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Magnetic North Hardcover – March 6, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the searching, extended meditations of her fourth collection, Gregerson (Waterborne) draws relationships between disparate subjects and historical periods with masterful assurance, trying to head off the dizzying sensation of loss or perhaps to prolong its effects. Often, the desire for divine reassurance is tempered by a cerebral wryness in response to witnessing desperation and suffering firsthand. In a poem about September 11, Gregerson writes, "There are/ principles at work, no doubt:/ beholding a world of harm, the mind/ will apprehend some bringer-of-harm"; intellectualization artfully circumvents uncontrolled emotional response. Gregerson's elastic line lengths and flexible stanza structures figure her poetic access to recent and remote events and people, which are interwoven to create a fabric that can withstand the present. Gregerson self-consciously strives toward an understanding of universal order she knows she can never have: "The world so rarely/ let's us in." The poems are strongest when Gregerson's local, natural world becomes a portal to the metaphysical, and poems on mythological subjects and other artists are at times less moving. But at her best, Gregerson's compass points surely through a landscape in which "what was/ the future—cinnabar, saffron, marigold,/ quince—becomes the past." (Mar.)
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From Booklist

The energy driving Gregerson's syncopated, witty, yet tensile poetry derives from the friction between conversational litheness and intellectual weight. The author of three previous poetry collections, as well as a treatise on Spenser and Milton, English professor Gregerson teaches Renaissance literature as well as creative writing, and translates her scholarly interests into lyrical expression with grace and selectivity. Not that Gregerson isn't sharply attuned to the world around her. Nature is the touchstone, and she writes with fresh perception about its many splendors. Art is also a catalyst. Reflections on works by the Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz yield the lines: "the world you have to live in is / the world that you have made." Gregerson writes with sensual exactitude about the curious meeting of minds human and avian in the art of falconry, and religious conundrums surface often. In "De Magnete," Gregerson riffs on historic sources while contemplating attraction, exploration, mutability, and the theme addressed throughout this intricately latticed and laced collection: the ways art and science mediate our perception of the world. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (March 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618718702
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618718702
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #512,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robert Beveridge HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on April 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Linda Gregerson, Magnetic North (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)

I spent the first part of this book wondering what all the fuss was about, honestly; it's good, solid work, but there wasn't really anything that stood out, that really caused me to prick up my ears and take notice. Then, however, came the last section of the book. And when Magnetic North sings, it really takes off.

"You would/swear she hadn't a thought in her head/except for her buttermilk waffle and//its just proportion of jam. But while/she laughs and chews, half singing/with the lyrics on the radio, half//shrugging out of her bathrobe in the/kitchen warmth, she doesn't quite/complete the last part, one of the//sleeves--as though, you'd swear, she/couldn't be bothered--still covers/her arm. Which means you do not//see the cuts." ("The Prodigal")

It just goes along, and then whack, right in the face. But, as the poem goes on, there is nothing of castigation, nor-- and this is where it really gets interesting-- of curiosity. It just is; "she isn't stupid, she can see that we/who are children of plenty have no/excuse for suffering we//should be ashamed and so she is/and so she has produced this many-/layered hieroglyphic..."

If the entire volume had been at this level of intensity, it would have shot straight to the top of my beast reads of the year list. (Of course, it's highly probable that, in that case, no one else would have liked it all that much; such is the curse of being me.) I like its last twelve pages a great deal, however, and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing more of Linda Gregerson's work. ***
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. Wittenmyer on March 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Psychologists and media theorists, who study visual perception, speak of a phenomenon called perceptual completion. This occurs when our brain fills in the missing information in a given image (think "connect the dots"). Magnetic North, by Linda Gregerson, is a study of the intellectual cognate to this theory. Gregerson's scholarly voice juxtaposes dissimilar thoughts and draws us, self-consciously, into this, often taken for granted, process of completion. Her speakers pull us out of conversation, observation, the poem itself and, most importantly, any desire to oversimplify. Her verse is learned, though not in an archaic or stilted sense. She reaches into her intellectual well when it's both economical and sonorous. There's nothing puffy or pretentious about it. Neither is she a romantic poet of everyday language. But then, it's the wisdom of the everyday, not just the absolutes of science, that she finds so troubling.

In "Sweet," a mother chides that civilization cannot go on this way, as long as "we/ have so much/ and the other people so little"(1). The reaction to this is a callous and cynical "Sweet"(1). But this assault, on an endearing if naive world view, comes from a separate voice in the poem. Life is not "sweet," nor should our attitude towards it be contemptuous. Both of these pathologies, according to the Magnetic North, discard all the beautiful complexity around us.

Her tone is objective, and her language impressive--but she will not let it control the conversation. If nothing else, this is poetry of internal conversation: the conversations in us, within those around us, and throughout history. Specifically, "Dido in Darkness" appears to be a dialogue between voices of uncertain origin. They could be two different people, or two sides of an internal monologue.
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