Cover image for Atomic Field : two poems
Atomic Field : two poems
Christopher, Nicholas.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt, [2000]

Physical Description:
95 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3553.H754 A615 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Nicholas Christopher is one of his generation's finest poets. The author of such masterpieces as In the Year of the Comet and The Creation of the Night Sky, he has earned a reputation for the sheer beauty of his verse, for his elegiac voice, and for his lush, redolent vocabulary. Now he presents two extended poems, set in the years 1962 and 1972. Each year includes forty-five poems that evoke the life of a young boy and, later, a young man, during those alternately calm and turbulent decades. Comic books, a first bicycle, television, candy stores, the threat of nuclear war, drug experimentation, travel in Europe, love affairs, questioning the world: these subjects form a common thread of growing up in middle-class America and of a young man entering the adult world, feeling and trying to understand its complexities, pains, and joys. An exciting and moving illumination of age and experience, Atomic Field is a major work by a celebrated American poet.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Christopher and Collier, both poets of memory, differ formally and structurally in their new books. Christopher writes speechlike free-verse paragraphs, out of which he has composed two loosely narrative, 45-paragraph poems, "1962" and "1972." In them, the same speaker-protagonist recalls himself and his doings. He was 11 in '62, the year of Marilyn Monroe's death, the Cuban missile crisis, the twist, and the first James Bond movie--all of which he recalls, along with shooting a bird with a pellet gun (still sheepish about it, he disingenuously says "a boy" did it), black-and-white TV, comic books, and city neighbors. In '72 he was dropping acid, grooving to psychedelic rock, protesting the Vietnam War, spending most of the year trekking through Europe, and finding bedmates everywhere, it seems. Christopher's cool, concrete language and skill at conjuring a scene more than compensate for his disinclination to philosophize about either the times or the protagonist's life. Most of Collier's poems are set in unrhymed stanzas, regular in length but not metrically, though the lines look roughly equal. Collier's diction is as natural as Christopher's, but emotionally, Collier is warmer. That emotionality is beautifully announced by the first poem in the book, "Argos," which recalls, from the poet's older perspective, an incident in the Odyssey that most students breeze over, as he did: how Odysseus wept to see his hunting dog still alive and awaiting him. Collier presents the poems in three sections consisting, respectively, of ever less intimate memories. For instance, "My Crucifixion" in part 1 recalls an ultimately embarrassing childhood play scene; "All Souls" in part 2 reports an incident during a children's Halloween party in the poet-parent's home; and "Fathom and League" in part 3 recalls his frontline participation in a great public event, the discovery of the volcanic vents in the ocean's floor. Both books abound in what could be called " poetic photo-realism." --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

All the old obsessions--stars, ice, girls, lost eras--are rekindled in Christopher's seventh book of poems. Two long poems--"1962" and "1972"--make up the entire collection, defining the poles of a decade in 90 page-long lyrics (45 per year). The whole might read like a Blakean "Songs of Innocence and Experience" were it not so tonally bland, a monotony emphasized on both sides of this rite of passage by each poem's single-page, single-stanza composition. Most stack up images that culminate in an epiphany. Many are sexy ("smoking blond hash in a Pyrex pipe--/ smoke the color of the moon's aureole--/ I unbutton your ankle-length tie-dyed dress") and appealingly quirky ("where the numismatist / when he is not in his tiny shop / where every cabinet is always kept locked / cultivates the hydraponic tomatos from Egypt / and orchids from Java"). Others revel in a grotesque burlesque, summoning a hometown troupe that includes limbless freaks, morticians and gypsies. Christopher has ample moves to cut a lyrical rug, whether ruminating on an aqua-powered Hydromobile where a family donning space suits in 2162 are "filling the car's fuel tank with a garden hose" or documenting the dread of suburban ennui where a housewife prepares a meal "for the bearded man naked/ under a quilt dotted with cigarette burns/ on a sofa with no legs, Daffy Duck on the portable/ television inches from his sleeping face." But too many of the poems end statically on words like "cold," "nothing" and in references to a cosmos both desolate and tired.There is a mythic, Ritsos-like ambition here, but the nostalgic quotidian of a decade joining the poet's adolescence and adulthood fails to generate the requisite sparks. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved