Saturday, March 5, 2011


Mammoth has just released advance copies of Glamour: Poems, a new book of poetry by Kansas State professor and poet extraordinaire Jonathan Holden. He overlays arts, photography, math, and the human life cycle. His poem "Ur-Calculus" begins:

Back then, "Calculus"
was a scary college word,
and yet we studied it
from the back seat, we studied
the rates at which
the roadside trees went striding
past the hazy
farther trees, the hazier
a tree the farther off
it stood.
The ghostliest,
far across the fields,
hardly moved at all. A line
of spectators, they'd turn
as if to watch
us pass
before fog erased them.

This resonates with H.L. Hix's philosophical etudes in verse--a conjunction of disciplines.
Jonathan Holden’s poetry travels as far as words can go. He arcs backward to the Roman verse tradition in his poem “Ars Poetica,” which recalls Ovid, and he anticipates the future in “Fahrenheit 451.” He comments on the pastoral in “Cirrus,” and he examines contemporary culture in poems about artists Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth. Mathematics is another of Holden’s fluencies. He uses this meta-language in poems about his physicist father. Like many poets, Holden celebrates youth and observes the decline of age, and he celebrates love. In sum, he maps the possible range of human consciousness.
We need Holden’s wisdom. His voice is kindly and, as Ted Kooser once noted, “unaffected.” He describes in his memoirs how he grew up in a household of geniuses—his father, a research physicist for Bell Telephone labs, entertained Nobel Prize winners often; his twin brother is a long-time film and music critic for the New York Times. Holden has written how he learned to recognize brilliant people, but further, this book shows how he himself is a genius poet.
Ultimately, Holden teaches us how to live richly. In “Hunting for Morels” he concludes:

Then the earth offers itself
to us anyway, all
its tender thumbs, the other
half of our words,
and we take whatever we see.

This superb wordsmith also understands how language names the cosmos inexactly, with slippage between discrete experiences and more generalized labels of words. He seizes the opportunity to not only articulate experience, but also, in that interstitial space, to glamourize—grief, love, history, and beauty.
Holden is an omnivore, capturing in his nets all the variegated experience of the 21st century. To his credit, he is not a cynic. He illustrates how moments of grace and sin exist simultaneously in an equation, not canceling each other out. In accepting oppositions and contradictions, Holden advocates a calculated optimism.
Glamour is available through, Amazon or Barnes & Noble, Ingrams, and Kindle version is nearing completion. It is available at Watermark Books in Wichita and Strecker-Nelson Gallery in Manhattan--for now. Cover illustration by Thomas Weso of Mammoth Publications-- and more on Holden at
Denise Low