present on the verge of disappearing, and a new language to be rolled around the tongue and set sailing. Recalling works by Russell Edson and Max Jacob, this collection redefines poetry writing. Recommended for academic and large public libraries. --Sadiq Alkoriji, South Regional Library, Broward City, Florida --Library Journal, April 15, 2009

Waldrep's title denotes an antique keyboard instrument with 24, or many more, keys per octave. Notoriously hard to play, such instruments made subtle and challenging music, with notes a conventional score could not include. Waldrep's sometimes bewildering, often exciting prose poems make their own unconventional music, replete with slippages, repetitions, suggestions: 'Every sound is tropical, every sound is perishable,' he writes. 'My aunt sends one wrapped in butcher paper & string.' Most poems take quizzical titles from musical terms (`What Is a Threnody,' `What Is a Motet'), and most take rhetorical gifts from Gertrude Stein; yet Waldrep's poems, far more than Stein's, revel in the variety of their subjects. Some include clear scenes and characters, as when the poet helps a boy cross a cold road: 'we walked slowly, because he was not yet done with being five.' The poet also leavens his intricate compositions with self-consciously playful asides: 'Nothing is what it appears to be, I say. To which you reply, yes it is.' Waldrep (who studied the labor movement for his Ph.D. in American history) attends to the meaning of work, to the hardship of lives unlike his own: 'Who Was Scheherazade' begins 'My job was to pick rocks.' Yet his great triumphs combine such outward sympathies with self-conscious attention to inward oddities, to fleeting thoughts, to the vectors of energy in abstract words: 'If I subtract sacrifice from appetite from what fierce attention do I then compromise a strict union, have I faltered, have I made an argument for grace.' --Stephen Burt --New York Times Book Review, August 3, 2009

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