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Ultima Thule Paperback – April 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Series: Yale Series of Younger Poets (Book 94)
  • Paperback: 72 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (April 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300083173
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300083170
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,786,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A worthy addition to the recent American literature of place, this year's Yale Younger Poets collection keeps to Mammoth Cave, Ky., where McCombs lives and has worked as a guide. The opening sonnet sequence is written in the persona of Steven Bishop, a slave who was a guide to the caves in the mid-1800s. Whether or not McCombs's period-ventriloquism is accurate, his just slightly stilted diction transforms ordinary observations into pleasing verse. "He told of tides/ and how the ocean is affixed as with a chain/ to moonlight," McCombs writes in "Star Chamber," while "Echo River" makes a more musical point: "By slapping/ the water with the flat of my paddle,/ there comes a sound like the ringing of bells." Building on these understated pleasures, McCombs sneaks broad sexual comedy past the reader in "Visitations": "It is the women/ on the tours that give me pause, delicate/ ghost-white, how, that night, I'm told,/ they wake to find themselves in unfamiliar/ beds, and lost, bewildered, call my name." The poems that follow miss the peculiarly off diction of the opening sequence--and even in those poems, McCombs goes back maybe too often to his key words: "silence," "light" and "night." But the compellingly eccentric word choices and odd history and geography come together often enough to make this the finest Yale Poets selection in years. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

It's always interesting to see what will be chosen next for the renowned "Yale Series of Younger Poets," and last year's choice proved particularly strong: it went on to become a National Book Critics Circle finalist. The title, which hints metaphorically at the mythic cold north, is also the name of an inaccessible passage in Kentucky's Monmouth Caves, where McCombs worked as a ranger. In a quiet, steady voice polished as the cave's limestone walls, McCombs delivers a history (both geologic and human) of the cave.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
For all of you who were disappointed in Merwin's pick for the Yale last year (and I must include myself in that category), I say give this one a chance. McCombs is obviously a carefull crafter with an excellent command over form and a love for the language. It is his love for the language, for images, and the music of the poems, something too rarely seen in contemporary poetry that kept me reading and re-reading, often out loud. This is lyrical, musical work that wants to be read out loud. I only gave the book four stars because sometimes the poems seemed too distant, a little too buried in the caves of Kentucky. This seemed especially true in the long sonnet sequence, an excellent example of McCombs' talent but simultaneously a little too stiff, a little too enclosed in the form. (But please realize that this could be my own personal predjudices against form poems.) The fact is I believe McCombs' form poems were far better than many of our mature, well-known poets. My other concern with the long sonnet sequence was the voice. Supposedly a personna poem written from the perspective of a slave who taught himself to read by smoking Mammoth cave's tourists names on the cave walls, I couldn't shake the feeling that McCombs' privileged, well-educated voice was seeping through. But then who am I to say what a slave would think or say or sound like. The fact is McCombs beautiful writing, his musical lines, his word choice and imagery, are what makes this an excellent volume--leaps and bounds better than many previous Yale selections. As an aside--McCombs studied at the University of Virginia under Charles Wright. A lot of great poetry is coming out of that program.Read more ›
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Donald Vish on April 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Davis McCombs is a man of many gifts: phrase, metaphor, story, imagery, message and even wisdom--an unexpected gift from the winner of a literary prize recognizing the work of "younger" poets. Consider his reflection on fame:
"But fame,
like the fire in the hearth, must be fed:
a bundle of twigs soon needs a log to stay
alight. And then full thirty cords of oak."
There is irony in McCombs music. The poet's voice, his voice, is emancipated when he finds the voice of a slave, Stephen Bishop, who worked as a guide and explorer of Mammoth Cave (Kentucky) from 1839 to 1849-- 140 years before Davis McCombs took the same job.
Like Stephen Bishop, Davis McCombs' leads tours through "the dark country" providing his readers with light and music along the way.
If talent were trees, then Davis McCombs' talent is oak and he has a full thirty cords on hand; and maybe more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Even on August 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
It seems to me that Davis McCombs's Ultima Thule has something particularly and refreshingly American about it. His writing shows a real craftsman's touch and sureness of hand. This remarkable book of poems is more than a reflection on the natural wonder of Kentucky's caves, it is a rare and mysterious exploration of the human spirit past and present.
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