By Gillian Conoley
Publication Date: April 1, 2005
ISBN# 9780974635323 (7x9 96pp)
A rich, thoughtful investigation of this political/historical moment that both illuminates and transcends.
Gillian Conoley takes her title, Profane Halo, from Italian philosopher and critic Giorgio Agamben’s notion of a post-rapturous world whose figures and creatures roam the earth, having completed their theological task, striving to find new community, new meaning. Post-allegorical, post-apolcalyptic, post-Christian, these poems continue Conoley’s exploration into the impossible questions of grace and redemption, self and other, death in life, language and being, democracy and song.
Exuberant and challenging, the quick cuts and vibrant, freestanding images in Conoley’s fifth volume let her see America from many sides and in all sorts of scales, from the ground level of coastal suburbs to the grand cycles of political history. “Dear Sunset that was sun of now/ Near Greatness, dear tongue my Queen dear rock solid,” the title poem asks, “how could we know that we are forerunners?” There follows a series of verbally brilliant, sometimes strikingly fragmentary poems, some perhaps inspired by photographs; Conoley lights up American spaces and persons past and present, embedding quotes from poetic luminaries (Dickinson, Zukofsky) and showing a slant toward the Pacific coast, where “California floats its prisons in the sea.”
As we have at the end of “Burnt City,” the poems make “syllabary hung / / like wash, sun mortal beautiful because it can destroy / / historical time.” Unfastened from the linear, the desperation and observation find a way to settle into being, a being that wants to deconstruct the aspect of the world that interferes with its natural chaos. In Conoley this is its elegance and beauty and organizing principle. A place with “Unsullied white flowers / / of form and the form of darksome cloud / / pine lanes and the fresh horses who fly into them, / / fly through them, fly in.”
David Koehn, Jacket Magazine, 29
The sheer horror of 9/11 inspired plenty of people--Gillian Conoley among them--to compose poems. But Conoley’s new book, Profane Halo, takes the inventive tack of fashioning a whole new language that mirrors the blown-apart world we currently inhabit. Spiritually unhinged, bereft of a common religious text, we wander a 21st-century wasteland of McDonald’s and jihad, of tyrannical capitalism and bloodthirsty fundamentalism.
Jarret Keene, Las Vegas City Life
Gillian Conoley is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including The Plot Genie (Omnidawn, 2009); Profane Halo (Verse Press, 2005); Lovers in the Used World (Carnegie Mellon, 2001); Beckon (Carnegie Mellon, 1996); Tall Stranger (Carnegie Mellon, 1991), a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award; and Some Gangster Pain (Carnegie Mellon, 1987). A recipient of the Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize from The American Poetry Review, several Pushcart Prizes, a National Endowment for the Arts award, and a Fund for Poetry Award, she is professor and Poet-in-Residence at Sonoma State University, where she is the founder and editor of VOLT Magazine. Her work has been widely anthologized, most recently in W.W. Norton's American Hybrid, Scribner's Best American Poetry, Fence's Best of Fence, Counterpath's Lyric Postmodernisms, and the Italian anthology, Nuova Poesia Americana, published by Oscar Mondadori.
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