The Ada Poems

Hardcover | September 21, 2010

byCynthia Zarin

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A dazzling story of obsessive love emerges in Cynthia Zarin’s luminous new book inspired and inhabited by the title character of Nabokov’s novel Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, who was the lifelong love of her half brother, Van.

These electric poems are set in a Nabokovian landscape of memory in which real places, people, and things—the exploration of the Hudson River, Edwardian London, sunflowers, Chekhov, Harlem, decks of cards, the death of Solzhenitsyn, morpho butterflies—collide with the speaker’s own protean tale of desire and loss. With a string of brilliant contemporary sonnets as its spine, the book is a headlong display of mastery and sorrow: in the opening poem, “Birch,” the poet writes “Abide with me, arrive / at its skinned branches, its arms pulled / from the sapling . . . the birch all elbows, taking us in.” But Zarin does not “Destroy and forget” as Nabokov’s witty, tender Ada would have her do; rather, as she writes in “Fugue: Pilgrim Valley,” “The past’s / clear colors make the future dim, Lethe’s / swale lined with willow twigs.” Like all enduring love poetry, these poems are a gorgeous refusal to forget.

A riveting, high-stakes performance by one of our major poets, The Ada Poems
extends the reach of American poetry.

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From the Publisher

A dazzling story of obsessive love emerges in Cynthia Zarin’s luminous new book inspired and inhabited by the title character of Nabokov’s novel Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, who was the lifelong love of her half brother, Van.These electric poems are set in a Nabokovian landscape of memory in which real places, people, and things—...

Cynthia Zarin was born in New York City and educated at Harvard and Columbia. She is the author of three previous books of poetry—The Watercourse, Fire Lyric, and The Swordfish Tooth—and several books for children. She is a longtime contributor to The New Yorker. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:80 pages, 8.6 × 6.2 × 0.49 inPublished:September 21, 2010Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307272478

ISBN - 13:9780307272478

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Read from the Book

BirchBone-spur, stirrup of veins-white colta tree, sapling bone again, worn to a splinter,a steeple, the birch agroundin its ravine of leaves. Abide with me, arriveat its skinned branches, its arms pulledfrom the sapling, your wrist taut,each ganglion a gash in the tree's renttrunk, a child's hackwork, love plus love,my palms in your fist, thattrio a trident splitting the birch, its barkpapyrus, its scars calligraphy,a ghost story written onwinding sheets, the trunk bowing, dead ismy father, the birch reading the newsof the day aloud as if we hadn'theard it, the root moss lit gas,like the veins on your ink-stained hand-the birch all elbows, taking us in.Aubade Against GriefChaste sun who would not light your facepale as the fateswho vanishedwhen we turned aside; reclusewhom gracereturned and by returning banishedall thought but: Love, latesleeper in the early hours, flesh of my bone,centaur: Excusemy faults—tardiness, obtuseremit of my ownheart, unruly hasteto keep my mouth on yours, to wipe the slateclean, to atone—what could I want but to waitfor that light to touch your face,chaste as Eros in the first wishedonrush of wings?Late Poem“ . . . a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern.”I wish we were Indians and ate foie grasand drove a gas- guzzlerand never wore seat beltsI’d have a baby, yours, cette fois,and I’d smoke Parliamentsand we’d drink our way through the winterin spring the baby would laugh at the moonwho is her father and her mother who is his pooland we’d walk backwards and forwardsin lizard- skin cowboy bootsand read Gilgamesh and Tintin aloudI’d wear only leather or feathersplucked from endangered birds and silkfrom exploited silkwormswe’d read The Economistit would be before and after the internetI’d send you letters by carrier pigeonswho would only fly from one windowto another in our drafty, gigantic housewith twenty- three uninsulated windowsand the dog would be always beoff his leash and alwaysfind his way home as we will one dayand we’d feed small childrenpeanut butter and coffee in their milkand I’d keep my hand glued under your belteven while driving and cookingand no one would have our numberexcept I would have yours where I’ve kept itcarved on the sole of my stilettowhich I would always wear when we walkedin the frozen and dusty woodand we would keep warm by bickeringand falling into bed perpetually andentirely unsafely as all the best things are—your skin and my breath on it.