By Jonathan Galassi
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307957085, 128pp.)
Publication Date: March 20, 2012
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An emotionally riveting collection that tells a powerful story of passion, loss, and transformation.
Left-handed unfolds in the manner of an intense, searching novella. At its center is a one-way dialogue with an elusive character who beguiles and torments but also inspires the unnamed narrator, who at midlife is telling the tale.
These poems—decisive, wrenching, exquisite—show an overpowering force, at once disruptive and creative, invading a settled existence. They take us from the streets of New York City to a house in the country, from the island of Naxos to the Roman Forum. They reach back to the sonnets of Shakespeare but find inspiration, too, in contemporary life. Naked and raw, lyrical yet formally inventive, rich with the melancholy wisdom of age, this is a work of resonant and shimmering beauty.
Jonathan Galassi is the author of two previous collections of poetry, Morning Run and North Street. He has also published translations of the work of the Italian poets Eugenio Montale and Giacomo Leopardi. A former Guggenheim Fellow, he was poetry editor of The Paris Review and currently serves as Honorary Chairman of the Academy of American Poets. He lives in New York City.
“Heartbreaking . . . Galassi navigates currents of regret and desire in this collection. In the book’s opening cycle of poems, the speaker anticipates and laments the end of a long relationship. Later, adoration is the most significant theme. Exhortations to find meaning in the present echo urgently throughout, perhaps most memorably in ‘The Feast’ wherein the author commands, ‘Feast yourself on beauty/while you can,/the useless/thing.’ Galassi’s candor is one of the collection’s strengths.” —The New Yorker
“A raw and melancholic series of poems—aching, and on fire.” —Nathalie Handal, Guernica
“[Galassi is] the noted translator of six books of Italian poetry. Love poems and epistolary expressions are where poetry began. Galassi combines these adventures into consistently sharp and beautiful declarations. Why we do not put the book down is because of the way the poems draw you in and that has something to do with the esthetic on the page. Many times the poems are shaped like movement and loss. If ever we wanted a lesson on what a line length does for a thought or emotion, this book is it. Beautifully spun, each piece is in motion and demonstrates how temporary and borrowed love is. Time is often encapsulated in the short terse line, and then it is gone. But the short line is musical because of the placement of vowels in small spaces— it’s what we tell our students is 'motion lotion.' Craft wins the day here and is the reason you cannot stop reading. But there is a danger in the fast moving poem because we can read too quickly. Slow down and find each poem has an afterlight, a residue, a remembrance of romantic controversy—what is left after the tide of real events have changed our lives. All of us are condemned to love; it’s what binds us together so we’re all survivors who know this is the only way of life. . . . Urbane and handsome poems here—a master communicator shows his heart, and paints his scenes with an elegance that makes a positive impact on the art.” —Grace Cavalieri, The Washington Independent Review of Books
“A candid and intimate meditation, this book of poetry invites the reader into the regret, the longing, and the celebration of a narrator beginning to life fully ‘in the few long perfect days we get / before the drought and then the frost set in.’ . . . These poems confess the narrator’s regrets in order to let go, to break down and undo decades of yearning and of shame in order to finally live. Galassi spends these poems chronicling disintegrations: his youth, his spring and his marriage, throughout which his dexterity as a poet is exemplified. . . . Galassi’s poetry is a consistently surprising blend of formalism and confession. . . . [His] ear is flawless. The unity of sound and subject is remarkable. This is a poet who understands and appreciates the complexity of language. This is a poet who engages himself fully in the total craft: from the line, to the stanza, to the poem, to the narrator, each element is carefully considered. Yet even more important than a triumph of craft, Left-handed is a startlingly brave book. Galassi never shies away from the painful. He does not hide behind his narrator. Instead, he uses this book as an opportunity for connection between speaker and reader. For a writer known for his many academic achievements, Left-handed is Galassi’s most personally human one.” —Raul Rafael Alvarez, Newcity Lit
