- Paperback: 82 pages
- Publisher: Barrow Street Press; 1st edition (May 1, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0989329615
- ISBN-13: 978-0989329613
- Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,874,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Unions 1st Edition
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About the Author
UNIONS is Alfred Corn's eleventh book of poems. He has also published a novel, Part of His Story; two collections of essays; and THE POEM'S HEARTBEAT (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), a study of prosody. For his poetry, he has received a Guggenheim fellowship, the NEA, an Award in Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters, and one from the Academy of American Poets. In 2012, he was a Visiting Fellow of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge, preparing a translation of Rilke's Duino Elegies, and returned as a Life Fellow for a second residency in 2013. He has taught at Yale, Columbia, and UCLA. Later this year, Eyewear will publish his second novel, Miranda's Book.
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Top customer reviews
The title =Unions= is an apt title, as all things seem to be tied together. Formulaically, the experimental, and mostly non-repeating poetic forms, are held together with Corn's strong Lucretian voice. Within the poems, we have many unions. More obviously, a transatlantic union (Union Jack meets the United States), which is befitting of a transatlantic poet like Corn. As well, we have the union of past and present, very often (sometimes with a cameo of future).
Two of my favorite poems may be the most pessimistic. These are “The Great Pessimists” and “Best is Never to Be Born, and if Born…” The latter, a short poem with a long title, is one of the best poems I’ve read on old age. The former presents a catalogue of lovable curmudgeons and leaves, for me, the lasting question of “who is the lovable curmudgeon of our time?” Pessimism exists beyond these poems, but Corn’s pessimism is countered by his playfulness of form.
He tabs the very history of poetic influence with the lines, “Any terrain you find arises from all/ that came before” from the poem “All That Is.” One would assume the voice of the poem has lived from prehistory to the present with a certain knowing sadness.
I highly recommend this book for any beginning poet wishing a teacher or any experienced writer needing inspiration in forms or subject matter. Also, as a fan of English and American history & culture, I find these poems quite satisfying.
My very favorite poem (poem series) in UNIONS is "Eleven Londons", a revisitation of that place spanning the forty years from 1967 through 2007, which is at once a personal and cultural study of the late twentieth century London seen through American eyes.
Corn's intelligence and wit reveal themselves surprisingly, playfully, making UNIONS an utter delight to read and re-read.
The title Unions is apt for a variety of reasons, and Corn could be seen as the perfect author of such an aptly titled book as he personifies poetic and literary unions. An American student of European languages and literature, Corn studied French literature, first at Emory and then at Columbia, where he received his Masters. He is also the author of the eBook, Transatlantic Bridge A Concise Guide to American and British English, a book, published in 2012, discussing, comparing, and contrasting the use of the American and British English.
The poems featured in the book also create a union. They range in length, subject matter, style, pretty much everything, yet there isn’t a single poem in the book that feels out of place. For example, “In the Grunewald Café”, a short poem, is so lyrical, so musical, that I actually had a melody going along with the words in my head the first time I read it. It’s proceeded and followed by poems hardly resembling it, yet, again, nothing feels out of place.
Yet another union, and this harkens back to the Bloom quote, is that of poetic tradition. Allusions to the Romantics, Eliot (who appears a great deal, perhaps due to his own American/English identity, or perhaps simply because the long poem he appears so frequently in, “Eleven Londons,” needs him), and many other canonical writers allow Corn to become a part of the poetic tradition. His courage allows him to cut out a piece out of that tradition and make room for himself, for his own vision, a vision that is sometimes far from happy and optimistic (see poems “The Great Pessimists”, “Best is Never to Be Born, and if Born…”, among others), but a vision that is distinct, and not just among contemporaries, but among the whole of the English poetic tradition.
At his darkest, Corn can become an abyss. “The Great Pessimists”, which almost reads like a survey of the Western Canon’s greatest pessimists, beginning with a quote from Ecclesiastes, we go from Shakespeare’s Lear and Macbeth to Schopenhauer, Eliot shows up, as does Kafka, and the poem ends with a line, in italics, “Nothing puts and end to emptiness but nothingness.” Truly bleak, as bleak as Macbeth himself it seems. But throughout the book, I always sense here and there a light shining, even if a dim, dull light, a repelling of full on pessimism and/or nihilism. There’s always something, there are always these cracks of light, and maybe these are the unions, maybe these are what it is that keeps the poems together. Many poems seem to reflect the quoted Macbeth soliloquy in which life is nothing but a tale told by an idiot. But these poems are reflections of life, and Corn is no idiot, no poor player. What keeps this from dipping deep into pessimism for me is that even if life is nothing but a tale, it’s not just full of sound and fury, and it’s not told by an idiot, it’s (at least here) told by a virtuoso, and the beauty of the tale alone gives it meaning.
Perhaps as a counter to the darkness, whether intentionally or unintentionally, there is a good deal of colloquial language that appears throughout the book that seems to lighten the mood a bit when need be. e.g. The phrase “Bob’s your uncle mate,” used commonly (how commonly I’m not sure) in the UK to sum up simple directions or orders. I was not familiar with this phrase when I came across it (in the poem “Bob”), and though its meaning became apparent almost immediately upon reading, its oddness caused me to crack a smile.
The poems and the work at large are sometimes very elliptical, sometimes experimental, but are always extremely readable and re-readable. There were very few poems, during my initial reading, that I simply read through before moving on to the next. Sometimes this was due simply to an instant love of the read poem, but often this was due to a needed rereading to get a little closer to the intended meaning of the read poem. However, the mentioned ellipses of Corn’s poetry and of Unions never feel like a showing off or anything like that, but always rather feel like a sort of bravado, or perhaps said better, as Bloom did, “courage.”