Winner of the 2009 T. S. Eliot Prize
This collection of poems examines the damaged lives of society’s lost and marginalized using myth and fairy tale as an ironic lens. Eschewing sentiment or facile prescription, poet David Moolten’s dispassionate but respectful renderings of his characters’ sufferings debunk wishful indifference and reveal profiles in strength. From the plight of the urban junkie to genocide both contemporary and historical, the poems allow the truth to tell itself, in language that is both potent and efficient. The verse is exacting in its precision, but ultimately casts the light of hope on the immediate darkness.
Each of David Moolten’s poems creates a finely observed human story, a story told with deep empathy and compassion, and often with a palpable sense of gratitude. Whether he writes of his Jewish grandfather’s response to Wagner’s music, or “The Girl Without Hands,” or a Native American activist who “drank herself out / of a smashed marriage,” Moolten transforms our world by evoking theirs. He approaches human suffering and injustice with steadiness and tenderness, a clinical eye and a passionate heart. I came away from reading Primitive Mood with the feeling expressed at the end of the poem “Klezmer”: “Even now I’m greedy to hear more.”
—Jack Coulehan, MD, author of Medicine Stone
The poems on the page are powerful and substantial, extremely elegant in appearance. The poet’s view is exact, casting hope on so much immediate darkness of the world. Again, the poet is a capable one, luring the reader in with a revelry of lush detail and memorable images. There is a strong preoccupation here on behalf of the damaged, the displaced, the hurt . . . and it works on the reader’s psyche, rendering many of these poems quite memorable. Hauntingly beautiful, this collection is just the right potent mixture of reality and modern-day fable. I am thrilled that such poetry exists and it is being written by such capable hands.
—Virgil Suárez, 2009 T. S. Eliot Prize Judge
Taking the dark landscape of our human history as background, David Moolten, in his powerful and finely wrought collection, explores the primitive urges that set us against each other, and the cultural heritage—fairy tales, oral histories, legends, narratives—that seems a testament to the cruelties we are capable of. If our “primitive mood” in life is grief, it comes from our all too ruthless acquaintance with wreckage and violence, sometimes through large apocalypses, other times through personal devastations. And any salvation for us lies in our notions of tolerance and restraint, and perhaps in our abiding belief in an indefinable spirit that “bears us / Up and onwards in spite of ourselves.” These are unflinching, brooding poems of great scope and understanding.
—Gregory Djanikian, author of
So I Will Till the Ground<