The Alphabet Not Unlike the World
In her highly ambitious second collection of poems, Katrina Vandenberg takes her inspiration from the alphabet.
A meditation on the hump of a camel, and what it hides. A reminder that tomatoes belong to the nightshade family, and a vision of the plant as Adam’s downfall. The Book of Kells, gold-leafed and extravagantly decorated by monks. Titled for letters of the Phoenician alphabet, and employing such innovative forms as the ancient ghazal, these poems are richly grounded in objects both humble and exotic. Vandenberg explores the intersection of power and forgiveness, and deciphers the seemingly indecipherable in emotionally poignant ways. “What will protect us?” one poem asks. “The words will be our weapons. In the end.”
Moving between the physical and the abstract, the individual and the collective, The Alphabet Not Unlike the World unearths meaning—with astonishing beauty—from the pain of loss and separation.
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Praise and Prizes
“Katrina Vandenberg recognizes the alphabet as a site where the global and the local join, where history becomes the present moment, where history has moment, is momentous. These poems live near enough to ‘the house of the unsaid’ that when in one of them the first person invites the second to ‘tell me if you want me to stop,’ a reader may say, as I did out loud, Not yet. Please, not yet.”
“I had meant to read a few poems, then return to the book another time. Two hours later I put it down, shaken and exhilarated. It careens between heartbreak and breakthrough in ways that began by amazing me and finished by moving me to the point where I had no choice but to agree when Katrina Vandenberg writes in the book’s last poem, ‘You can’t, in the end / close the book.’”
“Both emotionally resonant and intellectually ambitious . . . Katrina Vandenberg [shows] remarkable restraint when telling stories. She trusts her reader enough to leave these spare images uncluttered with explanation. More important, her reader can trust that fine writing and poetic logic will carry these poems as they travel across the wide spaces between what we understand.”
“A stranger pays your bar tab out of pity; the inmate—seeking approval—changes his tune year after year; a saint stands still enough for birds to nest in his hand: these poems take us to the profane, to shed light on the tenuous sacred. Katrina Vandenberg’s prosodic gift takes us to the breezy edge of the line. In traditional forms like the ghazal, witty alphabet poems, and cyclonic, free verse, she reminds us that truth already is slant.”
“Katrina Vandenberg fills her hands with the world and offers it to us in a gleaming, dripping plenty: a love letter to letters, an omnibus inventory of signs, symbols, and gestures, a guileless gift of all the things she loves, knows, and feels.”
“Katrina Vandenberg’s second collection takes the alphabet and its evolution as form and reservoir of associations as its subject. . . . The flashes of inspiration—‘if antlers / are trees in silhouette’—are genuine.”