Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Daniel Tobin: THE NARROWS

Few new books of poetry appear as ambitiously constructed and as admirably attuned to an era or an atmosphere as Daniel Tobin’s The Narrows. Indeed, despite a primary focus on tales concerning his own relatives, the scope of Tobin’s poetry is anything but “narrow.” Reading this collection of poems about his family’s emigration from Ireland and consequent generational developments in Brooklyn, I sometimes feel like I’ve come across personal correspondence hidden in a kin’s hope chest or an unusually poetic set of memoirs, perhaps similar in content to those prose accounts brought forth by the McCourt brothers. Tobin’s images of individuals in domestic settings are like photos we see when we “leaf through albums . . . captive fragments, / poses struck for the camera, each one / vivid as a rainbow, its colors shading / into the next” (“The Rainbow Café”).

Occasionally even some slender collections of poems seem to me padded with lesser poetry or unnecessary pieces; however, The Narrows comes stuffed with so much wonderful work in its nearly 180 pages spread among a proem and twelve sections that one initially almost wishes it had been split into two or even three books, allowing for more attention to the quality and less dilution by the quantity. Nevertheless, in the end, the cumulative effect of the various series of poems and of the interwoven stories of family members’ lives threaded throughout the collection outweighs the greater emphasis individual poems might receive and the more manageable organization one might witness if some works had been trimmed or the bulk of this book had been divided into slimmer volumes.

Daniel Tobin is a poet of poignant personal portraits and an author to whom identifiable locations matter, particularly those places from his past so closely linked to intimate experiences. Within The Narrows Tobin introduces readers to an interesting cast of characters—mother, father, brother, uncles, aunts, grandparents, neighbors—and brilliant scenes, at home in New York or overseas in ancestral Ireland, he believes most noteworthy in their lives, as well as in his own. In fact, about three-dozen poems name places in their titles, from a specific address in Brooklyn (“502 Schenck Avenue”) to the site of his brother’s Buddhist monastery (“Thinking of Meade Mountain”) and across the ocean to locales in Ireland seen during Tobin’s “reverse journey” to the land of his ancestors (“Inishboffin Suite”).

Born and raised at the same time and in the same neighborhoods of Brooklyn, and sharing similar family histories, I concede that perhaps I more easily identify with the characters and events chronicled by Tobin in The Narrows. At times, I feel I am reading passages concerning my own experiences or relations. Nevertheless, I think it would be difficult for any reader not to be attracted to Tobin’s attentive rendering of settings or to miss the emotional impact in the assiduously drawn personalities within his poetry. Many of the poems in The Narrows are so powerful one wonders how they could go unnoticed by lovers of poetry, and the most effective sections of the book serve as excellent poetic sequences that only increase the impressive merit of the entire collection.

The title of this collection refers to the strait that passes by Tobin’s childhood home in Brooklyn and to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge built during Tobin’s boyhood days to span that waterway, rising into the skies outside his window like a colossal figure: “one day we saw the legs barely risen, / two sheer columns of iron and steel: / the tensile thighs of a man being built.” Although the body never fully takes shape (“where was the rest of him, broad torso and head?”), the physical existence of the bridge soon looms over the nearby shore and becomes a metaphorical, if not mythical, presence in Tobin’s poetry, just as it must have been in the lives and imaginations of those inhabiting homes within visual distance of the bridge: “It was we who gave the image to the air” (“Bridge View”).

Continually, Tobin seems to present themes relating to the bridging of a gap, whether it be the physical and emotional distance between himself and his father that had grown over years—“I feel the line going slack / between us” (“Twentieth Century Limited”)—or the separation that had developed into an absence between his American family and their Irish relatives: “This was my idea, to arrange her return / to where she’d never been, or had been only / in the myth she made of her life” (“My Mother at the House of Her Father’s Fathers”). Likewise, Tobin reaches out to his brother who has converted to Buddhism, and he repeatedly seeks to reconcile the boy he once was to the poet he has become: “I bring my trace home, even now / splicing the narrative together, sounding it out, / pasts made present already the past” (“The Narrows”). In the title poem Tobin also suggests part of the definition of being an American is a reconciliation with the past and an understanding of one’s self amid differing identities, both historical and contemporary: “Is that what it means to be an American, / discovering yourself in the distance?”

Elsewhere, in “A Coat” Tobin speaks of a gift given by a friend, an old coat that had once been worn by the friend's grandfather, a stowaway who’d escaped oppression in the Old World and settled to difficult labor while raising a family in a lower Manhattan tenement, then returned alone to his homeland, living out his life as a legendary recluse: “in the myths we make our lives, // the names lift out of their places, threads / woven into another fabric, like the words.” Near the conclusion of this poem Tobin extends the metaphor: “I’m wearing America like your coat, / the body outsized and rumpled, marred by stains.” It is a gift one would like to do without, perhaps, but just cannot: "And so you come / to find it beautiful, smoothing your hand / along its length, the frayed stitches, the pattern of small bones.”

Ultimately, despite my previous hypothetical division of the book into separate collections and notwithstanding Tobin’s forming the volume into units with poems carrying distinct titles, one would be wise simply to read the whole of The Narrows as a single long poem with ties to Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” or Hart Crane’s “The Bridge.” Although each of the sections of this book has an individual identity and unique content or characteristics, including a nicely written sonnet sequence, the independence of each piece or of the several series of poems does not diminish a unified approach to reading the poetry from the proem through to the final lines in the book, where the speaker, again offering a metaphor connecting the past with the present as well as the future, is seen driving back with his pregnant wife “over the Narrows / into our own lives” (“Outerbridge Crossing”). Below them, waters continue to flow, though reflecting the lighter heavens with which they now are connected in imagery: “a current deeper than history, / the sky bodied in its waters, bright and ongoing.” Indeed, Tobin includes a section of notes at the end of his book where he refers to The Narrows as one long work that “comprises a mural in verse in which individual poems link together recursively to form a single dramatic arc.”

The intricate linking of people and places occurs everywhere in this volume; however, the opening poem from a stellar sequence, “Pearl Court,” hints at the origins of Tobin's poetic ear. In "The House," which displays a variety of neighbors remembered from the building where his family lived in a four-room apartment during his childhood, Tobin recalls the night of a city blackout when everybody climbed to the roof for a view through “the blackness, stars visible / above our cramped antennas.” In the silence and dark that brought them all together, “they listened to ships sounding / on the Narrows like voices through a wall— / the muffled promise of lives beyond our own.” In this collection of poems, Tobin seems still to be attentive to voices, some shadowed by death, listening through the walls of time that separated generations from one another and created distance between individuals. With The Narrows, Daniel Tobin has successfully recorded significant sounds and surroundings, preserving vivid pictures for readers to witness, creating an album of captive fragments depicting the lives behind those voices from the past he has magnificently brought forth for everyone to hear.

Tobin, Daniel. The Narrows. Four Way Books, 2005.

No comments: