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Minsk: Poems Hardcover – April 4, 2005

3.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A much-revered English poet makes her American debut with this subtle and consistently polished collection, whose title refers not just to a cold Belarussian capital but to cold hearts and cold shoulders close to home. Greenlaw's brilliantly downcast opening sequence describes a frustrating smalltown childhood, lived "in a quiet place/ where the undiluted dark of the streets/ without streetlight, had no emphasis." Poems about piano lessons, kids' antics aimed "smack dab in the village eye," "anhedonia" and a young adult's struggles in London give Greenlaw's careful and sympathetic take on what appears to be her own biography, while similarly deft poems chronicle medieval and fairy tale lives that resemble her own or seek parallels in mythology and zoology. A closing sequence (called, for the prevalent ice, "A Drink of Glass") follows the poet's trip to the Arctic Circle. Often compared to Elizabeth Bishop, Greenlaw is also a talented novelist (Mary George of Allnorthover), and the quiet triumphs show both her Bishop-like subtlety and her talent for compressed narrative. (Apr.)
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Review

"Greenlaw''s poems are dreams of travel and longing for home-- they have the clarity and purity one associates with cold air." (Time 2005-05-03)

"Greenlaw writes precisely and without inflation about memory, family, travel and art." (New York Sun 2005-04-01)

"A solid treasure of poems...essential" (Orlando Sentinel 2005-04-24)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (April 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151010927
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151010929
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,269,939 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Lavinia Greenlaw's third book of poems, Minsk, is her American poetry debut. Picked as a "Next Generation" poet in 1994, Greenlaw has become a major voice in British letters. Minsk, however, is disappointing. Harcourt could have easily produced a selected poems, as they did for "Next Generation" poet Simon Armitage, with a dozen major poems from Night Photograph, a dozen from A World Where News Travelled Slowly, and a dozen from Minsk. Such a volume would have better presented Greenlaw's remarkable skills, her icy gaze, and her geological imagination to her new American audience. Instead, in Minsk, we have a poet in transition, trying out some new modes, not all of which fit (and a supremely inept introduction by Edward Hirsch).

Greenlaw's early poems are full of careful observations--of the night sky and the earth, of those who study the earth and sky. When they do turn personal, Greenlaw creates enough distance to show she is working a theme rather than just telling us about the tribulations of last Thursday. This is not always the case in Minsk, where she too often recounts some childhood moment as if we had asked:

The piano years . . . Too young to drive
I played pedal to the metal
full reverb, wah-wah and fuzz,
a collision course bending Chopsticks
into hairpins, trilling the hell
out of cheesy Für Elise.

Thus begins "Essex Rag," and while it has charm, Greenlaw cannot make something from nothing much.
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