Cover image for Black series : poems
Black series : poems
Sheck, Laurie.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2001.
Physical Description:
100 pages ; 23 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3569.H3917 B57 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In her remarkableBlack Series, Laurie Sheck turns the ordinary world inside out and shows us its glittering seams. Her long, elegantly quizzical lines convey a haunted vision of human striving which is in part an elaboration on our daily reality, and in part a fantastic departure from it. "I can almost taste the glassy air," she writes. "Where are the birds in it, / wings lifting as currents buffet them like echoes, bright / chaos of atomized instances . . . ?" Roaming freely in the shifting landscape of the imagination, Sheck delivers an inner life that is just as vivid as what we see around us; at the same time, she shows us what we see in a new light, bringing illumination even to darkness: It's the black night that wakes in me, so dominant, so focused. And then a car goes by and I think, "I'm in the world," tires kicking up gravel from the dust. What does the orange hawkweed do inside this dark--its radiance secretive but not extinguished? To read this collection is to discover at every turn that secretive but undeniable radiance, and a language that is both riveting and distinctive.

Author Notes

Laurie Sheck has taught at Princeton University and is a member of the graduate creative writing faculty at the New School. She lives in New York City.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Sheck is a nature poet, but the nature she attests to in her rapt and emotive, fresh and exacting long-lined poems is nature now, smudged with our finger-and footprints, soured by our toxic exhalations, and loud with the whirrings and cries of our machines. In the title cycle, she conjures a series of poignant urban night scenes in which mannequins sprout red wings when an emergency vehicle flashes by and neon signs pitch their "dizzying auras" onto passing faces. Intrigued by the poetics of electronics, she writes lyrically of circuits, "datascapes," the "netted dark," the "programmed air," and our enthrallment to televisions and computers. Sheck moves on to contemplate an array of telling landscapes, from the beautiful if trash-infested sea to a nuclear missile silo, and reinterprets the story of Medusa, all the while considering our vulnerability: "How quiet chaos is. How tracelessly it enters." The best of poetry is both timeless and specific. Sheck's is meshed in the particulars of our digital world, but her orientation is mythic and her empathy boundless. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

From the "irradiated mirrors" and "smooth unstartled mannequins" of its long title sequence to an impressive poem about art historians' radiography, Sheck's fourth collection presents intricate verbal surfaces, with pointers to elaborate philosophical depths. Unfortunately the surfaces, and the depths, most often seem borrowed from another contemporary poet, Jorie Graham. "How silent the unbecoming is, how silent the unraveling," Sheck writes in her title sequence, in phrases sure to recall Graham's The End of Beauty. Other poems seem to pick up, or try to rewrite, Graham's best-known single poems (one about Pascal's coat, another about Orpheus and Eurydice, another about a subway). Her influence shows in dramatic description of light and shadow ("bright/ chaos of atomized instances"), in rhetorical questions and portmanteau words ("What inside me will finance the trepass, the unprisoning?"), in her fleets of abstract nouns ("Immobilism leaned down tall in her black dress"), in allusions to the language of film, even in titles borrowed from Tudor poetry: matching Graham's "Of Forced Sights and Trusty Ferefulness," Sheck has "To Tell Him Tydings How the Wind Was Went." Sheck (The Willow Grove) is hardly the only poet to mimic Graham's influential manner her sawtooth-shaped stanzas, her Pascalian wagers, her rapt stutters and showstopping queries. "Doubt is a beautiful garment," Sheck declares, "if only I could wear it,/ all silk and ashes, on my skin." Her new verse shows undoubted ambition and charm; it may also give many readers the feeling that she's wearing someone else's clothes. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

