Author Catherine Pierce
Soft Cover, 5 1/2 x 7 1/2", 80 pages
Winner of the 2007 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize Selected by John Yau
Catherine Pierce’s debut, Famous Last Words, is a love letter to life, poetry, and all things American. Beginning with a series of literal love poems (to the word “lonesome”, to blank space, to doo-wop, to fear, etc.)
Pierce whisks the reader on a cross-country road trip (both literally and figuratively) that takes a tangential spree into a series of genre films and ends with gallows humor in the re-imagining of the events surrounding the famous last words of icons like Billy the Kid, Marie Antoinette, Isadora Duncan, and Pancho Villa. From start to finish, Pierce’s book is a delight to the senses, a playful, nostalgic dance that ends with the reader wanting more.
Catherine Pierce gets to the conundrum of language; we want to believe what it says and we don’t believe it. She understands our need to tell tall stories, to exaggerate and embellish, to become figures that we are not, but wish to be. Her empathy for the abject in us is always riddled with humor, self-mocking, sharp, and, at times, painful. Recognizing that words can be both a solace and an accuser, Pierce walks that tightrope with grace.
With a marvelously open-hearted candor, Catherine Pierce troubles both the past and future — the homelands of her lyric art — as much as she summons them into life. ‘Be kind to old photographs,’ one poem tells us, ‘but not overly kind.’ Where other poets are flip, she’s seriously playful; where other poets are timid, she’s determined to engage the particulars behind which experience hides. Even more remarkably, the poems in this collection somehow manage to sing the way their subjects think, and the tone of that voice enlightens everything it touches.
Catherine Pierce has written an exhilarating book, one that rewards its lucky reader with intelligence and lyric grace and dance-hall, crushed corsage swing. A pure delight.
Pierce’s book won the 2007 Saturnalia Prize (selected that year by John Yau), but it possesses none of the signs of a first book. Her ambitions are high, but she often meets those ambitions–variety of topic with a consistency of voice, a willingness to dabble outside of the mainstream of poetry, and a substantial command of language balanced by grace and simplicity.
In her first collection, Pierce finds the right words and arranges them in provocative, evocative ways. Famous Last Words will not be the last we hear from her.