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Viper Rum (Penguin Poets)


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About the Author

Mary Karr's poems and essays have won Pushcart prizes and have appeared in magazines such as the New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Parnassus. She was a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe College, and is now the Jesse Truesdale Peck Professor of English Literature at Syracuse.


It takes hubris to preface a negative critique of one's contemporaries with 45 pages of one's own verse, but Karr is a strong enough writer to pull it off. The Liar's Club (Viking, 1995), her best-selling memoir of growing up in Texas, is credited with having revived a genre; her third collection takes readers over much of the same autobiographical terrain-family, broken relationships, alcoholism, and suicide. This is confessional writing that conjures up the physical world: "On the mudroad of plodding American bodies/ my son wove like an antelope from stall/ to stall and want to want. I no'ed it all." The clarity and passion here are what Karr finds lacking in the overelaborate work of some of her colleagues, as she explains in the essay "Against Decoration," which first appeared in the journal Parnassus. Sharp and well written, it attacks, unfairly at times, the so-called neoformalists, language poets, James Merrill, Amy Clampitt, and John Ashbery (readers may wonder what Karr makes of Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, or Lewis Carroll). Ironically, one of the best poems here, about a Stairmaster, is almost Merrill-esque. Highly recommended anyway.‘Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York

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