Jennifer K. Sweeney is the author of four award-winning poetry collections. Her fourth book, Foxlogic, Fireweed, was the winner of the Backwaters Prize in Poetry, University of Nebraska.
Winner of the Backwaters Prize in Poetry, Jennifer K. Sweeney’s Foxlogic, Fireweed follows a lyrical sequence of five physical and emotional terrains—floodplain, coast, desert, suburbia, and mesa—braiding themes of nature, domesticity, isolation, and human relationships. These are poems of the earth’s wild heart, its searing mysteries, its hollows, and its species, poems of the complex domestic space, of before and after motherhood, gun terror, the election, of dislocation and home, and of how we circle toward and away from our centers. Sweeney is not afraid to take up the domestic and inner lives of women, a nuanced relationship with the natural world that feels female or even maternal, or a duty to keeping alive poetry’s big questions of transcendence, revelation, awe, and deep presence in the ordinary.
“I am not normally moved by perfection, since I like a little mess in poetry, but when a book achieves the trifecta of truly beautiful balance—precise observation, uncannily accurate words, wildness and depth of heart—it must as close to perfect as our weird and glorious art can get. Sweeney understands how the profound and the miniscule are interconstitutive qualities of souls and objects in a universe (“Dwarf star with one eye on the moon”) and this exploration is inner as well as visible, external. Throughout the book, the speaker is concerned with the continuum of life: from stones and plants and planets, to finches and fire, on to witches and princesses and she honors each form it takes. But at some point, this study of life gives way to the song of one who is heartbroken on the path to creating life. This voice sings and cries in such exquisite expression of anguish that art and life find themselves gazing at each other in shock. What good is perfection when the most precious and longed-for star—the one that guided the years— vanishes from the huge dark sky? Art remains and perhaps it comforts as it triumphs here. Sweeney is dazzling—if that matters. I think it does. I am abnormally moved by the perfection of this art. I am crushed by it.”
How to Live on Bread and Music
Winner of the prestigious James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets and the 2009 Perugia Press Prize, this collection is life-affirming but without illusions. How to Live on Bread and Music, showcases poet Jennifer K. Sweeney's mature consciousness and circumspect intelligence. The book takes us on a physical and spiritual trip, symbolized in recurring images of the train. Exploring broad themes such as identity formation, nostalgia, and impermanence, the poet passes through risk to find refuge in the sensory world. Afaa M. Weaver says, These are poems that tell us we move forward in moments when motion seems all too risky and stillness all too intolerable.
“Jennifer K. Sweeney’s How to Live on Bread and Music is a remarkable achievement from the hand of a poet with a subtle and compassionate mindfulness. These are poems that tell us we move forward in moments when motion seems all too risky and stillness all too intolerable. Adept at the delicate project of inventiveness in the line, she shows us time and again that language is the matter of the poet and that there is surprise in the gift, as this book is sure evidence of the gift.”
—Afaa Michael Weaver, James Laughlin Award judge.
The tragi-comedy of American culture and its literature is its obsession with the great and lordly I. The poems of Salt Memory go another way, looking for escape out of the self into the complex realities of community, nature and love. That vision is given authority by Sweeney's inventive imagery, playful and inventive use of form, and rich music. But it is the finely-honed, empathetic consciousness of these poems that seems most singular in Salt Memory and at this moment in our infant century, most necessary.
--from the Foreword by Clare Rossini