Cover image for A kiss in space : poems
A kiss in space : poems
Salter, Mary Jo.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1999.
Physical Description:
84 pages ; 22 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3569.A46224 K57 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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From the first poem, which takes us up in a hot-air balloon over Chartres, to the last, in which a Russian cosmonaut welcomes an American colleague onto the Mir space station, Mary Jo Salter's exhilarating fourth collection draws the reader into the long distances of the imagination and the intimacies of the heart. Poignant poems about her own past--such as "Libretto," in which a childhood initiation into opera merges with a family drama--are set against historical poems such as "The Seven Weepers," where a nineteenth-century English explorer in Australia comes face-to-face with the Aborigines his own people have doomed to decimation. The book's centerpiece, "Alternating Currents," juxtaposes real historical figures like Alexander Graham Bell and Helen Keller with their fictional contemporaries Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, as each of them plumbs the mysteries of perception. Along the way are poems on family life, on films (from home movies to Hollywood romances), on travel in France, and on works of art (from a child's fingerpainted refrigerator magnet to Titian's last painting). In this splendid and engaging collection, Mary Jo Salter pays homage with wit and compassion to the precious dailiness of life on earth, while gazing tantalizingly beyond its boundaries to view such wondrous events as a kiss in space.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Salter's fourth book of poems begins with "Fire-Breathing Dragon," in which the narrator flies over the French countryside in a hot-air balloon and feels giddy and bittersweet at her escape from and inevitable succumbing to gravity, an up-and-down state explored often in this golden collection. In the title poem, for instance, Salter imagines life on the space station Mir, then turns her attention to all the changes we've brought to Earth since man first walked on the Moon. Each poem is a trellis guiding us off the ground toward more rarefied air as Salter transforms history into myth and praises a rainbow, a sudden hailstorm, and many shades of light. And poem, poet, and reader all take flight when Salter describes a girl swinging high on a swing while church bells ring as "the very clapper/in the middle of the world." Salter, too, is a clapper, of course, making the bright bells of her happily airborne poems sing and chime. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)0375405313Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

A casual yet authoritative confidence in formal verse's storytelling capabilities, like that of Rachel Hadas or James Merrill, is evinced by this fourth collection, following Salter's well-received Sunday Skaters. Although the poet's need to mourn "little parts of the selves/ I can't be part of anymore" can seem precious, her believability as "somebody whose idea of/ reality requires a glance, over morning coffee, at violence" will still find, and merit, admirers. Quotidian existence in Paris and New England, a dominant theme, is registered with quiet heaps of internal rhyme: "hail hobbled us as we ran/ across the cobblestones"; "as soon as one leaf's off the tree/ no day following can fall free/ of the drift of melancholy." Memorably smart moments are the belated elegy for Louis MacNeice, "master of the refrain" and the long poem "Alternating Currents" which recalls Cynthia MacDonald's work in its moves from scenes of Helen Keller's childhood education to the duos of Holmes and Watson, and Graham Bell and his assistant Watson, and investigates how different modes of communication shape the messages they transmit. With carefully crafted images, the lead poem, "Fire-Breathing Dragon," intimates the fragility of life and of life-telling, recounting a hot air balloon trip over Chartres: "the tinted,/ interlocking shapes of crops/ became a story in stained glass/ our shadow could fall into." Like Salter's other books, this Kiss is poised, nobleÄto use a favored wordÄand humane. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

"Where/ this has happened is so remote/ that clarity would misrepresent/ not only distance but our feeling/ about distance." So Salter describes the blurry picture in the papers of the Russian cosmonaut welcoming his American colleague to the Mir space station is fitting, adding, "The very/ Russianness of the bear hugs was/ dizzily universal." A kiss in space, indeed. No less exhilarating, however, is the hot-air balloon ride over ChartresÄSalter (Sunday Skaters, Knopf, 1994) goes to great lengths for original vantage points. These poems are adventures, as daring as the stories they tell, and Salter's telling is always intelligent and clear as well as charming. She watches as the Titanic goes down on her 21" screen (the Stanwick version) and creates a slip of time when Hellen Keller, A. Conan Doyle, and Alexander Graham Bell come together, a confluence that is wry, witty, and smart. Jones's (Things That Happen Once, LJ 1/96) adventures are more down to earth, although his Alabama, at times, seems as exotic as a pebble rolling through the sky. His poems celebrate the South: the characters, the casual pace, and the wild kudzu of its language. His people are as likely to end up in a woodland face to face with an owl as in a crack house in the country. On a carney ride with his son, the poet observes: "This is not the way it should beÄ/ I should be the one afraid, and you brave./ Right, I said." He recruits another child to dig in the yard and repair a faulty pipe: "Father was never so proud/ Of daughter." There are poems about sex and football, about raccoons and rock'n'roll, and all are rich with a Southern voice, delighting in diction and its possibilities. It is difficult to imagine two poets more differentÄor more deserving of our attention.ÄLouis McKee, Painted Bride Arts Ctr., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



A Rainbow over the Seine         Noiseless at first, a spray     of mist in the face, a nose- gay of moisture never     destined to be a downpour.         Until the sodden cloud     banks suddenly empty into the Seine with a loud     clap, then a falling ovation         for the undrenchable     sun--which goes on shining our shoes while they're filling     like open boats and the sails         of our newspaper hats     are flagging, and seeing that nobody thought to bring     an umbrella, puts         up a rainbow instead.     A rainbow over the Seine, perfectly wrought as a draw-     bridge dreamed by a child         in crayon, and by the law     of dreams the connection once made can only be lost;     not being children         we stand above the grate     of the Metro we're not taking, thunder underfoot, and     soak up what we know:         the triumph of this arc-     en-ciel, the dazzle of this monumental     prism cut by drizzle, is that it vanishes. Excerpted from A Kiss in Space: Poems by Mary Jo Salter All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.