"Abeyance of stars, blacknesses of night, the undisfigured place/ between each footfall/ my flashlight marks." Even when describing the everyday world, Sheck whose recent collection, The Willow Grove, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize paints a picture of an ethereal, mysterious place. Sheck writes cityscapes, historical poems, and paeans to nature; some of her titles include "Wall-Writing," "Traces, "Foal," "The Cave," "Seaweed," and "Escape Velocity." However, it is really memory she archives in these poems: "Think hands, think mouth, think eyes. Those pieces floating/ in their stream of thought. That they might cohere and be a life." These lines from "So Fast Away" could serve as Sheck's ars poetica. Sheck is the first poet that this reviewer has encountered who effortlessly captures the cyberworld both its hold on us and its otherworldly qualities: "Now the ghost-bodies are crossing and re-crossing the screen,/ unmoored from this lullaby called solid world,/ called touch." Occasionally, a simile falters ("The stars like microchips"), but more often than not Sheck succeeds in leading us into a dream world composed of scraps and shards of memory. We follow her even when she leads us into dark places we might not otherwise choose to visit. In fact, so artfully does she weave grief, loss, and chaos into her shattered cityscapes that it is hard to remind oneself that these poems were written before this year's terrorist attacks. A haunting, beautiful collection that is highly recommended. Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



"The Subway Platform" And then the gray concrete of the subway platform, that shore stripped of all premise of softness or repose. I stood there, beneath the city's sequential grids and frameworks, its wrappings and unwrappings like a robe sewn with birds that flew into seasons of light, a robe of gold and then a robe of ash. All around me were briefcases, cell phones, baseball caps, folded umbrellas forlorn and still glistening with rain. Who owned them? Each face possessed a hiddenness. DO NOT STEP ACROSS THE YELLOW LINE; the Transit Authority had painted this onto the platform's edge beyond which the rails gleamed, treacherous, almost maniacal, yet somehow full of promise. Glittery, icy, undead. Sharp as acid eating through a mask. I counted forward in my mind to the third rail, bristling with current, hissing inside it like a promise or a wish; and the word "forward" as if inside it also, as if there were always a forward, always somewhere else to go: station stops, exits, stairways opening out into the dusty light; turnstiles and signs indicating this street or that. Appointments. Addresses. Numbers and letters of apartments, and their floors. Where was it, that thing I'd felt inside me, tensed for flight or capture, streaked with the notion of distance and desire? And the people all around me, how many hadn't at some time or another curled up in their beds with the shades drawn, not knowing how to feel the forwardness, or any trace of joy? Wing of sorrow, wing of grief, I could feel it brushing my cheek, gray bird I lived with, always it was so quiet on its tether. Then the train was finally coming, its earthquaky rumblings building through the tunnel, its focused light like a small fury. Soon we would get on, would step into that body whose headlights obliterate the tunnel's dark like chalk scrawling words onto a blackboard. I looked down at the hems of the many dresses all around me, they were so bright! Why hadn't I noticed them before? Reds and oranges and blues, geometrical and floral patterns swirling beneath the browns and grays of raincoats, so numerous, so soft: "threshold," I thought, and "lullaby," disclosure," the train growing louder, the feet moving toward the yellow line, the hems billowing as the train pulled up, how they swayed and furrowed and leapt as if a seamstress had loosed them like laughter from her hands- "Circuits" Again the dark begins to meddle with the buildings, first softening then releasing them that they might fold themselves back into concealment, while the silences wander, inexhaustible, diverse, hovering like shame and not like shame, dispersing over neon-shattered streets. But the programmed air is purposeful and sure; it doesn't wander. It carries a deliberateness inside it, a brittleness like wooden boxes. In my neighbor's room, electronic voices soothe him, and bodies made of an uncertain light that pass back and forth through brief episodic disclosures. No microbes live in them, or stenches--only a blue glow. Each night they become their own erasures. The circuits that guide me are smaller than I know. What gaunt liberty this is, this waiting for headlines, the flesh drenched in hearsay, or the distant, lovely algebra of stars, the offer that is good for one week only. Outside, the raw data of the faces pass. Someone is tearing a photograph in thirds. Someone is laughing. Someone is stockpiling rage, sharp words about to burst into the throat. Where is the soundtrack? Where the poison dress to sting me clean? How quiet chaos is. How tracelessly it enters. Excerpted from Black Series by Laurie Sheck 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.