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The Mind-Body Problem
Cover of The Mind-Body Problem
The Mind-Body Problem
Poems
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In The Mind-Body Problem, Katha Pollitt takes the ordinary events of life–her own and others'–and turns them into brilliant, poignant, and often funny poems that are full of surprises and originality. Pollitt's imagination is stirred by conflict and juxtaposition, by the contrast (but also the connection) between logic and feeling, between the real and the transcendent, between our outer and inner selves: Jane Austen slides her manuscript under her blotter, bewildered young mothers chat politely on the playground, the simple lines of a Chinese bowl in a thrift store remind the poet of the only apparent simplicities of her childhood. The title poem hilariously and ruefully depicts the friction between passion and repression ("Perhaps / my body would have liked to make some of our dates, / to come home at four in the morning and answer my scowl / with 'None of your business!' "). In a sequence of nine poems, Pollitt turns to the Bible for inspiration, transforming some of the oldest tales of Western civilization into subversive modern parables: What if Adam and Eve couldn't wait to leave Eden? What if God needs us more than we need him?
With these moving, vivid, and utterly distinctive poems, Katha Pollitt reminds us that poetry can be both profound and accessible, and reconfirms her standing in the first rank of modern American poets.
In The Mind-Body Problem, Katha Pollitt takes the ordinary events of life–her own and others'–and turns them into brilliant, poignant, and often funny poems that are full of surprises and originality. Pollitt's imagination is stirred by conflict and juxtaposition, by the contrast (but also the connection) between logic and feeling, between the real and the transcendent, between our outer and inner selves: Jane Austen slides her manuscript under her blotter, bewildered young mothers chat politely on the playground, the simple lines of a Chinese bowl in a thrift store remind the poet of the only apparent simplicities of her childhood. The title poem hilariously and ruefully depicts the friction between passion and repression ("Perhaps / my body would have liked to make some of our dates, / to come home at four in the morning and answer my scowl / with 'None of your business!' "). In a sequence of nine poems, Pollitt turns to the Bible for inspiration, transforming some of the oldest tales of Western civilization into subversive modern parables: What if Adam and Eve couldn't wait to leave Eden? What if God needs us more than we need him?
With these moving, vivid, and utterly distinctive poems, Katha Pollitt reminds us that poetry can be both profound and accessible, and reconfirms her standing in the first rank of modern American poets.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book Mind- Body Problem

    When I think of my youth I feel sorry not for myself
    but for my body. It was so direct
    and simple, so rational in its desires,
    wanting to be touched the way an otter
    loves water, the way a giraffe
    wants to amble the edge of the forest, nuzzling
    the tender leaves at the tops of the trees. It seems
    unfair, somehow, that my body had to suffer
    because I, by which I mean my mind, was saddled
    with certain unfortunate high- minded romantic notions
    that made me tyrannize and patronize it
    like a cruel medieval baron, or an ambitious
    English- professor husband ashamed of his wife—
    her love of sad movies, her budget casseroles
    and regional vowels. Perhaps
    my body would have liked to make some of our dates,
    to come home at four in the morning and answer my scowl
    with "None of your business!" Perhaps
    it would have liked more presents: silks, mascaras.
    If we had had a more democratic arrangement
    we might even have come, despite our different backgrounds,
    to a grudging respect for each other, like Tony Curtis
    and Sidney Poitier fleeing handcuffed together,
    instead of the current curious shift of power
    in which I find I am being reluctantly
    dragged along by my body as though by some
    swift and powerful dog. How eagerly
    it plunges ahead, not stopping for anything,
    as though it knows exactly where we are going.


    Lives of the Nineteenth- Century Poetesses

    As girls they were awkward and peculiar,
    wept in church or refused to go at all.
    Their mothers saw right away no man would marry them.
    So they must live at the sufferance of others,
    timid and queer as governesses out of Chekhov,
    malnourished on theology, boiled eggs, and tea,
    but given to outbursts of pride that embarrass everyone.
    After the final quarrel, the grand
    renunciation, they retire upstairs to the attic
    or to the small room in the cheap off- season hotel
    and write Today I burned all your letters or
    I dreamed the magnolia blazed like an avenging angel
    and when I woke I knew I was in Hell.
    No one is surprised when they die young,
    having left all their savings to a wastrel nephew,
    to be remembered for a handful
    of "minor but perfect" lyrics,
    a passion for jam or charades,
    and a letter still preserved in the family archives:
    "I send you herewith the papers of your aunt
    who died last Tuesday in the odor of sanctity
    although a little troubled in her mind
    by her habit, much disapproved of by the ignorant,
    of writing down the secrets of her heart."


