Sunday, July 01, 2007

Pg. 34/35: "Honey with Tobacco"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: Peg Boyers's Honey with Tobacco.

About the book, from the publisher:


This time the migraine came with a vision
bathed in night sweat:

I was sitting on the Eames chair,
your man’s body on my lap, legs

and arms white as casein draped over
mine, spilling onto the cassock, new sores

on your legs, dried blood
on your feet and hands,

from your chalk mouth
the words forgive me,

from mine, the impossible

Hard Bread, Peg Boyers’s debut poetry collection, with verse spoken in the imagined voice of the Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg, was widely praised for its inspired ventriloquism and its brilliant lyricism. In Honey with Tobacco, Boyers’s own intensely personal voice emerges in three strikingly distinctive variants. The first part of the book is the most explicitly autobiographical, bringing together poems that explore the poet’s Cuban American experience and a childhood marked by travel, the tropics, and varieties of disenchantment. The middle sequence of poems concerns a mother, a father, and a son, a postmodern holy family whose ordeals are evoked in a terse, terrifying narrative. In familiar tableaux drawn from the Bible that have inspired great works of art — the Annunciation, the Pieta, and Judgment Day — Boyers explores what it means in contemporary America to be “blessed among women” and whether and how art can contain grief. The final section of the book confronts age, desire, and regret in a series of personal poems that plumb baser human instincts and the speakers’ determination to dwell in darkness, when necessary, without abandoning the sacred.

Among the praise for Honey with Tobacco:

“I fell into a mood of abnormal mental acuteness reading this beautiful book. In poems about her girlhood in Cuba, the agonies of parenting, even the ordinary life of a dog, Boyers combines a kind of bridal innocence with the whiteness of the dead. Honey with Tobacco takes us back, like taste and smell, to the place where memory — pungent and sweet and acrid — tries to provide the key to everything.”
--Henri Cole

“Peg Boyers’s poems have a rare power: they match the private to the public, the intimate to the political. Her own memorable phrase puts it best: ’spiky but benign.‘ The range is formidable. From lyric desolation to ’funky irreverence.‘ But unifying this diversity, we hear, unmistakably, the voice of a true poet.”
--George Steiner

"Cuban life before Castro has supplied American poetry with rich, ambiguous material. An engaging, poignant group of poems in Peg Boyers's new book, Honey with Tobacco, includes childhood memories of that time. Boyers declines mere nostalgia, as in this poem that scrutinizes pleasure-seeking, a leisured class, even memory itself, with a cool attention, analytical as well as sympathetic…."
--Robert Pinsky

Peg Boyers teaches Creative Writing at Skidmore College and is the Executive Editor of the quarterly, Salmagundi. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, The New Republic, Slate, Ploughshares, Raritan, Daedalus, Notre Dame Review, Southern Review, Southwest Review, New England Review, Ontario Review, Partisan Review, The New Criterion, Michigan Quarterly Review, Guernica, and other magazines.

The Page 69 Test: Honey with Tobacco.

--Marshal Zeringue