“In his third collection, noted translator, editor, and literary publisher Galassi charts a difficult, deeply personal topography of life-changing events, from the dissolution of his long marriage through an unexpected sexual reorientation and the new, fulfilling love it brings. Galassi’s meticulous prosody and unadorned diction parallel the spare classicism characteristic of ancient Greek masters, channeling complex emotions without compromising their integrity. The poet’s unsettled definition of middle age—when ‘the mixture of / death and life in him was / still undetermined’—is manifest throughout these contemplative poems of self-discovery and self-examination, in which he voices indecision as often as conviction. This intensely heartfelt work by an accomplished craftsman will strike deep chords of recognition.” —Fred Muratori, Library Journal
“Evocative . . . heart-wrenching. Jonathan Galassi is what you would call an old-school kind of guy. For a start, he is president and publisher of one of those venerable publishing houses—FSG—that still prints books; for another, he is a translator of the work of the abstruse Italian poet, Eugenio Montale, a volume of whose works you will find on a coffee table in Galassi’s book-lined office (there’s also a framed Western Union telegram from Robert Frost, dated August 27, 1929). Galassi, himself, is a poet, working in the trenches of his noble and antique art. His latest collection, Left-handed, draws on his late reconciliation with his homosexuality—a subject made fresh and acute by Galassi’s ruminations on love, regret, and mortality. . . .The cumulative effect of Left-handed, like all great poetry, is intimate in its particulars, but universal in its sweep. The story of gay liberation, after all, is the story of repression giving way to expression, and Left-handed charts that voyage with elegance, tenderness, and, oftentimes, wit.” —Aaron Hicklin, Out
“FSG president and noted translator Galassi tells a tale of love—and a lifestyle—ended and new love and life found. With a light touch, Galassi’s speaker free-associates his way down the page and deeper into his anxieties, addressing one or more unnamed beloveds. . . . The poems ache with grief and guilt—and difficult acceptance—over the wife and family left. . . . Passing through this guilt, the poems emerge in celebrations of new love and Eros . . . Galassi’s poems are first and foremost vulnerable, and many will find this book, which reads not unlike a novel, startling.” —Publishers Weekly
“Emotionally raw and formally inventive . . . If the movie Beginners were a book of poems that book would be Left-handed. . . . Strongly recommended to all poetry lovers and to all readers who find they must radically change their lives in order to live more authentically.” —David Cooper, New York Journal of Books
“The poems that comprise Left-handed chart the disintegration of the poet’s marriage, his pursuit of a younger man who does not return his affection, and his continual search for the right missing piece. In the process, Galassi has conceived of a world where it's possible for him to believe in himself. . . . The writer, who is also the president and publisher of FSG and serves as the Honorary Chairman of the Academy of American Poets, didn't just write a poetic follow-up for his third collection—he wrote a poignant, piercing, and very private falling out, down, and over. . . . Galassi's style has always been imbued with a dark, romantic edge, and his particular imagistic tic leans toward nature. It's a credit to his style and to the confidence of his voice that both hold up beautifully in Left-Handed when he dives straight into the heart of Manhattan and straight toward the heart of a fellow named ‘Jude’ (‘I / can still believe I'll be / rich in another sun’). Galassi's verses can be pithy and playful, and it's a joy to watch the flame light so blue and so high for love in these poems. His most haunting poem, the appropriately named ‘Ours’ reveals what is lost in all of this new, boundless gain.” —Christopher Bollen, Interview