    A Walk

    When I go for a walk and see they're tearing down
    some old red- plush Rialto for an office building
    and suddenly realize this was where Mama and I
    saw Lovers of Teruel three times in a single sitting

    and the drugstore where we went afterward for ice cream's
    gone, too, and Mama's gone and my ten- year- old self,
    I admire more than ever the ancient Chinese poets
    who were comforted in exile by thoughts of the transience
    of life.

    How yesterday, for instance, quince bloomed in the emperor's
    courtyard
    but today wild geese fly south over ruined towers.
    Or, Oh, full moon that shone on our scholarly wine parties,
    do you see us now, scattered on distant shores?

    A melancholy restraint is surely the proper approach
    to take in this world. And so I walk on, recalling
    Hsin Ch'i- chi, who when old and full of sadness
    wrote...
About the Author-
  • Katha Pollitt is a poet, essayist, and columnist for The Nation. She has won many prizes and awards for her work, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for her first collection of poems, Antarctic Traveller; two National Magazine Awards for essays and criticism; and fellowships from the Guggenheim and Whiting foundations. She is also the author of Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories and Virginity or Death!: And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time. She lives in New York City.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 18, 2009
    Pollitt now enjoys national fame for her political columns and her personal essays; she gained attention earlier, though, as a poet—Antarctic Traveller
    (1982) won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Twenty-seven years later, this second collection shows her fine ear and eye, urbane tones, attention to the ups and downs of middle age and motherhood, and her debts to Elizabeth Bishop, whose most ardent fans will find Pollitt at her worst derivative, but at her best a wise and worthy heir. “Shore Road” just rewrites Bishop’s “Filling Station” (”somebody/ crew-cuts the crab-grass... puts out the plastic lawn chairs”). Poems about biblical scenes and characters seem thin compared to Bishop’s prodigal son. Yet when Pollitt uses Bishop’s careful and careworn tones for autobiography, she achieves wry, urbane retrospect and a power all her own: “Old Sonnets,” for example, recalls Pollitt’s undergraduate poetic ambitions; “Always Already” considers how the adult writer loses herself in the forest of other works, where “culture is a kind of nature,/ a library of oak leaves,/ muttering their foregone oracles.” No one is likely to call Pollitt’s verse radically new. Yet these poems can rise far above their promptings, as fleeting verse about an urban scene can rise to representative powers: often enough, Pollitt does.

  • Library Journal

    June 1, 2009
    The bottom line in "Nation" essayist Pollitt's second poetry collection after her National Book Critics Circle Award-winning debut, "Atlantic Traveler" (1983), concerns the existence of God. Looking at neighbors, she wonders whether "this is all there is, / all history's brought us here to our only life." Or, to paraphrase the title poem, while the body wishes to live simply, the mind's lofty spiritual notions get in the way. Even a poem about cats weighs in on "the probable odds of the soul's immortality." Mostly written in free verse, these poems are metaphysical but accessible, with meaning enhanced by figurative language, not lost in it. Their jewel-sharp imagery and tone of melancholic irony are somewhat reminiscent of work by Marianne Moore. VERDICT Unlike much contemporary poetry, these understated poems say only what needs to be said. Although Pollitt writes of objects grounded in daily life, her work here seeks and generally finds transcendence; fans of Pollitt's nonfiction and poetry will heartily welcome this.Diane Scharper, Towson Univ., MD

    Copyright 2009 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Billy Collins, former United States Poet Laureate "At the center of every poem lurks the poet, but Katha Pollitt balances the self-regard of the craft with a fervent interest in the profusion of the world--knickknacks, summer bungalows, dogs, bees, lilacs, mandarin oranges, and more. And her clear, observant eye brings it all into steady focus. This is one long-awaited volume that was well worth the wait."
  • Kay Ryan, United States Poet Laureate "It's awfully good to have such a great-hearted poet as Katha Pollitt take on mortality's darkest themes. Again and again she finds a human-sized crack of light and squeezes us through with her."
  • Richard Howard, winner of the Pulitzer Prize "So much has happened to the world since Katha Pollitt published her debut collection, Antarctic Traveller, in 1982, yet what has happened to her poetry is a fascinating progress of distinction, of steadying insight, and of meditative enrichment. Poems like 'Night Subway' and 'Trying to Write a Poem Against the War' show an undaunted consciousness of this daunting quarter century, but Pollitt's most surprising gift, to be savored only now in poem after poem, is the proof that primaveral raptures were literally premature, that our high middle ages are worth all they cost, that life's truest poetry is in the second half."
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