Angie Estes

Paper $15.95
(ISBN 978-0932440-358)

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Named one of two finalists for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, as "a collection of poems remarkable for its variety of subjects, array of genres and nimble use of language."

Gleeful and gorgeous, delighted by puns and other wordplay (including words from French, Latin and Italian), Estes's fast-paced free verse, rich with internal rhyme, takes rightful pride in the beauties it flaunts and explains. Her fourth collection finds, for recurrent motifs, saints' lives, medieval manuscripts, gold leaf and the alphabet: "hearts bloom / out of Ds like lamb chop sleeves / in the script of the fifteenth-century / scribe"; in a gilded Book of Hours, "the letters / have fallen out of the words and lie / scattered on the ground." Each deft poem weaves together multiple topics — some art-historical, others autobiographical — through chains of homonyms and knotty analogies: "Take Cover" skates from the French "couvre feu, cover the fire" (the origin for our word "curfew") to disheveled bedcovers and 1950s-style duck-and-cover drills. Though Estes revels in European reference (Dante, Trieste, Greta Garbo), her matchless hunger for experience makes her indelibly American: "how the tongue / keeps lapping the world’s / loot," she exclaims, "even in the 499th lap / of the Indy 500." The arts — from Cimabue’s painting to haute cuisine — are for Estes never mere luxuries; rather, the arts, and our pride in them, give us the only effective countermeasures to loneliness, helplessness and serious pain. And pain — remembered or feared — is always somewhere: "So Near Yet So Far" connects a lunar eclipse, a film starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, a concept from high-energy plasma physics and "the necklace / of pearls my father bought my mother / for their forty-fifth wedding / anniversary, which she made him / take back."
--Stephen Burt, New York Times Book Review

Whenever I see a poem by Angie Estes I prepare myself for serious delight. Who else can move so effortlessly from an Appalachian cornfield to a medieval fresco and back again by way of Rita Hayworth and a couple of bilingual puns? Her timing and her ever-uninhibited instinct for poetic shape are the triumphs of a first-rate musical intelligence. Angie Estes is Fred Astaire and Ginger too: backwards in high heels, forward on rollerskates, never have classy and sexy been better matched.
--Linda Gregerson

In her poem "Love Letters," Angie Estes writes, "I cover secrets, break me and read." And indeed, throughout Tryst, Estes' fourth and most personal collection, the poet gets straight to the heart of love, language, and memory. Details from the rural Appalachian lives of Estes' own family yield to meditations on '40s film stars, medieval saints, ancient Romans--and vice-versa. We learn that gold leaf is applied with a brush fashioned out of squirrel tail, Nijinsky invented a fountain pen he called God, and female prisoners of the concentration camp at Terezin composed recipes to be tasted only in memory: all part of the human passion to create, destroy, and above all, be known. Estes' tryst here is with history and the way it absorbs everything and everyone, leaving words, those most articulate of witnesses, behind. Like the Roman Forum with its dizzying strata of time exposed, Tryst is layered, sad, magnificent, and made memorable in and because of language. Break. Read.

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Crows in spring gardens can work their way
down a row, eating all of the newly planted
kernels of corn, so in the Appalachians, a common
method for scaring them off is to hang
a dead crow upside down from a pole
like St. Peter in Caravaggio's Crucifixion. Because
he cannot walk, the Japanese deity Kuebiko stands
outdoors all day and therefore knows everything,
like my grandfather who keeps standing in this
black and white photograph at feeding time
with three chickens, my white duck, his dog
Buckwheat, and a black cat who follows him, tail
straight up in the air. In Cimabue's
fresco of the Cucifixion in the transept
of the basilica at Assisi, the white lead pigment
has oxidized, leaving only black space
where the faces of angels and mourners
and the hanging body of Christ
used to be. The negative
of a photograph we keep holding
to the light, it burns--a November
cornfield, husks and twisted stalks
pointing to a sky the color of blood
in the vein, the hands of my grandmother
still aimed in every direction: please pass
the potatoes, pass the butter, pass the
time. Around each figure, the aura
of gold just turning to rust must be
Aurora itself--her rust, her must--
which is how my grandfather always predicted
the day would turn out to be: red sky
at morning, sailor's warning

Copyright c 2009 by Angie Estes. May not be reproduced without permission.

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