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Cusp: Poems Paperback – August 17, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 63 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; First Edition edition (August 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618302468
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618302468
  • Product Dimensions: 0.3 x 5.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #873,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Jennifer Grotz's poems have appeared in Tri-Quarterly, Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review, New England Review, Best American Poetry 2000, and elsewhere. She is currently pursuing the PhD in literature and creative writing at the University of Houston. She received her MFA in poetry and MA in english at Indiana University in 1996, and completed her BA at Tulane University in 1993. She has received grants and scholarships from the Oregon Arts Commission, Literary Arts Inc., the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the National Society of Arts and Letters. She is also the author of Not Body, a limited edition letterpress chapbook, published in 2001 by Urban Editions.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Between Two Road Signs in Northern Territory

Allumez vos phares the road sign warns as I enter the tunnel, where nighttime

robs the day, speeding nighttime.
A kilometer later a sign will remind me

Vos phares? but for this instant, litter scrapes and flutters across the ground and I am thinking of the exit into daylight,

it fools me every time, sunlight a harsher seduction than the gleaming eyes of cars rippling behind.

Overhead lights stream geometric shadows that could be pines. In the center of the tunnel

where entrance disappears, I have no choice.
The story is the same backward and forward

so the story is not the point. And the tunnel whispers go down, it whirs and hums. It is the projector’s hiss,

the seat that reclines. I drive deep into the now of the tunnel: after the light behind recedes

my dashboard glows, intricate, boxed in glass.
I dare not interrupt, I spend my fire . . .

The Floating World

The huge quick bursts of light grow like time lapse photography and dissolve into darkness and embers trailing into black water.

I will find you here, sudden as fireworks blooming above the river, the light rail blurring through the empty street,

past the grand hotels along the waterfront, where you stand momentarily breathless amid brass and thick carpet, I know this,

while bellboys rake the vast ashtrays, stamping the hotel insignia on white sand.
Amid the corrosive rain of fireworks, I wonder who would ever leave you.

Who could bear to bloom and fade from you? Earlier in sunlight we found a demolished building between two skyscrapers.

A boom truck, yellow and toy-like, balanced on the collapsed floors, everything coated with the fine pink dust of crumbled brick. I know an anchor

must be here, amid the world floating with all its lights and teases, the carnival spread out like a strip mall along the river, the highways

forming concrete orbits, tracing the many paths we’ve taken to arrive.
The parking lot off Burnside fills with the Japanese woodblock of the King of Hell

surrounded by his Attendants. The anxiousness of people waiting for the bus.
Finding now is the cult of the floating world, but now we are so poisoned

and drowsy from perfume and fear. Even my body behaves like a question increasingly impatient at no answer. I am the firefly catcher in the woodblock

where my mistress in her starry robe holds a fan and paper lantern with two crooked pinkies as I lunge for the veined night sky

with hand raised to grasp—moonlight’s clichéd now— at the haloed black insects, five of them lazily floating.

The Last Living Castrato

Difficult to believe, a knife ensures the voice, soprano notes proceed intact while chest hair and beard accompany the new lower octaves, the voice expanding

beyond sex, limited only by lung. And now whole operas composed for castrati are abstract and unperformable, now whole species of off-humans who

were sacrificed for air, for air sinking and rising in their throats, are extinct, now facsimiles reproduce for our ears what is digital mastery,

bleeding soprano and countertenor. Except for the brief miracle of Edison’s recording: the last living castrato’s voice brimming through

static and hiss. Technology at its beginning and old-school opera at its decline, that cusp between where a voice spanning five octaves sang

to give us proof of the voice, and of how we doctored it to make it more whole, to widen emotion’s aperture. He held it

in his mouth. Audiences would beg for the aria to be sung over and over, interrupting the story, which was only

an excuse for the voice. The voice is how, rising, rising, so as to dive, and he held it in his mouth releasing

our cruel sacrifice, our gratitude to hear it fall, driven to where the voice takes us: silence, applause.

Map to Light You Can Call Blue

Where crows gather in military V’s to stitch the unhealable wound of sky.
They spiral into Lake Ransom Canyon before dusk, their cries echoing on caliche, abandon.
Start here, where fields of cotton mop the caprock dust that released at your birth.

The oily road leads you to wildflower graves, then back to this dust suspended in the sunset at your feet.
Will this much dust be miraculous, splintered earth in air? When it settles, wipe it off the car hood as if this weren’t Texan desert but what will seem impossible, what will never stop astonishing.

Spangled. Purple. Ruined.
I want the words to get me back to you.
The crows ruin my entrance. They sing their spangled ohhhs until the purple night makes foamy ash of you. Because I cannot stop you, I let the sunsett envelop you.

But now the desert and the canyon are lunar surfaces, and you are unforgivable.
When will you turn suspicious? New one, is it enough to love the alien land and not to know later you will love a man this way, grasp his arm as terribly as thisssss terrain resists gathering you up?


Leaves in Lubbock curl into dark hands, fall into yellow grass, but the desert reasserts itself every season. Because October is not the time of dying, because everything is tentative planted in dust, flat land packs itself tighter. Where the most alien thing to imagine is water roaring underground through the pumps of the Ogalalla Aquifer, a sky turns powdery and bright.

