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Signs & Wonders

, 96 pages
February 2011



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Signs & Wonders

Winner, CNY Book Award in Poetry

Signs is a noun (as in DO NOT DISTURB); Wonders (as in "with furrowed brows"), a verb.

The couplet that leads into Charles Martin's fifth collection of richly inventive poems suggests that the world is to be read into and wondered over. The signs in this new work from the prize-winning American poet of formal brilliance and darkly comic sensibility are as stark as the one on a cage at the zoo that says ENDANGERED SPECIES, as surprising as those that announce the return of irony, and as enigmatic as a single word carved on a tombstone. Renowned for his translations of Ovid's Metamorphoses and the poems of Catullus, Martin brings the perspective of history to bear on the stuff of contemporary life.

Two of Charles Martin’s earlier collections of poetry, What the Darkness Proposes and Steal the Bacon, were published by Johns Hopkins, as was his translation, The Poems of Catullus. In 2005 he received an Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

"As Signs & Wonders demonstrates so triumphantly, you'd have a hard time to find better contemporary poems than Charles Martin's. I can only be grateful for 'Ovid to His Book,' 'Support,' 'Poem for the Millennium,' 'Near Jeffrey's Hook,' 'After 9/11,' 'Poison,' and many more. Martin does not merely write well-made, shapely poems; he charges them with energy. I'm placing my bet that they will last."

"Charles Martin's new book, Signs & Wonders, is elegant and powerful. Past and present commingle as he writes poems of contemporary life in traditional form, and with a remarkable range: 'Poem for the Millennium' in accentual verse, and one of the best 9/11 poems we have in terza rima. Taking his cue from Catullus and Ovid, whose work he has brilliantly translated, Martin creates his own new vision of the world in language of praise with an underlying tone of combined horror and awe."

"Like an expert cellist in full control of phrasing and intonation, he can make a line of metrical verse sonorous or playful, tenebrous or scintillating, elegiac or mercurial."

"Charles Martin is a poet of dazzling formal dexterity. Deep realizations flow through his fluent lines and stanzas, in which our present condition is clarified by allusions to our past. A poem on a computer virus at the Millennium invokes earlier monstrous invasions in the alliterative meter of Beowulf, the horror of 9/11 is summoned by tercets as in The Inferno. The clarity, the precision of Martin's language makes his poems accessible and memorable. This is the work of a master."

"'After 9/11' is alone worth the price of the book and will repay many readings, but all the poems share important virtues. They’re sonically pleasing and rich in allusion, but they’re also direct. Here there are no cryptic, difficult poems on the attack. Nothing here is pointless, and much is beautiful. All works toward a fruitful clarity and invites us to think hard about what bones we and Martin have built on."

"If you need to be reminded, or to discover, why Martin is considered a master, pick up your own copy of Signs & Wonders."