Draft of a Letter

By James Longenbach
(University Of Chicago Press, Paperback, 9780226492681, 64pp.)

Publication Date: March 2007

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Description

From Second Draft:

What other people learn

From birth,

Betrayal,

I learned late.

 

My soul perched

On an olive branch

Combing itself,

Waving its plumes.  I said

 

Being mortal,

I aspire to

Mortal things.

 

I need you,

Said my soul,

If you’re telling the truth.

 

Draft of a Letter is a book about belief—not belief in the unknowable but belief in what seems bewilderingly plain. Pondering the bodies we inhabit, the words we speak, these poems discover infinitude in the most familiar places. The revelation is disorienting and, as a result, these poems talk to themselves, revise themselves, fashioning a dialogue between self and soul that opens outward to include other voices, lovers, children, angels, and ghosts. For James Longenbach, great distance makes the messages we send sweeter. To be divided from ourselves is never to be alone. “If the kingdom is in the sky,” says the body to the soul, “Birds will get there before you.” “In time,” says the awakening soul, “I liked my second / Body better / Than the first.” To live, these poems insist, is to arise every day to the strange magnificence of the people and places we thought we knew best. Draft of a Letter is an unsettled and radiant paradiso, imagined in the death-shadowed, birth-haunted middle of a long life.

 

Praise for Fleet River

“A sensibility this cogent, this subtle and austere is rare; even rarer is its proof that poetry still flows through all things and transforms all things in the process.”—Carol Muske-Dukes, Los Angeles Times Book Review




About the Author

James Longenbach is the Joseph Henry Gilmore Professor of English at the University of Rochester. He is the author, most recently, of The Resistance to Poetry and Fleet River, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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