Before Our Eyes gathers more than thirty new poems by Eleanor Wilner, along with representative selections from her seven previous books, to present a major overview of her distinguished body of work. A poet who engages with history in lyrical language, Wilner creates worlds that reflect on and illuminate the actual one, drawing on the power of communal myth and memory to transform them into agents of change.
In these poems, well-known figures step out of old texts to alter their stories and new figures arise out of the local air—a girl with a fury of bees in her hair, homesick statues that step down from their pedestals, a bat cave whose altar bears a judgment on our worship of war, and a frog whose spring wakening invites our own. In the process, ancient myths are naturalized while nature is newly mythologized in the service of life.
Before Our Eyes features widely anthologized works such as “Sarah’s Choice” and “Reading the Bible Backwards.” In the new poems, Wilner records the bewildering public shocks of the current moment, when civic life is under threat, when language itself is attacked, and when poetry’s lens of collective imagination becomes a way to resist falsity, to seek meaning, and to really see what is before our eyes.
Eleanor Wilner is the author of seven previous collections of poetry, most recently Tourist in Hell and The Girl with Bees in Her Hair. In 2019, she received the Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry, the highest award presented by the Poetry Society of America. Her other awards include the Juniper Prize, three Pushcart Prizes, and a fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation, and her work appears in many anthologies, including The Best American Poetry. She teaches in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and lives in Philadelphia.
"The book is a feast. And if you flip to the back, where her earliest poems are, you can see Wilner, right from the beginning, working with the question of a new mythmaking."—Jesse Nathan, McSweeney's
"Before books, the ancients had their memory theaters to treasure and keep in reach all they knew. Eleanor Wilner's memory theater is a vast and glorious gathering of years of poems that question, deepen, rage, inspire, and connect. Working from myth and history, through grief and edgy expanse, Wilner is our oracle, the generous troubling overvoice of our age, our light, our dark, and our best."—Marianne Boruch, author of The Anti-Grief
"Eleanor Wilner's poems, old and new, are political in the best sense—her deep commitment to justice enhances her commitment to making good poems, which she achieves by wit, astonishing lyric skill, and compassionate intelligence. This is a gorgeously important selection of the work of one of our best poets."—Daisy Fried, author of Women's Poetry: Poems and Advice
"There are poems in this book that I have carried in my head for decades now. They have helped me love, grieve, praise, and, at the appropriate moments, curse. It steels my spirit to know that Eleanor Wilner is still out there so avidly and lovingly attending to this hurt world of ours."—Christian Wiman, author of Once in the West
Praise for Eleanor Wilner's previous books"[Wilner's] sudden flights of lyricism are disarming and dazzling."—New York Times Book Review"There is so much that is impressive in Wilner's mature poems. In an era which has been labelled 'The End of History,' she examines history's less obvious lessons. If the past is to teach us, she seems to say, then we must re-invent and re-shape it."—Poetry