Herman Melville, Matthew Arnold, Sarah Orne Jewett, Dusty Rhodes, and Hoyt Wilhelm skinny-dip and pick up gondoliers and cut figure eights into the ice in Christopher Bursk’s new collection. But the main cast of characters for these poems is the alphabet itself, “the first inhabitants of Arcadia, / now homesick, curious exiles from Eden.” Here are a boy’s first investigations into the nature of language as he studies the backs of baseball cards, and a young man’s infatuation with the “F-word.” The titles sing their lettered songs: “An Ode to j,” “M-m-m Good!” and “O in Trouble.”
Here are “reading lessons,” the author’s exploration of the curses and blessings of the word. It is about the fall from paradise and the gifts that fall makes possible. And over the whole book broods the great lexicographer, Samuel Johnson, that deeply troubled caretaker of the mother tongue. More than an ABC book, this collection asks questions at the very heart of how we understand the world and shows us the glory and silliness at the heart of human life.