Poetry of a Childhood Lost (via The New Yorker)

Jana Prikryl’s first book of poems, “The After Party” (Tim Duggan Books), brings to a close the long period of silent evaluation known as childhood. The “after party” is our memory of the past, not so much recollected in tranquillity as relived in the riotous terms of style and form. But it is also the afterlife: this is a book haunted by generations of the dead, including Prikryl’s brother, who died suddenly in 1995; the book is dedicated to him. In this bonus interval of borrowed time, the hour ticks by especially loudly; the poems that measure it are also subject to it. There is a contest here between elegy and forgetting. In “Timepiece,” the meter (iambic dimeter, a rare one, and hard to pull off effectively) recalls not only that ticking of a clock but the beating of a heart:

Do not lose hope.

We found new hope.

There is no hope.

You have to hope.

It’s my last hope.

There’s always hope.

It grows on trees.

The poem veers from the pattern in its last line, literally giving up “hope”; but the underlying rhythm holds on for one last instant. Hope vanishes the moment it becomes ubiquitous: “It grows on trees” is what we say of something so common as to be worthless. “Timepiece” is a poem about perseverance, although, as in much of Prikryl’s work, there’s a vicious undertow of despair.

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The New Yorker | Jana Prikryl

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