A Stahlecker Series Selection
N THE NORTH (WESTERBORK)
Winter came and went, spreading its iron grain;
the earth the color of ash, trees the color of bone.
In an interval between wars, spring and summer
passed, color advertisements for another country.
At a place where trains departed every Tuesday
a stick probes the exhausted mouth of morning;
the North shaves and washes in its cold mirror,
the trees claw at the doors of the earth and air.
The wind throws off its white sheet and wanders,
a wakeful child in a house deserted by the elders.
In icy furrows a thin wind is rubbing its face raw.
On a branch an oriole is punishing its one vowel.
“Valles’s terse, learned, harsh collection is one of the standout first books of the year. The polyglot poet, who has lived in Amsterdam, Britain, Poland and Russia, stirred up controversy with her recent translation of Zbigniew Herbert’s Collected Poems; her travels and his work inform her stark regard for the brutalities of European history, represented here by spare handfuls of images—‘the North shaves and washes in its cold mirror.’ Valles adapts almost equally well to very long lines and to short ones, to Continental and to American scenes: in Chicago, ‘the trees by the lake are ripping a thousand plastic bags to shreds.’ When she takes a longer view, adapting ancient myths or ancient authors, her lapidary talents are almost unequaled: ‘Constant fire, passing into the created world,’ says the title poem, ‘loses track of its source and destroys its end.’ Like Pound before her, Valles constructs a fiery multipart poem of grief around a free adaptation of the Latin poet Propertius, which is suggestive not so much of recent American poetry as of classical models or of the best bits of Pound: ‘Fire frays, rain seeps, the years’ heels beat all into the ground…. But the clear light of the mind knows no hours or years.’” (Oct.) — Publishers Weekly Starred Review
“Rarely do I enjoy a book of poetry so much that I read it several times, savoring the poems over and over, studying with pleasure the exactness of the language, the buoyancy of the metaphors, the incursions across cultural borders to break the silence…. Valles’ poems refuse to be extinguished, they glow, they illuminate the fringes of our fear and celebrate our courage and frailty as we grope in the dusk searching for ways to be more human.” — Jimmy Santiago Baca
“Alissa Valles is a gifted American poet with an unusually international sensibility, who wears a prodigious learning lightly. Her life has been divided between America and Europe and her work carries the burden—the knowledge—of the history of both; and reaches beyond, to the Chinese and Arabic. Her work is an act of soul-making, of deep spirit. This is a marvelous first book.” — Edward Hirsch
“What I find unusual in Alissa Valles’ poems is a very strong expression of intellectual passion invested into the historical—or strictly personal—world. Her poetry is coming close to a kind of a ‘dynamic wisdom’ maybe best exemplified in poems like ‘Two Gods.’ I think there’s an exceptional promise in her work, in her spiritual energy. She’s interestingly different from her peers. I trust in her talent and I recommend her poems.” — Adam Zagajewski