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Cover for High Water Mark

High Water Mark

Prose Poems (Pitt Poetry Series)

David Shumate


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Everyday mindreading, a house full of Buddhas, and the papaya scent of the soul. An interview with Custer at a place of his choosing, “probably a steakhouse.” The ability of dogs to smell the uncool.

Hitler's barber imagines what might have been if only he'd leaned his weight into the razor. An oblivious Coronado narrowly avoids an ambush on the American plains. Freud lecherously lifts the skirt of a Mexican housekeeper who has far too much work to be bothered by “a pillar of modern thought. Or just some dirty old man.”

In lesser hands such disparate elements might fly wildly out of control. But in David Shumate's understated, brilliant prose poems, they come together in miraculously vivid riffs.

The narrator of the title poem rhapsodizes, “I wouldn't mind seeing another good flood before I die. It's been dry for decades. Next time I think I'll just let go and drift downstream and see where I end up.” Shumate's deft and refreshing collection takes us to amazing places with its plainspoken meditations.

Praise For High Water Mark: Prose Poems (Pitt Poetry Series)

“This is the best, most spectacular book of prose poetry to be published in years.  David Shumate is an original writer because he does not play tricks with language or worry about what kind of stance he will take.  The poems are woven from a natural voice that uses daily human knowledge and experience to paint timeless portraits that reverberate with imagination and a trust in simple language.  The result is a book that emerges from the growing self-consciousness of the prose poem to show us how straight-ahead vision carries the most weight.  Awarded the 2003 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, this writer is headed for great things.”
--Bloomsbury Review

“An impressive first book--impressive for its consistency of strength and the range that Shumate is able to display within a single and stereotypically limiting form: the prose poem. . . . Memorable for its surprising leaps and turns, and, within its pages, Shumate proves that he is nothing if not a poet of imagination.”
--Crab Orchard Review

"One of the many joys of reading David Shumate's High Water Mark is seeing how far he will take each of his enchantingly outlandish premises. The mind as landscape filled with babies, writing tablets, and made-up memories leads each one of these prose poems not only to their logical (and sometimes illogical) conclusions, but also well beyond. . . . His eccentricities are instructive, his surprises revelations."

—Denise Duhamel

"Just when the possibilities of the prose poem seem exhausted, along comes David Shumate. Beneath his deceptively simple style lurks a vision as haunting as Kafka's and as playful and intelligent as Julio Cortazar's. But Shumate's voice, the authority he brings to his tales, is original and authentic whether he's breathing life into old narratives or inventing new ones, while, at the same time, proving that metaphor is alive and well and even, alas, illuminating."

—Peter Johnson

University of Pittsburgh Press, 9780822958581, 80pp.

Publication Date: October 3, 2004

About the Author

David Shumate  is the author of High Water Mark,  winner of the 2003 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. His work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Atlanta Review, Mississippi Review, and Mid-American Review, among other publications. Shumate is poet-in-residence at Marian College in Indianapolis, Indiana.