With skillful rhetoric and tempered lyricism, the poems in A Glossary of Chickens explore, in part, the struggle to understand the world through the symbolism of words. Like the hens of the title poem, Gary J. Whitehead's lyrics root around in the earth searching for sustenance, cluck rather than crow, and possess a humble majesty.
Confronting subjects such as moral depravity, nature's indifference, aging, illness, death, the tenacity of spirit, and the possibility of joy, the poems in this collection are accessible and controlled, musical and meditative, imagistic and richly figurative. They are informed by history, literature, and a deep interest in the natural world, touching on a wide range of subjects, from the Civil War and whale ships, to animals and insects. Two poems present biblical narratives, the story of Lot's wife and an imagining of Noah in his old age. Other poems nod to favorite authors: one poem is in the voice of the character Babo, from Herman Melville's Benito Cereno, while another is a kind of prequel to Emily Dickinson's "She rose to His Requirement."
As inventive as they are observant, these memorable lyrics strive for revelation and provide their own revelations.
Gary J. Whitehead is the author of two previous collections of poetry. His work has appeared in the New Yorker and has been featured on Garrison Keillor's public radio program the Writer's Almanac. Whitehead teaches English at Tenafly High School in New Jersey and lives in New York's Hudson Valley.
"Whitehead's poems are learned without being fussy, masterfully observant and complete. He provides a seriously good time. . . . He is attentive in ways that offer a digestible, quirky adhesiveness. . . . [L]ike Tobias Wolff or other contemporaries in that league, Whitehead blurs with perfection the line between story-telling and poetry. . . . I repeat. Masterfully observant and complete."--Barbara Berman, Rumpus
"It's skillful and beautiful without being twee, and like every book I'm about to mention, it deserves a wide audience. It's also gently amusing, with some high-flying acrobatics thrown in that never feel forced."--Barbara Berman, TheRumpus.net
Table of Contents:
The Wimp 5
Spice Rack 9
Luminescent Jellyfish 11
Somebody Throws It In 13
The Slip 15
Trap Door 16
Owl Pellet I Show My Students 19
One-Legged Pigeon 20
A Glossary of Chickens 23
Sleeping with My Dog 24
Tied Dog 35
Letter Written in Pokeberry Ink 36
Babo Speaks from Lima 38
Melville Passing 45
First Prospective 46
The Coop 47
Death Watches 49
In the Butterfly Conservatory 50
Drosophila melanogaster 51
Some Notes 55