A masterful long poem from one of our great American poets.
Gerald Stern’s long poem I. is an extraordinary and wild compilation of poetic modes, moods, and registers—meandering and focused, hallucinatory and concrete, deranged and deeply ecstatic. Inspired by the sight of a derelict synagogue on the Lower East Side, I. is an intrinsically New York poem, concerned with shifting structures of place and identity in the face of time and rapid change. Though first written in the late aughts, Stern’s brazen, mischievous politicality and blasphemous spirituality, refracted through the biblical book and prophetic character of Isaiah, feel particularly relevant to the present moment. Intertextual, critical, at times jubilant and derisive, I. brims with Stern’s idiosyncratic mix of high intellect and chthonic populism.
The book features Stern’s original introduction, as well as a foreword and afterword written by poet-luminaries Ross Gay and Alicia Ostriker.
“I. is vintage Gerald Stern, and it epitomizes his glorious career. ‘A continuation . . . a crazy footnote . . . a weird midrash’—that’s the Jewish poetry that has always mattered and what this truly (look it up) berserk and tender prophecy brings us so movingly now. All hail Stern’s I, period!” —Peter Cole, author of Draw Me After: Poems
“I. is a book-length vortex. From various locales on New York’s Lower East Side, the poet, I mean I., reflects on the likes of Abraham, Dickinson, Cervantes, Fats Waller. He considers words such as ‘pelican,’ he conjures crimes such as oil spills, he mentions a ‘room for affection,’ he brings up the ‘pellucid distinctness of objects’ and cites passages, so to speak, in Exodus. I. investigates and observes. And, as with much of Stern's poetry, observation is both profane and sacred. Within a tumult of images from God-knows-where and language that upsets both the cart and carter, I. beckons. Stern delivers." —Kimiko Hahn, author of Foreign Bodies
Poetry. Jewish Studies.
Gerald Stern (1925-2022) was the author of more than twenty collections of poetry and essays. His most recent book of poems is Blessed as We Were: Late Selected and New Poems, 2000-2018 (W. W. Norton, 2020). He received numerous awards, including the National Book Award for This Time: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 1998). He lived in New York City.