Ned Balbo's Sandeen Prize-winning collection of poetry seeks a voice for contemporary and historical figures as they face the ecstasy and grief of love. In these assured and powerful poems, Balbo's confidence in lyric, narrative, and dramatic forms is always evident: lovers whirl in Dante's circle, saints suffer for their faith, and characters from Hitchcock films are caught in traps of their own making. With energy and insight, Balbo gives us Alice Liddell's last word on Lewis Carroll's infatuation, a Victorian heroine who uncovers a wax museum's hidden crimes, and a bestiary where courtship rituals are savage and redemptive. Lives of the Sleepers explores the connections of men and women across the centuries and interrogates those patterns that always reassert themselves. These sleepers are joined in a dialogue that transcends any one era. The joy of their connection and the grief of their separation also reflect the history of our own age.
Ned gives an overview of the book:
Desire: A Bestiary [Honey Bee]
Surrounded and caressed, honey
presented for her feast,
a queen will rest, stiff hairs groomed
by her retinue of drones
who close in through the hum
gently, a swarm of many wings--
But come the sudden impulse,
what is kindness? Nothing else:
hive forsaken, fast in flight, she'll seek
new company, lovers dispersed
over a greater realm,
hovering through consummations
accomplished in mid-air...
moment spent too near
costs each his life when she tears out
what made him dear.
Eurydice in Darkness
I didn't think that you'd descend so soon
Into this world beneath the world, these caves
Of ice, cold light of asphodel, this dress
Itself a pale light floating over waters
As I pass: first, Fire; Forgetfulness,
Then fallen shadows. In such light, devotion
Seems too pure, too blinded in its power
Not to destroy us both. And yet, such faith
Has brought you here....The song completes itself.
I follow, head bowed, as if I believe
That we'll transcend this darkness if we climb
Faster and far enough, that all your words,
Melodious sounds, can save us? If you turn,
You'll see me as I am: already lost.
Terzanelle with Lines from Bhartrihari
Renunciation of worldly attachment
is only the talk of scholars,
whose mouths are wordy with wisdom.
Renouncing, finally, all the world offers,
You put your hair back up. I watch you dress--
But isn't this only "the talk of scholars,"
Mouths "wordy with wisdom," who impress
Each other, but not us, with vague abstractions?
I touch your hair, gently, watching you dress,
Clasp pressed beside breast-shadow, all your actions
Well-timed and precise. Lovers grown tired
Of one another--not us--seek abstractions
Sometimes, reasons why they might feel scared,
Or trapped, or simply restless, all the nights,
So well-timed and precise, leaving them tired
Instead of touched with light, twin satellites
That separate at last. You find your skirt
Adrift beneath a chair, near crushed, the night's
Gains changed to loss. You look a little hurt,
Renouncing, finally, all the world offers,
More pain or pleasure, smoothing down your skirt,
Remembering, at most, the talk of scholars.
After Hitchcock [Melanie's Ascent As Metaphor]
Their explanations always seem absurd:
Thick men (except for Ingrid) filling suits
That look inflammable, who drone on, glazed
Eyes fixed on some far point beyond the storm
Of their own rhetoric. We turn away
When Hitchcock asks and answers once again,
What's madness? through the voice of one who knows,
Some tensed psychiatrist...And yet, transfixed,
We watch as Melanie, flashlight in hand,
Begins her slow ascent late in a film
Where madness goes unmentioned, as she stops
Before the door she fears, then steps inside,
Glance frozen upward: shattered roof, blue sky--
Exploding from the bed, a thousand wings.
Ned Balbo is the author of three books. His most recent collection, The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems (Story Line Press/WCU Poetry Center), received the 2012 Poets' Prize, and the 2010 Donald Justice Poetry Prize awarded by judge A. E. Stallings. His previous...
Throughout Lives of the Sleepers, Ned Balbo finds the critical moment when cause engages effect—when life, beyond our control, tips into a kind of living death, or adoration siezes us with a blind grasping...
Like the dreams, allegories, and legends he explores, Ned Balbo's second book of poetry reveals a compelling, elliptical interior logic. His erudite collection draws upon medieval literature, hagiography,...