“From his first book to this breakthrough Left-handed, I have been reading Jonathan Galassi’s poems with pleasure, admiration, and a fascination with what I took to be the presence, in his mind and ear, of Italian poetry as well as English. He had the luck to be familiar with the Italian language and its poetry all his life; the lucidity and lyric streams of Ungaretti and other great modern Italian poesy must have been benign ancestral voices for him as his own poetry evolved. He has also devoted years of work to translating the poems of Montale and Leopardi, both of them difficult and idiosyncratic, and the influence of that work, I believe, has been important in the clarity, tone, and intimacy of these most recent poems, and their candor and elegance.” —W. S. Merwin
“Heart-wrenching . . . The narrator of these poems is aware that ‘time is short / you have to live it.’ Left-handed, he is irregular, if not quite a misfit, but he manages to find in discontinuity the force to pursue his chronicle of changing love to its logical, and unexpectedly tonic, conclusion.” —John Ashbery
“Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, a trustee of Phillips Exeter Academy and an acclaimed translator of the Italian poets Eugenio Montale and Giacomo Leopardi, likes to say he has ‘backed into’ most of the things he has wound up doing in life. If that’s the case, he has reversed himself into some pretty nice spots. In New York publishing circles he is greatly admired for running a publishing house that is both commercially viable and a home for Nobel Prize winners and books of high literary quality. Mr. Galassi is also a poet, and his new book, if read carefully, has a plot of sorts, the same one that propels the recent movie Beginners and is an subtext of Chad Harbach’s best-selling novel The Art of Fielding. Left-handed is the story of a married, middle-aged man who backs into being gay. . . . The first part of the book is about feelings of regret, longing and a sense of impending mortality. The second section consists in part of urgent, sometimes despairing love poems. The book ends with the speaker somewhat at loose ends: a nomad, a loner, and a fool for love. Mr. Galassi’s poems are direct and plain-spoken, sometimes modest to a fault. His two previous volumes are noteworthy for their technical mastery and absence of pretension, but also for the recurring themes of impending age and of chances not taken. . . . Mr. Galassi’s real poems, it is tempting to say—the ones he has been digging all his life to find—are those in Left-handed, which is more formally inventive than his early work and includes a number of poems written in quick, sharp, extremely short lines. They [are] livelier, more buoyant.” —Charles McGrath, The New York Times
“What a delight to absorb the ideas and recognize the sentiments Jonathan Galassi gives us in Left-handed. I love the contradictions of the heart laid out here, which are impossible but nevertheless so. With what unknown necessities will any present moment prove to have been fraught? Are they only to be known once they have passed? What then of the mournful anticipation of those moments to come, when one will have been? This is a powerful collection, a book of sustaining pleasures.” —Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Tinkers
“The poems in Galassi's new collection—reports, as he writes, from ‘the late middle’—are deft and elegiac, funny and often heartstopping.” —David Leavitt, author of The Indian Clerk and Family Dancing
“Desire stinted and then realized has rarely found a stricter, sweeter recounting than in Galassi’s gorgeous Left-handed. These are the poems of a neoclassical hedonist with a taste for luminous instantaneity: imagine Philip Larkin with a happy ending. Not since Elizabeth Bishop rendered her visit to Ezra Pound’s asylum has American poetry experienced such an Apollonian, sonorous account of a trip to the edge.” —Wayne Koestenbaum, author of The Queen’s Throat
“A contused heart seeks its consolation in the brief interval of poetry, where ‘hope has a voice’ that assists us in sweeping up the shards. The intrepid Galassi reassembles his heart with all its fractured edges visible: an admirable, adroit new collection that binds the pain of love lost to the joy of paradise regained.” —D. A. Powell, author of Cocktails, Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
“Courageous . . . Left-handed chronicles the shedding, in middle age, of one orientation, full of lacks and silences, and the embracing of the unknown . . . Throughout, there’s the pressing need to make up for ‘all the empty / hours.’ Even the shape of Galassi’s poems signals a sense of urgency: thin stanzas rife with hyphenation (reminiscent of Schuyler) that rush down the page and remind that ‘time is short.’ Desire and remorse give way, finally, to a ‘feast’ of the present moment. This whole book urges us to relish ‘the few long perfect days we get.’” —David Trinidad, author of The Late Show