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Optimist: Poems Paperback – December 15, 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 72 pages
  • Publisher: Ohio University Press; 1 edition (December 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082141612X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0821416129
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #632,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Something of the energy, the savagery and emotional fierceness of Robert Lowell's early poems are to be found in this impressive book by Joshua Mehigan. These poems are often wound tight as spring, and are concentrations of violent feelings and visions of cruelty, yet uttered in a language quietly brilliant, as well as undeniably powerful."—Anthony Hecht

The Optimist, by Joshua Mehigan, is remarkable for its mastery of form and of tone. Mr. Mehigan is Frost-like in the way he plays speech rhythms against the patters of verse, creating a tense, deceptively simple music….”—Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun

“This is a poet with absolutely no reliance on madness or on romantic mismatch between himself and the world, and he should, at the very least, be able to keep doing what he’s doing as impressively as he has been doing it, which is awfully impressively.”—Poetry

“Mehigan is already the sort of poet who gives you lines you want to write down and remember…. There’s nothing old-fashioned about rhyme and meter when they’re used with mastery. Reader, Joshua Mehigan’s poetry is a passionate pursuit of the real.”—The Hudson Review

"Joshua Mehigan’s The Optimist, though a first book, is already the work of a master coming into his unique own. Mehigan writes with a deep and alarming calmness that derives directly from his mastery, and his poems shine with luminous strangeness. The Optimist possesses the mysterious vision and power of great art.”—Andrew Hudgins

There is more insight into domestic grief in these and other poems in The Optimist than in a dozen louder, more overtly confessional books. And that sense of insight born from experience is what makes Mehigan’s work so moving and impressive. Few American poets, old or young, seem to know so much.”—Contemporary Poetry Review

From the Publisher

In Joshua Mehigan’s award-winning poems, one encounters a lucid, resolute vision driven by an amazing facility with the metrical line. Most of the poems in The Optimist unapologetically employ traditional poetic technique, and, in each of these, Mehigan stretches the fabric of living language over a framework of regular meter to produce a compelling sonic counterpoint. The Optimist stares at contemporary darkness visible, a darkly lit tableau that erases the boundary between the world and the perceiving self.

In choosing this book for the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize, final judge James Cummins, wrote:

"Mehigan accesses a tradition of voices . . . to form with great integrity his own. It isn’t that Mehigan is concerned more with what’s outside himself than inside; nor merely that he travels the highway between the two with such humility and grace. It’s also that these voices, this great tradition, infuse his line with what the best verse, metrical or free, must have: wonder." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Joshua Mehigan's first book, The Optimist (Ohio UP), was a finalist for the 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in poetry and winner of the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize. His second book, Accepting the Disaster, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in July 2014.

Mehigan's poems have appeared in many periodicals, including The New Republic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Poetry, which awarded him its 2013 Levinson Prize. His writing has also been featured on Poetry Daily and The Writer's Almanac, and in anthologies such as Poetry: A Pocket Anthology (Penguin) and Bright Wings (Columbia UP). Translations of his poems by Christophe Fricker have appeared in various German periodicals, including Akzente and Krachkultur.

In 2011, Mehigan was awarded Poetry magazine's Editors Prize for best feature article of the year, and was also the recipient of a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Born in upstate New York in 1969, he has lived for the past twenty years in New York City.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Thomas F. Stoelker on February 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
Had we a genuine literary culture I believe The Optimist, the debut collection of Joshua Mehigan, would enjoy the reception accorded Delmore Schwartz's "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" in 1938. These are poems of expressive, never hide-bound formality. In "A Questionable Mother" the realization that every perfectly modulated line of blank verse has a feminine ending can make one laugh out loud, yet also, together with the ghost of a refrain, contributes to a growing unease.

"Promenade" furnishes Mehigan with a hilarious excuse for an overripe rhetoric, as it appears to be a dramatic monologue for a fatuous, middle-aged bachelor, ending on a beautiful, nonsense mock-aphorism. This poem's companion piece could be the brilliant "Another Pygmalion". Both evince the poet's eclat, somehow reckless and modest at the same time. "Promenade" is written in rhyming couplets, yet so sinuously and with such a sure touch at enjambment that the effect is rather peekaboo than Pope and "Another Pygmalion" although printed in a solid block reveals itself to be written in perfect, albeit run-over, terza rima. "A Bird at the Leather Mill" has the eerie quality of a parable by Kierkegaard or Kafka. "Buzzards" feels like it may have its origin in family anecdote, but also reminds this reader of the underappreciated metaphysical lyrics of Leonie Adams. In this poem and many others he can be moving, "In the Home of my Sitter", "The Optimist", "Introduction to Poetry" among them.

That Mr. Mehigan can write such tender, bitter, ruefully comic scenes of upstate New York working-class life and also write very good poems with titles such as "Imperative of the Minor Florentine Chapel" and "Alexandra", about a fourth century anchoress, testifies to his range.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Durkin on November 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
Joshua Mehigan, America's premier younger poet, has a rare combination of gifts: a flawless ear and an eye for the eerily right detail. In poem after poem, he startles the reader with images that seem drawn as much from nightmare as from life. For example, in the haunting poem "The Pig Roast," a farmhand about to slaughter a pig exhibits a surprising tenderness before pulling the trigger: "Outside, the farmhand closed his day. He crouched / beside the rifle hanging from the fence / and scratched the pig's broad head, then slowly rose / as though he'd left a teacup balanced there." It is hard to imagine a more apt and beautiful way to describe the fragile gesture that the farmhand's next action will shatter.

Sometimes Mehigan's imagery borders on the grotesque and comical, as in the dreamlike "Merrily," where a Rimbaud-like speaker, drifting downstream, remarks on the mesmerizing scenery in a series of bewildered questions: "West, through the trees' meshed crowns, light scattering / toward such specific ends! Why those? And why / these flexed roots? Why that oak's failed rendering / of coupled elephants in living wood?"

Perhaps the most memorable image in the book appears at the conclusion of the opening poem, "Promenade," when the wind at an outdoor wedding in Queens creates a climactic spectacle that is both grittily urban and wittily urbane: "Every face turns to look; / and when the bride's tall orange bun's unpinned / by ordinary, inconvenient wind, / all, in the breath it takes a yard of hair / to blaze like lighted aerosol, would swear/ there was no greater miracle in Queens. / Wish is the word that sounds like what wind means."

Good luck trying to forget that last line. Now go buy the book and discover for yourself why Joshua Mehigan is already a poet for the ages.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Larry Woiwode on October 6, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read Mehigan's "Yellow Bottle" in Poetry magazine and on the basis of that, one of the best poems I've ever seen in that journal, I ordered his book. It's one of the few recent books of poetry I had to read straight through; I couldn't stop. This is true poetry in understated elegance, unlike the wild "Yellow Bottle."
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