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Todd Hearon’s haunting debut collection chronicles the twin paths of isolation and desire in the search for meaning and union with others. On his pilgrimage through the lost worlds of earth and the soul, the speaker encounters drought in both the literal and spiritual sense as he confronts desolate landscapes, from the brown remnants of ruined cities, to the depths of the human heart and man’s capacity for utter destruction. Yet even though he frequently encounters darkness, he never ceases to seek beauty. He is a man who wears many faces, from Adam, staring down a bleak future bereft of Paradise, to the doomed poet Shelley, drowned off the coast of Italy. He speaks as a man adrift in his own life, seeking an answer to his emptiness, an estranged traveler through memory and longing. Lyrical and intense, Strange Land is a quest for understanding and human connection.
It goes without saying
a word: the world under cover
of midnight snow, what we have known
of pageantry and lilac, leaf and song
subsumed in starless silence.
Waking at dawn into the tremulous blue
of the room, as in earth’s afterglow,
we lie, lidless, listening, as crows
call out the ear’s horizons.
What year is it? Into what country were we born
and now must make our way? Outside the pane
the stillness feels ancestral but the ghosts
not yours, not mine. My émigré,
we are cut off. An ocean to the east
churns in chiaroscuro while unseen
ranges to the south deflect our passage,
what passage might have been.
This country seems the passing of a dream
to a moonscape’s still immitigable white,
a land’s amnesia where against the sky
three needling black birds fly
and slip like an ellipsis out of sight.
About the Author
Todd Hearon is a poet, playwright, and fiction writer. His poems, translations, and reviews have appeared in The Southern Review, The New Republic, Harvard Review, Partisan Review, AGNI, Literary Imagination, Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry London, and Slate. He has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a 2007 PEN New England “Discovery” Award; the 2007 Friends of Literature Prize from Poetry magazine; a Dobie Paisano writing fellowship from the University of Texas at Austin; and a Paul Green Playwrights Prize.
“Todd Hearon’s engaging, inventive language penetrates to what he calls ‘the dark of your memory,’ a region where dreamlife and language overlap, where occulted feelings find the chords and discords of speech. . . . This is a first book of rare mastery.” —Robert Pinsky, former U.S. Poet Laureate
“At once inventive and elegant, hungering and assured, immediate and literary, visceral and visionary, the poems of Strange Land range broadly across the idiomatic and the oracular with a lyric economy that is as deftly accomplished as it is exhilarating. Strange Land is an exceptional first book, ambitious and necessary.”—Daniel Tobin, author of Second Things
“These are beautiful uncompromising poems.”—David Ferry, author of Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations
“‘My mind was a voyage hungering to happen,’ writes Todd Hearon in Strange Land, a book that confronts the conundrum of human ambition, both public and private, and its translating effects—the translation of ambition into hubris, of the ‘memory of our innocence’ into ‘the hell we made of earth...[the] hell we made of each other.’ Hearon’s particular achievement is to have translated this heritage of human failings into something akin to grace, a debut at once hushed and stirring.”
—Carl Phillips, author of Speak Low: Poems
“Strange Land is heady fare, and hearty, too. Hearon is at once intellectual and passionate, a master of both the fish-eye lens and the zoom, equally at home in longer sequences and in epigrams. His formal mind is always in the service of what I can only call a vatic spirit, and his poems are (as poems should be) both aesthetic islands and maps of the mainland where we live. They are psalms (and salaams) for our world. In the fleece of these poems (to paraphrase one of them) the beast to bear us onward comes.”
—Geoffrey Brock, author of Weighing Light: Poems
The cover of Hearon's Strange Land features a menacing Mickey Mouse-like character emerging from an anthropomorphic map of the United States—the allusive strange land, one assumes. Inside, the poems, written against the background of America's current wars of choice, bring even graver meaning to Hearon's tide: strange land is a kind of no-man's-land, a geography of our worst collective flaws.
As disquieting as much of the work in this collection is, however, Strange Land offers some hope. Many of Hearon's poems do extraordinary work to discover moments of communion, precariously situated in times of conflict. "It was the past, could have been many pasts," he writes in 'Ancestors":
I sat down, we all sat down together.
One offered grace, I saw the fingers fall
over the loaves that never can be broken
though they be shattered, pulled apart as loves.
A reader will encounter both loss and connection here in the pulling apart of loaves, turned loves. Similarly, in "The Singers," which speaks to life's casualties, "the hawk's / indifference to the hare's terror," Hearon salvages a sense of our shared humanity, our ability to sing our fundamental truths.
Whether describing communion or the warlike tendencies of the species, Hearon's poems are finely drawn and impress with their subtle gravity A case in point is the poem "Translation," broken into seven otherwise continuous parts, whose final stanza suggests a "thing of grace," a creature or aircraft of unknown origin, as much an image of battle as of birdwatching:
it seemed a thing of grace, it seemed a thing
swam over us in flight, imagining
the bone white wing.
— Elizabeth Murphy