Open Field, Understory: New and Selected Poems

Open Field, Understory: New and Selected Poems

by James Seay


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This superb collection of new and older work shows James Seay’s sure progress from the reflection of first influences to the strongly individual voice of his later pieces. As always, Seay evokes a profound sense of history and place—the landscape, colors, scents, and musical vocal cadences of his native South and the world at large.

Poems like “Where Books Fall Open” reflect a community of souls striving toward what Whittier called “sweetness near”; Seay generously establishes the kinship between such longings, whether rooted in nostalgia or the resonance of the unnameable. The masterly “Said There Was Somebody Talking to Him Through the Air Conditioner” explores the dialectic of storytelling itself, its claim to whatever demands to be “freed from fact.” In this poem the urgency of Seay’s long, knotty lines limn with chilling precision the exact shape and dimension of the rift between the physical act and the story it tells.

Yet, though the compulsion to “tell stories, when the truth won’t work” may be our downfall, Seay shows us that stories are also prisms refracting each seemingly simple moment into infinite complexity. The stories in these beautifully wrought poems offer us swift glimpses of grace—when the fragmentary individual memory flares, is transformed, and becomes the story we have all been waiting for, the one that “frees the body from the fact of itself.”

Comic, sad, reflective, exuberant—Open Field, Understory glows with the worn, unselfconscious beauty of broken-in leather. This is a marvelous book by an important modern poet.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807121306
Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
Publication date: 01/01/1997
Series: Southern Messenger Poets
Pages: 160
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

James Seay was born in Panola County, Mississippi. His previous collections of poetry are Let Not Your Hart, Water Tables, and The Light As They Found It. A recipient of an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1988, he is professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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