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e a r t h l i n g

“Earthling” is one of the oldest words in the English language, our original word for ploughman, a keeper of the earth. In poems simultaneously ordinary and otherworldly, James Longenbach traces the life of a modern-day earthling as he looks squarely at his little patch of earth and at the vast emptiness of interstellar space. Beginning with the death of the earthling’s mother and ending with a confrontation with his own mortality, the poems within Earthling resist complaint or agitation. In them, the real and the imagined, the material and the allegorical, intersect at shifting angles and provide fresh perspectives and lasting consolation.


“More than any poet of his generation, Longenbach adventures a cleanly and generous ambition for the art, constantly mindful of his subject as Matter beyond occasion—Matter to be reverenced and thereby understood. In Earthling, he touches upon glory. His ‘Allegory’ is the finest instance of transcendence in American writing since Ammons’s ‘Easter Morning.’ Every page of this collection merits permanence, a pleasure truly modern now.”


“Earthling stuns me with its clarities, it fascinates me to no end. Is it Longenbach’s passionate precision? Is it his absolute unmixed attentiveness that’s akin to prayer? To my mind, Earthling is far more than just another brilliant, elegant book of verse: this is elegance at the edge of the abyss. This is a human voice that has come to the middle of life’s desert to find that “In the middle of the desert / you might be anyone.” Longenbach finds here the crystalline, transformative, pure pitch of a lyric poet: his voice in this book becomes any earthling’s voice. How does he do it? How does he give clarity to the human in us? In another century people used to call this effect visionary work: the poetry of a true mystic.”


“James Longenbach knows as much about how poems work as anyone in the world, but he hides this knowledge behind poems that feel so real and artless they hardly seem composed at all. The poems in Earthling are mythological in their simplicity, and their myth is the inevitable one of an isolated consciousness inhabiting places that might or might not be actual, ‘Moments when the artist in each of use created / The material world by finding the unfamiliar in the familiar.’”


"Earthling... opens with several delightful poems that combine plain-spoken language and imaginative vistas as the speaker begins to explore what it means to live on Earth at this time. Whether the subject is a suitcase or a crocodile reflecting on why it likes silence, the writing always captures both a ground-level perspective and a more aerial view. Here Longenbach, who has published four other books of poems and six collections of criticism, reflects on mortality and the lack of control we have over the forces — good and bad — that impact our lives."

"With great clarity, critic and poet Longenbach (The Virtues of Poetry) asks readers of his latest collection to “Imagine you’ve been in love forever, since before you were born.” The speaker in this text inhabits dual planes of metaphor and reality, and travels across great spans of time; he may take the shape of a crocodile one moment, then become a small child hiding underneath a table in the next... Longenbach’s language remains sparse, calm, and graceful even as his poems confront the finiteness of individual human lives."

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