The Ada Poems

The Ada Poems

By Cynthia Zarin

Knopf Publishing Group, Hardcover, 9780307272478, 59pp.

Publication Date: September 21, 2010


A dazzling story of obsessive love emerges in Cynthia Zarin’s luminous new book inspired and inhabited by the title character of Nabokov’s novel Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, who was the lifelong love of her half brother, Van.

These electric poems are set in a Nabokovian landscape of memory in which real places, people, and things—the exploration of the Hudson River, Edwardian London, sunflowers, Chekhov, Harlem, decks of cards, the death of Solzhenitsyn, morpho butterflies—collide with the speaker’s own protean tale of desire and loss. With a string of brilliant contemporary sonnets as its spine, the book is a headlong display of mastery and sorrow: in the opening poem, “Birch,” the poet writes “Abide with me, arrive / at its skinned branches, its arms pulled / from the sapling . . . the birch all elbows, taking us in.” But Zarin does not “Destroy and forget” as Nabokov’s witty, tender Ada would have her do; rather, as she writes in “Fugue: Pilgrim Valley,” “The past’s / clear colors make the future dim, Lethe’s / swale lined with willow twigs.” Like all enduring love poetry, these poems are a gorgeous refusal to forget.

A riveting, high-stakes performance by one of our major poets, The Ada Poems
extends the reach of American poetry.

About the Author
Cynthia Zarin is a staff writer at "The New Yorker" magazine and an Artist-in-Residence at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City.

She is the author of several books of poetry and four picture books for children: "Rose and Sebastian; What Do You See When You Shut Your Eyes?; Wallace Hoskins, the Boy Who Grew Down;" and "Albert, the Dog Who Liked to Ride in Taxis." She lives with her family in Manhattan.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Some of the best summers are those filled with journeys, reunions and good food � three themes that factor prominently in the books recommended by our independent booksellers. More at

NPR Audio Player Requires Flash Upgrade: Please upgrade your plug-in to view this content.