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That Swing

, 96 pages
February 2017



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That Swing

Poems, 2008–2016


In this, his ninth book of poetry, lyric master X. J. Kennedy regales his readers with engaging rhythm fittingly signaled by the book’s title, which echoes Duke Ellington’s jazz classic "It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)." Kennedy’s poems, infused with verve and surprise, are by turns irresistibly funny and sharply insightful about life in America.

Some poems are personal recollections of childhood and growing up, as in "My Mother Consigns to the Flames My Trove of Comic Books." "Thomas Hardy’s Obsequies" tells the bizarre true account of the literary giant’s burial. Other poems portray memorable characters, from Jane Austen ("Jane Austen Drives to Alton in Her Donkey Trap") to a giant land tortoise ("Lonesome George") to a slow-witted man hired to cook for a nudist colony ("Pudge Wescott"). Kennedy is a storyteller of the first order, relating tales of travel to far-reaching places, from the Galápagos Islands and Tiananmen Square to the hectic back streets of Bamako, Mali. This wise and clever book is rounded out with adept translations of work by Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, Arthur Rimbaud, and others.

X. J. Kennedy has written nine collections of poetry, among them In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New and Selected Poems, 19552007 and Fits of Concision: Collected Poems of Six or Fewer Lines. The coeditor, with Dana Gioia, of An Introduction to Poetry, he has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Poets’ Prize, the Robert Frost Medal, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Aiken-Taylor Award, and the Jackson Poetry Prize.

"These are beautiful poems by one of the best poets we have."

"For over forty years, technical virtuoso X. J. Kennedy has entertained readers with tightly constructed formal poems in colloquial language. [Kennedy] makes us understand why our world drives us to song."

"Mordant, funny, and even sometimes rather frightening; the poet, so much in control of his formal means, seems himself rather dismayed by the fearful things he points to."

"Well, here he goes again, America's finest formalist, with a simply delightful collection of new poems."

"Kennedy's 'wit' is not mere cleverness. Rather it combines accuracy of perception with the metaphoric imagination that, with his ability to juggle fixed forms, enlivens the best poems in this satisfying collection."

"X. J. Kennedy? He ought to be declared a national resource and excused from taxation."

"Kennedy's work remains cultured, likable, and witty."

"Here, in Kennedy's signature combination of storytelling, formal nimbleness, and comic moments mixed with reverie and melancholy, we find the poet assessing the past and looking out on a future beyond his own lifetime."

"Typical of Kennedy’s versatility and willingness to defy poetic expectations..."

"Now eighty-six, we should all hope Kennedy amends this closing prayer, and asks the Lord to let him produce quality work well into his nineties."

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