Prodigal: New and Selected Poems, 1976 to 2014

by Linda Gregerson

A collection of new and selected poetry, her first retrospective collection, from National Book Award finalist and Kingsley Tufts Award–winning poet Linda Gregerson

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780544301672
  • ISBN-10: 0544301676
  • Pages: 240
  • Publication Date: 09/01/2015
  • Carton Quantity: 24

About the book

In her first book of collected work, prize-winning poet Linda Gregerson mines nearly forty years of poetry, bringing us a full range of her talents. 


Ten new poems introduce Prodigal, followed by fifty poems, culled from Gregerson's five collections, that range broadly in subject from class in America to our world's ravaged environment to the wonders of parenthood to the intersection of science and art to the passion of the Roman gods, and beyond. This selection reinforces Gregerson’s standing as “one of poetry’s mavens . . . whose poetics seek truth through the precise apprehension of the beautiful while never denying the importance of rationality” (Chicago Tribune). 


A brilliant stylist, known for her formal experiments as well as her perfected lines, Gregerson is a poet of great vision. Here, the growth of her art and the breadth of her interests offer a snapshot of a major poet's intellect in the midst of her career.

About the author
Linda Gregerson

LINDA GREGERSON is the author of Waterborne, The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep, and Fire in the Conservatory. She teaches Renaissance literature and creative writing at the University of Michigan. Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry as well as in the Atlantic, Poetry, Ploughshares, the Yale Review, TriQuarterly, and other publications. Among her many awards and honors are a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, four Pushcart Prizes, and a Kingsley Tufts Award.




 Night. Or what 


         they have of it at altitude 

like this, and filtered 

   air, what was 


in my lungs just an hour ago is now 

      in yours, 

         there’s only so much air to go 


   around. They’re making 

more people, my father would say, 


      but nobody’s making more land. 

            When my daughters 

were little and played in their bath, 


      they invented a game whose logic 

   largely escaped me —  

         something to do with the 



of bubbles and plastic ducks — until 

   I asked them what they called it. They 


      were two and four. The game 

was Oil Spill. 

   Keeping the ducks alive, I think, 


         was what you were supposed to 

            contrive, as long 

   as you could make it last. Up here 


   in borrowed air, 

in borrowed bits of heat, in costly 

         cubic feet of steerage we’re 

      a long 


   held note, as when the choir would seem 

to be more 

      than human breath could manage. In 


            the third age, says the story, they 

   divided up the earth. And that was when 

   the goddess turned away from them. 





from De Arte Honeste Amandi 

How Love, When It Has Been Acquired, May Be Kept



That was when the war was on, the one we felt good 

to hate, so of course I thought he’d come from there. 

It was June. The light grown long again. 

She’d roll his chair to the window 


and back. But no, you said, it was love. 

They were getting it wrong. 

A leg. A leg. An arm to the elbow. 

Like the man who burned his daughter to get 


good winds. The sea for days had been flat 

as the sky. He’d walk while the light went down 

and could only tell the water from the air by the drag 

below his knees. So this is what it’s like 


to have no body. A perfect benevolent temperature. 

The wheels of the chariots grind 

in the hulls of the ships. He lay so still he honeycombed, 

may he be safe, may we be sound. The time 


they bargained for came piece by piece. 




Indications That One’s Love Has Returned 


There’s an illness, of the sort that’s named for a man 

who first imagines that disparate threads might be threads 

on a loom, that is called his syndrome, and frightens 

the weaver, who cannot unravel by night 


what she sees in the day. Their table had the sun for hours. 

The piazza was white. They talked 

about physicians at home, whose stories were longer, if less 

in accord. And about the morning months ago 


when the color first spread beneath her eyes. 

From cheekbone to cheekbone, the smallest vessels had burst 

in a pattern called butterfly, they’d named that too, 

as the tour guides name rocks till you can’t see the 

         sandstone plain 


anymore, but Witch’s Cauldron and Hornet’s Nest. 

The wings went away. The course of the river that carved 

         the rock 

is air now, and baffles intent. She’d been used to a different notion 

of course, the kind you might follow for love of the thing 


or of knowledge, the wings in the glass. 



A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice 


“The next time someone asks me what advantage poetry holds over prose, I will point to these lines, which move beyond the description of pain to its tangible embodiment…Gregerson attains what few contemporary poets even seek: a plausible 'we,' a basis for speaking across the lines of individual circumstance and social identity.”—Dan Chiasson, The New Yorker 


"Dizzyingly ambitious and fiercely beautiful...The pleasures of such a retrospective are the pleasures of long acquaintance, and with Gregerson, those pleasures are both sensual and intellectual. The poems’ gorgeousness of sound and image is checked by a ferocious, sometimes acerbic, always morally demanding intelligence, at once plangent and analytic."—The Atlantic Online 


"Prodigal is the testament of an American stoic, with one foot in the Dust Bowl of her ancestors and the other firmly planted in modern theories of biological determinism...Amazing, Prodigal shows us, to think what we've amounted to, considering where we're from.”—Srikanth Reddy, New York Times Book Review 


"Prodigal by Linda Gregerson, tenderly considers a wide range of topics: personal, political, literary. The speaker’s clear vision and vast understanding are balanced by deep empathy. The 10 new poems draw from Roman mythology, pairing ancient wisdom with modern situations and concerns. That duality grounds the writing and provides wry insights into the desires of mortals, as in the second poem, 'The Wrath of Juno,' in which the goddess reflects on women’s longing for children and offhandedly mentions in vitro fertilization. The selected poems, from five earlier collections, create their own mythologies as Gregerson develops a style as distinctive for its jagged line lengths as for its compelling logic. Many poems feature deeply moving narratives about family traumas, loss and illness, the frailties of the body, and the longing for a divine presence. Some of the most affecting work focuses on children who’ve been abused by loved ones or who abuse themselves. In the title poem, the speaker describes a teenager whose skin 'was almost otherworldly, touch/ so silken it seemed another kind/ of sight.' Yet 'she takes/ her scissors to that perfect page.'"—Washington Post 


"Gregerson’s syntax will make your heart stop. These are radiant poems about all manner of chance and misfortune. Gregerson makes us realize all the suffering adjacent to us in daily life."—The New Yorker, "Twelve Books of Poems, About Poems, or Tangentially Related to Poems from 2015" 


“A truly interdisciplinary thinker, Gregerson reaches through literature, art, and the everyday to find territory in which the confounding conditions of our age still give rise to understanding and empathy.”—Publishers Weekly 


"The breadth of poetic creativity in National Book Award finalist Gregerson’s grand compilation is beautiful in scope, elastic in space, and spectacularly aware and erudite. As she considers Roman gods, the limits of Earth, art, and politics, her use of delicate detail and experimental forms create a vibrant tapestry, while more ethereal subjects and language together coalesce into an introspective pattern of discovery. Ten brilliantly etched new poems followed by a hand-picked collection of 50 poems from her previous five collections, spanning from Firein the Conservatory (1982) to The Selvage (2012), make this one of the most important poetry volumes of the season."—Mark Eleveld, Booklist