Monks Beginning to Waltz

George Looney

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In this collection of poems, faith brings together the mundane and mysterious to explore how the world offers the solace of forgiveness and love as a comfort against loss.

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In this collection of poems, faith brings together the mundane and mysterious to explore how the world offers the solace of forgiveness and love as a comfort against loss. A father remakes the world for his son by the stories he tells him. A ghost hums, “believing music can reclaim / anything.” Monks and lovers, soldiers and spouses, angels, artists, ghosts and children wander these poems, hoping that “the point of flesh is love.”

George Looney’s passionate invocations, beautiful as those of James Wright, James Dickey, and Richard Hugo, aim at both the redemption of the speaker and of poetry, inhabiting the rich tradition of an American masculine lyricism—poignant with spiritual longing and the speaker’s identification with fallen humanity. These are honest and moving poems.

—Tony Hoagland

Emotionally, George Looney’s new poems operate within a middle range—a quiet space of reconciliation. Aesthetically, however, he writes within an attitude of abundance, a poetics of plenitude.  His modest angels reside in weighty bodies.

—Stanley Plumly

George Looney’s lyric hymns to mortality finger their words and images as obsessively as the religious handle their prayer beads, repeating “angel” and “ghost” along with “music” and endless tropes of the human body. In the end it is flesh, present or absent, that persists as the beautiful site and occasion for love.

—Julia Spicher Kasdorf

There’s a great tenderness in these poems, mixed with longing, which often gets us into enough trouble we need something like forgiveness or redemption. Looney’s poems struggle with such matters, traversing the slippery slopes of sin and grace and love. It’s as if Richard Hugo and Thomas Merton had taken a trip together, and Pasolini had filmed it with Maria Callas singing arias in the background.

—Stephen Dunn

George Looney’s poems make you bend your head around things you wouldn’t think of on your own, speaking loudly against the background mumble of so much of the sameness we find today. The stunning opening poem will beguile the reader, and I doubt if anyone will easily put this volume down for long. These are thoughtful, intelligent songs and meditations, and a gift from a truly gifted poet.

—Frank X. Gaspar

 

Contents

Acknowledgments

The Sorrow and the Grace of Vultures
In the Attitude of Prayer
Proof of Angels in This World
Tired of Loss and Sin
What Might Be Called Burning
A Parable of Dust and Color
Listening to a Scratched Recording of Bird’s “Lover Man”
Prayer and the Pain of Backs
The Passion of Radishes
What Passes Here for a River
You Don’t Know What to Call This
Of Light and Dark and Violins: A Diptych
The Singing in the Next Room
Rumors in the Heart of the Pear
Faith Isn’t in the Hands
The Blessing of Onions
A History of What Music Can Do
A Persistence of Parakeets
Omens in a Night of Sleep and Bad Weather
True North
Something about Murder and Love
The Wren Warm in Her Palm
Her Naked Feet Sang Mozart
Signs of Collapse
Flesh Made Words
Under the Sad Weight of the Moon
Rumors Whispered Under Dark Robes
Asking Forgiveness of the Ohio
Anything but Indifference and Wolves
Libretto for an Opera about Gold and Lust

About the Author

Authors

George Looney’s books of poetry include The Precarious Rhetoric of Angels, Attendant Ghosts, Animals Housed in the Pleasure of Flesh, Open Between Us, and A Short Bestiary of Love and Madness. His book of fiction, Hymn of Ash, won the 2007 Elixir Press Fiction Chapbook Award. He teaches creative writing and literature and chairs the Creative Writing BFA Program at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, is editor-in-chief of Lake Effect, translation editor of Mid-American Review, and co-director of the Chautauqua Writers' Festival. He has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the Ohio Arts Council, and he has received awards from The Missouri Review, New Letters, The Literary Review, and Zone 3.

Reviews

Looney is comfortable drawing from classical culture as well as nature for his imagery, metaphors, and motifs. Despite this range, the poems individually and collectively explore one dominant theme—the spiritual longing that works through and yet somehow transcends mortal flesh.

Lynn Domina, May 2014

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