Master of metaphor Thomas Zemsky returns with his third poetry collection.
“There is no limit to the number of ideas that can be found in a book,” Thomas Zemsky declares in the opening poem of this new collection, and though he goes on to poke fun at the many uses of books (“replacing one leg of the sofa, / propping a window to let the paint fumes out”) there is never any doubt that he is very serious about his craft, and that he is the sort of poet whose books contain multitudes. All the world, in fact, here variously sampling Cajun music (“enough to make you want to / pick cigarettes off the ground and smoke them, / to just stand there in baggy pants”) or his native Ohio where “people kiss there and lie out / under the moon, / and learn that with puberty comes New York.” His title poem is heartrending in its consideration of an elephant brought “to the parkinglot of a shopping center,” wondering “What it must be like / to feel only asphalt under your feet— / with the widest ears in the world / hear at even the slightest movement your chains clank.” He thinks of all the things that he would like to say, of all “I want to understand but it takes the wisdom of an elephant.” Zemsky possesses that wisdom, and shares it in these kaleidoscopically rich poems. Though this is the third of his collections to be published, the poems here were written earlier than those in his previous volumes, allowing us to view the development of his metaphorical dexterity.
“In his two previous collections, Thomas Zemsky showed us he is a master of metaphor and anecdote. On first glance at these autumn and winter poems full of twilight and snow, given their short declarative titles, I thought they would be definitions and odes that leaned into those strengths. But Zemsky is a poet of surprises, which is why he's so good with metaphor. And this book that seems to be built around hard, concrete things (glass, rocking chairs, skulls, spoons, wheelchairs, pencils) works, instead, in the apophatic mode. It is a ‘voice that announces it isn’t speaking.’ Though he wants to write about ‘the invention of gunpowder,’ Christianity, his parent’s marriage, the printed word, questions, not answers, are the engine. ‘How many days can one night hold’; ‘What is it that has no scent and can change hunger into a punishment.’ But questions allow him to empathetically draw near to a roadshow elephant; they let him sing an elegy to capitalism that is not praise; they enable him to collect up so many snow-covered memories in one book, in one ‘mute stranger.’” —Jeremy Paden, author of prison recipes
Thomas Zemsky was born in Hamilton, Ohio in 1947. He received his MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Since 1976 he has made his home in Lexington, Kentucky where he worked for many years for the International Book Project. Now retired, his favorite pastimes include listening to jazz on LP records, Latin American and modern literature, and movies according to the auteur theory. He believes that poetry, first and foremost, is metaphor. He is the author of three previous full-length poetry collections, AFTER THE STORM (Broadstone Books, 2016), A NEW SCHOOL OF DESIGN (Broadstone Books, 2022), and ELEPHANT (Broadstone Books, 2016), and his poetry has been featured in the Cincinnati Review and Sewanee Review among others.