The Oval Hour
“There is an overtone of Christina Rossetti in these poems, partly discernible in the hindered devotions of the 'Confessions' series and partly in the unresisted sensuality of the poems about (largely) women. 'Two Sisters' is the most disconcerting poem in this line since Goblin Market. Peirce has emotional authority and intellectual passion—an inevitable triumph.”—Richard Howard
“The poems are inspired by loss in the middle of life and the relationship of this loss to desire. What is most distinctive, however, about Peirce's struggle with the carnal is the way in which the inanimate world reveals the spiritual. Objects in time, in dream, in memory—'a dress fastened to a tree,' 'a soldier with a vase inside'—take on a vivid architectural quality that converges with her odd phrasing and direct, philosophical approach to result in an image that is nearly fused with the meditation. This book does not sound like anything else being written today.”—Boston Review
In The Oval Hour Kathleen Peirce addresses the vulnerability of language—which is to say the vulnerability of our reality—when we are in extreme states of desire and loss, especially erotic desire and erotic loss. Central to the book is its series of "Confessions," twenty formally similar poems that contend with the Confessions of Saint Augustine. “Passing through innocence, I came either to experience / or guilt, or they came to me, displacing innocence”: these luminous poems explore the generation and overlapping of carnal and metaphysical identities.
He will not take fire in his hands
because his hands are fire. When
he prays, sudden birdsong
transmogrifies the bladed places
fire makes of itself into an expectation
for retort. All failures move this way,
though one is left with, if alone, a sight
for images. Songbird on a brown-
black branch among the ochre-
charcoal atmospheres. Burnt sienna,
pitch. Tan and jet. Sparrow, for whom
do you sing other than your likenesses?