New poetry by the author of acclaimed 2023 novel Take What You Need faces the complexities of life on a swiftly heating earth.
Idra Novey's first collection in a decade, since Patricia Smith chose Exit, Civilian for the National Poetry Series, brings a lyric intimacy to the extremes of our era. The poems juxtapose sweltering days raising children in a city with moments from a rural childhood roaming free in the woods, providing a bridge between those often polarized realities. Novey's spare, contemporary fables move across the Americas, from a woman housesitting in central Chile, surrounded by encroaching fires, to a man in New York about to give birth to a panda.
Other poems return to the Allegheny Highlands of Appalachia, where Novey revisits the roads and creeks of her childhood: "Maybe we knew we only appeared/to be floating, but soon and wholly/we'd go under." Like Lydia Davis and Anne Carson, Novey draws from the well of her work translating myriad authors, from Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector to Iranian poet Garous Abdolmalekian, and from her own award-winning novels. These are deeply lived poems, evoking both a singular life and the shared urgencies of our time, a collection of great inventiveness and wit, conjuring our "bit part in the history of the future."
The Duck Shit at Clarion Creek
We liked to stick it in a BB gun and shoot it.
We tattooed with it.
We said Hallelujah, the poor man's tanning lotion.
Then the frack wells began, something black capping the water and we got high watching a green-backed heron die.
We got funny at Clarion, flung each other's underwear into the trees.
Why was it we got naked there like nowhere else?
Maybe we knew we were getting rusted inside as the trucks we rode into the water.
Maybe we only appeared to be floating, but soon and wholly we'd go under, get sucked to the bottom.
We'd sink and become creek bed; its deep mud would claim us, hold us hard and close.
Nearly • Still Life with Invisible Canoe • O Earth: An Estrangement in Six Parts • Value City • The Duck Shit at Clarion Creek • The Resident Leopardus jacobita • That's How Far I'd Drive for It • Too Soon to Tell, with images from Erica Baum • Blue Silo and a Bonfire • Regarding Marmalade, Cognates, and Visitors • Letters to C, with images from Erica Baum • The Extra Passenger • The Man Who Gave Birth to a Panda • Housesitting with Approaching Fire • Your Regard, World • Minor Key • On Returning to My Hometown • Afterlife • Acknowledgments
IDRA NOVEY is the author of Take What You Need, a 2023 New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and two other novels. Her second poetry collection Exit, Civilian was chosen by Patricia Smith for the National Poetry Series. Her co-translation of Iranian poet Garous Abdolmalekian with Ahmad Nadalizadeh was a finalist for the 2021 PEN Poetry in Translation Prize. She teaches creative writing at Princeton University. ERICA BAUM is a photographer and collage artist whose work has been exhibited worldwide.
"In Idra Novey's Soon and Wholly, the language of fables, with their strangeness, timelessness, and sense of foreboding, meets the world we live in right now—a world on fire, a world fracked and broken, a world in which we 'snack on data' and 'sip conditioned air.' And like fables, these poems are part cautionary tale, part imaginative alchemy, and wholly brilliant. I don't know how Novey does it—'This blue work. /This gluing of impossibilities.'—but I'll read this book again and again, eager to learn."~Maggie Smith, New York Times bestselling author of You Could Make This Place Beautiful and Goldenrod
"I was nowhere I had ever before been, reading Idra Novey's remarkable third collection, Soon and Wholly, though a world I recognized was everywhere in its pages. Here, ekphrasis, epistolary, and lyric sequence masterfully trace, over hours and months, the daily textures of experience—"the particles of our lives"—where "meaning is a hunger" we do not expect to sate. With a poet's restraint, a translator's discernment, and a novelist's devotion, Novey has gifted us a book of formidable intelligence, humor, grief, artistic kinship, and unfettered imagination that is uniquely and wholly hers. Read it right away."~Charif Shanahan, author of Trace Evidence
"With Soon and Wholly, Idra Novey turns the familiar inside out and dwells in the strangeness of the world. Bearing the spoils from her travails as translator and novelist, she returns to her native genre of poetry to regale us with wit, wisdom and an open heart tempered by the itinerant work of her imagination. This collection is more home than homecoming. From one poem to the next, she's off again, sweeping us in the updraft of her flight, taking our breath away."~Gregory Pardlo, author of Digest
"In these marvellous poems, the poet's perception is the keenest of instruments, revealing a gorgeously unexpected cross-section of experience. We perceive – as in Novey's resonant duets with artist Erica Baum's collages — the close-packed layers of parenthood and politics and ecology and fear and language and grief and tenderness. A poet of lapidary gifts, Idra Novey lays bare the startling juxtapositions and poignant adhesions that lie hidden under the skin of dailiness. These poems are effortlessly original and utterly indispensable."~Monica Youn, author of From From