A grim prognosis, brain cancer, leaves the speaker in Patricia Kirkpatrick’s Odessa—selected by Peter Campion as the winner of the 2012 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry—fighting for her life.
The tumor presses against her amygdalae, the “emotional core of the self,” central to the process of memory. And so a dreamlike reality emerges from these poems, emotionally charged but void of sentimentality. Kirkpatrick’s Odessa, “roof of the underworld,” is a refuge at once real and imagined, resembling simultaneously the Midwestern prairie and a god-inhabited city. We see a field filled with unidentifiable birds and the unknowable. A post-surgery body that can be “broken / like a piece of bread.” Ceres and Hades locked in a custody battle for Persephone—and Persephone’s fruit, “the color of bloodstain.”
Ghostly, lyrical, and bearing shades of classical heroism, Odessa delivers a personal narrative of stunning dimension.
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Praise and Prizes
“Among the many talents that contemporary American poetry offers, Patricia Kirkpatrick’s Odessa shines a fierce white light. This book provides a fusion of unsentimental, realist fidelity to the subject and intense, metaphorical imagination. Its emotional power corresponds with her mastery of craft. In nervy sentences and phrases, in sinuous and firm lines, Kirkpatrick shows the imprint of deeply lived experience. I am convinced that Odessa will move its readers for many, many years to come.”
“One of the speakers in these compelling poems declares, ‘I am writing to say I have been opened and closed.’ That is the truth of this book, its small map and enormous journey. With those and other simple words we are led—powerfully—into the difficult but calm reverie of discovery no matter the condition or circumstance of the treasure. As the poems show, we make this sojourn together even as the details make news of us all.”
“Patricia Kirkpatrick’s language is unflinching and beautiful.”
“Patricia Kirkpatrick’s precise use of language, humor, and philosophical insight transform her experiences into a sustained and sustaining beauty—impeccably crafted poems that warrant reading and rereading. . . . Reading Odessa calls to mind Audre Lorde’s ‘Poems Are Not Luxuries’. . . . Lorde’s understanding of what good poems can and should do applies precisely to what Kirkpatrick achieves—fearless poems that have been written out of necessity and that are thus vitally important.”
“The nearness of grief and illness haunt the deep currents of this book to the extent that the present moment cannot be verified. The world is familiar and strange at the same time. Thus the consciousness of this grave book must be finely calibrated—and it is. The reader is brought into the presence of a mind learning itself for the second time. Most of us only experience such wonder once. I am moved and lifted by these stark poems.”
“As you read them, the poems in Odessa ache in your hands. They will ache in your mind and memory, too. They ache with the inescapable beauty of landscapes that remind us of human loneliness—you can hear the grasslands sighing in these pages, hear birds great and tiny calling to each other as they try to find their way home. This is a remarkably honest and deeply loving collection of poems. I haven’t read anything quite so moving in a very long time.”
“Odessa is an astonishing achievement. Like Tomas Tranströmer, Patricia Kirkpatrick understands what is rational but false; what is irrational but true. Supremely lyrical, brilliantly imagined—this is poetry of the highest order. In these pages, ‘Beauty and suffering/ keep making the world.’”