Magnetic North

Magnetic North

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The New Yorker has written, “Gregerson’s rich aesthetic allows her best poems to resonate metaphysically.” In this new volume, Linda Gregerson makes clearer than ever her passionate premise that the metaphysical only and always derives from our profound embeddedness in physical reality.

From subjects as diverse as the Nazi occupation of Poland and a breakthrough discovery in cell biology, Gregerson seeks to distill "the shape of the question," the tenuous connection between knowing and suffering, between the brightness of the body and the shadows of the mind. "Choose any angle you like," she writes, "The world is split in two." One poem, "Bicameral," moves from a child's cleft palate to a gunshot wound to the hanging skeins of a fabric in a postwar art exhibit. In the wool cut from the sheep to make the materials of art, she finds a tangled record of violence and repair: "The body it becomes will ever / bind it to the human and a trail of woe."

Longtime readers of Gregerson's poetry will be facinated by her departure from the supple tercets in which she has worked for nearly twenty years: Magnetic North is a bold anthology of formal experiments. It is also a heartening act of sustained attention from one of our most mindful poets.

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  • Format: Paperback

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547085760

  • ISBN-10: 0547085761

  • Pages: 80

  • Price: $14.95

  • Publication Date: 11/06/2008

  • Carton Quantity: 50

Linda Gregerson

Linda Gregerson

LINDA GREGERSON is the author of Waterborne, The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep, and Fire in the Conservatory. She teaches Renaissance literature and creative writing at the University of Michigan. Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry as well as in the Atlantic, Poetry, Ploughshares, the Yale Review, TriQuarterly, and other publications. Among her many awards and honors are a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, four Pushcart Prizes, and a Kingsley Tufts Award.
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  • excerpts


    1 Choose any angle you like, she said, the world is split in two. On one side, health

    and dumb good luck (or money, which can pass for both), and elsewhere . . . well,

    they’re eight days from the nearest town, the parents are frightened, they think it’s their fault,

    the child isn’t able to suck. A thing so easily mended, provided

    you have the means. I’ve always thought it was odd, this part (my nursing school

    embryology), this cleft in the world that has to happen and has to heal. At first

    the first division, then the flood of them, then the migratory plates that make a palate when

    they meet (and meeting, divide the chambers, food

    from air). The suture through which (the upper lip) we face the world. It falls

    a little short sometimes, as courage does.

    Bolivia once, in May (I’d volunteer

    on my vacations), and the boy was nine.

    I know the world has harsher

    things, there wasn’t a war, there wasn’t malice, I know, but this one

    broke me down. They brought him in with a bag on his head. It was

    burlap, I think, or sisal. Jute.

    They hadn’t so much as cut eyeholes.

    2 (Magdalena Abakanowicz)

    Because the outer layer (mostly copper with a bit of zinc) is good for speed

    but does too little damage (what is cleaner in the muzzle—you’ve begun

    to understand—is also cleaner in the flesh), the British at Dum Dum (Calcutta) devised

    an “open nose,” through which the leaden core, on impact, greatly

    expands (the lead being softer). Hence the name. And common enough in Warsaw

    decades later (it was 1943), despite some efforts in The Hague. I don’t

    remember all of it, he wasn’t even German, but my mother’s arm—

    that capable arm—was severed at the shoulder, made (a single

    shot) a strange thing altogether.

    Meat. I haven’t been able since

    to think the other way is normal, all these arms and legs.

    This living-in-the-body-but-not-of-it.

    3 Sisal, lambswool, horsehair, hemp.

    The weaver and her coat-of-manyharrowings.

    If fiber found in situ, in agave, say, the living cells that drink

    and turn the sun to exoskeleton, is taken from the body that

    in part it constitutes (the succulent or mammal and its ex-

    quisite osmotics), is then carded, cut, dissevered

    in one fashion or another from the family of origin, and

    gathered on a loom, the body it becomes will ever

    bind it to the human and a trail of woe. Or so

    the garment argues. These were hung as in an abattoir.

    Immense (12 feet and more from upper cables to the lowest hem). And vascular,

    slit, with labial protrusions, skeins of fabric like

    intestines on the gallery floor.

    And beautiful, you understand.

    As though a tribe of intimates (the coronary plexus, said the weaver) had

    been summoned (even such a thing the surgeon sometimes has

    to stitch) to tell us, not unkindly, See, the world you have to live in is

    the world that you have made.

    At the Window

    Suppose, we said, that the tumult of the flesh were to cease and all that thoughts can conceive, of earth, of water, and of air, should no longer speak to us; suppose that the heavens and even our own souls were silent, no longer thinking of themselves but passing beyond; suppose that our dreams and the visions of our imagination spoke no more and that every tongue and every sign and all that is transient grew silent—for all these things have the same message to tell, if only we can hear it, and their message is this: We did not make ourselves, but he who abides forever made us. Suppose, we said, that after giving us this message and bidding us listen to him who made them they fell silent and he alone should speak to us, not through them but in his own voice, so that we should hear him speaking, not by any tongue of the flesh or by an angel’s voice, not in the sound of thunder or in some veiled parable but in his own voice, the voice of the one for whose sake we love what he has made; suppose we heard him without these, as we two strained to do . . .

    And then my mother said, “I do not know why I am here.” And my brother for her sake wished she might die in her own country and not abroad and she said, “See how he speaks.” And so in the ninth day of her illness, in the fifty-sixth year of her life and the thirty-third of mine, at the mouth of the Tiber

    in Ostia . . .


    Copper and ginger, the plentiful mass of it bound, half loosed, and bound again in lavish

    disregard as though such heaping up were a thing indifferent, surfeit from the table of the gods, who do not give a thought to fairness, no, who throw their bounty in a single lap. The chipped enamel—blue—on her nails.

    The lashes sticky with sunlight. You would swear she hadn’t a thought in her head except for her buttermilk waffle and

    its just proportion of jam. But while she laughs and chews, half singing withhhhh the lyrics on the radio, half

    shrugging out of her bathrobe in the kitchen warmth, she doesn’t quite complete the last part, one of the

    sleeves—as though, you’d swear, she couldn’t be bothered—still covers her arm. Which means you do not

    see the cuts. Girls of an age— fifteen for example—still bearing the traces of when-they-were-

    new, of when-the-breasts-had-not- been-thought-of, when-the-troublesome- cleft-was-smooth, are anchored

    on a faultline, it’s a wonder they survive at all. This ginger-haired darling isn’t one of my own, if

    own is ever the way to put it, but I’ve known her since her heart could still be seen at work beneath

    the fontanelles. Her skin was almost otherworldly, touch so silken it seemed another kind

    of sight, a subtler boundary than obtains for all the rest of us, though ordinary

    mortals bear some remnant too, consider the loved one’s fine- grained inner arm. And so

    it’s there, from wrist to elbow, that she cuts. She takes her scissors to that perfect page, she’s good,

    she isn’t stupid, she can see that we who are children of plenty have no excuse for suffering we

    should be ashamed and so she is and so she has produced this many- layered hieroglyphic, channels

    raw, half healed, reopened before the healing gains momentum, she has taken for her copy-text the very

    cogs and wheels of time. And as for her other body, says the plainsong on the morning news, the hole

    in the ozone, the fish in the sea, you were thinking what exactly? You were thinking a comfortable

    breakfast would help? I think I thought we’d deal with that tomorrow.

    Then you’ll have to think again.

    Copyright © 2007 by Linda Gregerson. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Paperback

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547085760

  • ISBN-10: 0547085761

  • Pages: 80

  • Price: $14.95

  • Publication Date: 11/06/2008

  • Carton Quantity: 50

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