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What the Right Hand Knows (Stahlecker Selections) Paperback – October 15, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Laconic yet passionate and sparely personal, the poems in this first book set urbanity and unfolding tragedy in common words and slow-moving, short lines. A gallery owner since the 1990s and a significant figure in New York City's art scene, Healy unsurprisingly sets some poems there; his real gifts emerge, though, in allegorical or remembered rural locales. In one poem “mother and son” take “a Sunday drive on Tuesday” through the land where they grew up, “their remembered selves waving,/ as farmers do.” The specter of chronic disease, likely HIV, looms over that and other verse (“Everyone is so involved/ keeping track of my pills”), while the shadow of time passing besets them all; readers who admire Mark Doty may find far more concise versions of Doty's effects. Healy's finest moments make him spare, elegiac and wry all at the same time: “What do we do when we hate our bodies?/ A good coat helps.” So often interested in bodies, their pleasures, their troubles, Healy frequently decides that neither poetry nor anything else can console us when bodies don't work: “sleep, vegetables, short walks” or even poems all seem to lead “to the logic of failure,// the panic that mind/ is not enough.” (Nov.)
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Review

"Laconic yet passionate and sparely personal, the poems in this first book set urbanity and unfolding tragedy in common words and slow-moving, short lines. Healy's finest moments make him spare, elegiac and wry all at the same time: 'What do we do when we hate our bodies?/ A good coat helps.' ..."—Publishers Weekly


“…What the Right Hand Knows [by] Tom Healy is a first book poet who has a clear and urgent style, a straightforward ownership of his emphatically lyrical choices. … [T]hese are poems about being off-beam, asymmetrical, off-balance in a deaf ear, the left and right hand at odds in their knowledge, the world tipped one way, then another. —Carol Muske-Dukes, The Huffington Post
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Product Details

  • Series: Stahlecker Selections
  • Paperback: 72 pages
  • Publisher: Four Way (October 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1884800955
  • ISBN-13: 978-1884800955
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.3 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,356,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Tom Healy examines sex, illness, beauty, the body, art, the counting-out of pills ("a curse on the one that's striped/turquoise and kelly green"), and the intense relief at finding love that lasts. I'd describe it as honest, sometimes (satisfyingly) blunt, never confessional. Healy embeds veins of narrative, sometimes obliquely, in these poems. As a fiction writer, I love that.

Faulkner (I think it was Faulkner) said that one must write coldly to convey horror; "Chorus of Animals," about a childhood spent on a farm, slowly pans the yard and the barn and shows us "cats begging milk/coiled, wild and frightened,/stuffed in feedbags/and drowned in the pond" and ends with an auctioneer chanting and "a family broken in empty June." I had to read "The Anesthesiologist's Kiss" three times before I could move on from its haunting revelation. And a friend pulled the book away and got absorbed in a poem that begins: "What do we do when we hate our bodies?" One can't presume there is memoir here, but unquestionably there is truth.
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Format: Paperback
What the Right Hand Knows, Tom Healy's hyper-aware debut book of poetry, is a collision between the audible silence of a scratch, the cacophony of a dirty look and a contradiction like "do what I say, not what I do." The poems are striking and calm, inhabiting the landscapes of silent dinner tables, story-less evenings and spartan apartments.

Do not expect ornament. Expect a celebration of the body--naked.

Unlike so many first books, these poems generate their strength from refusing to say more than they need to. At their best, they answer Czeslaw Milosz's call for comprehensible poetry. The argument, there, is that incomprehensible poetry is a poetry of the lazy and privileged and prefers to hide in obscurity to maintain a position of loft and the social caste of the prophet. Whether Milosz is right or wrong, What the Right Hand Knows, all too well, is that it is exponentially more daring to say something in a language that has no time for incomprehensible peacocks.
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First, let me confess I'm not a poetry nut. Most verse leaves me cold, feeling boorish and left-out. Not this stuff. While I'm sure it'll please the more poetically sophisticated--it's that carefully, cleanly articulated!--it's also deeply satisfying for the "regular guy" who likes a good read. Evocative, clear, gripping, a tad confessional and by turns memoir-like, this collection has the heft and transformative power of a good novel, which for me is high praise. Be warned, however: Take in small doses. This is not to be gobbled up like a bag of potato chips but savored in reasonable, fully conscious and deeply satisfying bites. Highly recommend it.
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Format: Paperback
Tom Healy's poetry is an elegiac voice worth knowing. A mixture of the Ancient Greeks, a more sparse, and urgent, Henri Cole, and a little touch of Charles Simic for seasoning. One line often leads to a gorgeously unexpected line. Sometimes he, as in the poem "Here and Now", can arrest your heart at the beginning: "After I found/ my blood in trouble/ /I could hear its rapid/ underground current swell--/ /terrorists setting tributaries aflame/ at low tide." Overall, the poetry is deep in all things philosophical, and psychological, of the self. I look forward to future books by this author and recommend him highly. Additionally, there is a worthy introduction by Richard Howard and the beautiful cover art is by the famed poet, John Ashbery.
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