Under this light we huddled at the pond by the concrete underpass with muddy string and carrots to lure crawfish.
Unpredictable, unaware of season, the minnows darted, changed direction like the roaches swimming across sugar packets in the hatchback parked next door stuffed completely except for the driver’s seat with trash. A lake of old cereal boxes and junk mail, crusty towels and fast-food cups pressed against the windows.

I have defined my landscape by its shapes, the family car’s four doors ajar in the driveway like a cruel piece of farm machinery, or my friend who listens to Mahler with long pieces of stiff paper he folds up or down to make a skyline for each symphony.
But what of a fish in water, more abstract than music, yes, soundless until caught, then frantic and vowel-like?

What of its ceaseless stare—but I must stop because the fish belongs where it is supple and limbless.
Biologists argue over what makes a school: two or three or as many as form a three-dimensional shape.
In fall, the dying fits in: I picture the pond dribbling into the packed mud and grassy edge.
The hatchback holds this shape, and shape is this tentative— it has gaps and tiny spaces, never filled— while the fish is smothered in water, its skeleton flimsy as plastic price tags, and that is terrifying, or am I looking all wrong?

Copyright © 2003 by Jennifer Grotz. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Customer Reviews

2.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
I read this book and found it to be like all the first books I've read of late: there were a few things to like, and many things to feel indifferent about. I took what I could get out of it--in inspiration and in caution--and will now move on and read the other new books out there. What continues to surprise me about the forums which surround the first books listed in Amazon is the amount of needlessly disdainful reviews which appear. The two long reviews which have appeared here for "Cusp" were clearly written by articulate, intelligent people--and yet after a while, given the heavy-handed dressing-down these reviews perform on the book, one begins to wonder about the reviewer and his or her state of mind. Why would anyone take a half-hour of his or her time writing a review that amounts to, at the least, a kind of road rage, and at worst a kind of hit-and-run? It's one thing to feel a great passion for poetry, to feel that every book should shine with ever-newer possibility and accomplishment, but it's another thing to focus on one book like "Cusp" and gleefully trash it. "Cusp" is part of the huge plurality of work that's being done in American poetry now; if you don't like it go on to something else.
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Rania Yacoub on October 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is a very average book of poems--little to excite or delight. The poem about the last Castrato reminded me of that film Faranelli--a good film, an okay poem. The dog and wolf stuff reminded me of James Dickey's famous poem about the stage between dog and wolf. The language in these poems is neither dazzling nor surprising, but one can sense that the poet is dedicated to the cause of poetry. The imitations function well as tributes, if not as full-developed poems.
I do wonder why the reviewer below would waste fifteen minutes writing a review of someone else's review. That to me seems ridiculous. The poet doesn't need anyone to defend her work. Any new book of poetry is a good thing. This book is fairly inoffensive if not unremarkable. I would think the poet would be delighted that people are reading her book and have any response to it at all. I wonder what will come next for this poet after she have moved beyond the "Cusp."
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15 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
(Reading these other reviews, it occurs to me that "workshop poetry" is taken as a bad thing. When someone thinks the poetry is original, they write that it is "not workshop", when they think it stinks, it "reeks of workshop". Both have been used to described "Cusp". It's interesting how much the definition of what a "workshop poem" is varies...)
I wouldn't use the word "workshopped" to describe this first book because it would imply that I believe these poems were actually submitted to other people, including a seasoned and discriminating instructor, for review. I understand that at one point, sometime in her young life, Ms. Grotz was a student in the MFA program at Indiana University. I have to wonder if maybe these poems were the ones she kept taped up in a shoebox during that time, afraid to submit them lest anyone criticize them and question their sentimentality. That's what I get when I read these poems: no "workshop" about it.
There are a few things young poets need to stay away from: Vermeer, France, losing their virginity (or not), Villanelles, getting drunk, photographs of childhood, France and Vermeer. Grotz writes cliche poems.
I give the book two stars because she's young (and because I didn't see Vermeer make an appearance anywhere in this collection). I'm hoping she waits another ten years, actually lives a life original enough to write about (or just gives up and writes about someone else's life) and finds a way to share it all in such a way that isn't so darn mediocre.
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14 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
Honestly, a very disappointing book.
The promotional material on the back cover claims the collection "explores the peculiar territory of middleness--neither dark nor light, not quite familiar but not fully unknown." I would relabel this territory mediocrity, unfortunately an all-too common phenomenon in the increasingly conservative contemporary environment of feel-good poetry workshops where originality, risk, honesty, and daring are viewed as dangerous and suspect; many first books appear before the would-be writer has had the opportunity to realize that sycophantic imitation of one's mentors isn't art but merely an essential first step in a beginner's path to discover a voice.
These poems strike me as the worst kind of workshop poetry--slavishly imitative and derivative, afraid to push the boundaries of subject matter and language, overeager to resort to the crutches of preciousness, pretentiousness, and affected folksiness. This is a writer who tries very hard to impress and please, but all the reader feels are the contortions of Grotz's repeated failed efforts. Occasionally, the poems seem to genuinely be on the "cusp" of getting somewhere, but even the better ones are, at best, forgettable and inoffensive. This is a writer who has yet to master the most basic eloquence of expression.
There are four types of poems here, as an earlier reviewer has correctly intimated: The "I'm from Texas and my adolescence sucked" poems, the "I went to France and drank French beverages and wished I was a cultured European" poems, the "I listen to music and look at art and have epiphanies because of them" poems, and the "I've been in love and love has caused me pain but love isn't so bad after all" poems.
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