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Authors: Al Maginnes
Series: White Pine Press Poetry Prize
The poems in Ghost Alphabet take place at the intersection of personal and public history. Although popular culture and historical events hover in the background of these poems, they are only one part of the work of forming “this life you imagine for yourself.” In the world of these poems, past events only gain context through forward motion; the passing of a century can only be fully imagined in some future when the speaker of the poem must tell his imagined child, “We lived there.” These poems face the dilemma of moving forward even while struggling to understand where one has just been, the paradox of the body that ages while the mind casts about for answers it was sure age would deliver. All too often the speakers of these poems find
themselves “coming to our destination/ from the wrong direction.” And because we arrive from the wrong direction, we must witness the ruins, large and small, of landscapes and people, of cattle “hides and meat stripped away,” of expensive guitars broken for entertainment, of a
heart transplanted in the wrong body. Yet each of these catastrophes is balanced by the understanding that humans are contradictory creatures, capable of creating beauty as well as chaos, “each reversal determined/ to earn the body just one more day.”
“Al Maginnes, probably more than any recent poet I’ve read, effortlessly merges the experiential and the metaphysical, the erotic and the spiritual. His wit, humor, and command of metaphor far surpass the fashionable, talky cynicism of his contemporaries. Hopefully, Ghost Alphabet will shame us all into remembering how beautifully we can render the complexities of life if we are willing to pay for it.”
“"Ghost Alphabet" is Al Maginnes' fourth full-length collection and winner of the White Pine Press Poetry Prize. As the title suggests, "Ghost Alphabet" is a kind of haunting in that many of the poems contain an often unsettling story or event from the speaker's past. One of the Raleigh resident's strengths as a writer is his ability to seamlessly intertwine meditation and event. A poem that starts with musings about the nature of sanity will get around to a particular person and the speaker's interaction with him. "Sane or mad: who gets to say?" is how "The Voices We Hear" begins. But the poet quickly begins to tell us about Donny Shepard and his troubles with "voices that hiss his name all day."
Maginnes doesn't tidily answer the opening question or resolve Donny Shepard's story for the reader; he's too savvy a writer for that. What he does is leave the reader room to keep thinking about the situation. He sees Donny two years later: "He bought me a beer/ and said he'd started/ going to church. It was quiet there,/ he told me, saying/ without saying all that quiet means/ when the voice that is closest,/ the one the listener barely knows/ as his own, is the one that means the most harm."
Maginnes' memories rise to give the poems heft, and he employs them as a way of examining how we come to be the people we are. In "Memory Has Depth but No Bottom," he uses the local swimming pool with its "narrow, quivering stage/ of the diving board" to draw a portrait of a small community. It's a place fraught with dead ends. But what the poet remembers is a singular gesture by one girl on a certain afternoon: She dives and then swims "slow as royalty," becoming an icon of strength of character to the present-day writer.”
—Michael Chtiwood - The News and Observer
To read the poetry of Al Maginnes is to encounter an acrobet of consciousness. His poems' swerves and leaps delight and amaze, but, most of all, they sound the depths of the human heart. With each new book, and Ghost Alphabet is his best yet, Al Maginnes further secures his place as one of our country's premier poets.
Al Maginnes was born in Massachusetts and raised in a number of states, mostly in the southeast. In 1991, he published a chapbook, Outside A Tattoo Booth with Nightshade Press. His first full-length collection, Taking Up Our Daily Tools (St. Andrews College Press, 1997), was nominated for the National Book Award and winner of the Oscar Arnold Young Award for best collection of poetry by a North Carolina poet, and The Light In Our Houses (Pleaides Press, 2000), which was the winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Award. His third full length collection, Film History, appeared in 2005 from Word Tech Editions. In 2007 Pudding House Publications published single long poem, Dry Glass Blues, as a chapbook. His poems have appeared in many journals, including Poetry, Shenandoah, The Georgia Review, and Tar River Poetry and have been reproduced on the websites Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. He is on the faculty of Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh NC, where he teaches a variety of composition literature and creative writing courses and runs a reading series. In 1999, he won an Individual Artist’s Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council. He lives in Raleigh with his wife Jamie and their daughter Isabel.
|$16.00||96 pages (Original Trade Paperback)||ISBN: 1-893996-21-2||2008|