Shells

Craig Arnold; Foreword by W.S. Merwin

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March 11, 1999
102 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
ISBN: 9780300079104
Paper

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Cloth

This year’s winner of the 1998 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition is Craig Arnold’s Shells, which was acclaimed as “a gifted collection of daring writing” by the contest judge, the distinguished poet W. S. Merwin. The book is an intriguing set of variations on the theme of identity. Arnold plays on the idea of the shell as both the dazzling surface of the self and a hard case that protects the self against the assaults of the world. His poems narrate amatory and culinary misadventures. “Friendships based on food,” Arnold writes, “are rarely stable”—this book is full of wildly unstable and bewitching friendships and other significant relations.



Craig Arnold received a B.A. in 1989 from Yale University. He later moved to Salt Lake City to pursue a doctorate in creative writing at the University of Utah. Arnold, who has served as an editor at Quarterly West magazine, received the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship in 1996. His poem “Hot” was featured in The Best American Poetry 1998; other work has appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, The Yale Review, and The New Republic.



Why I Skip My High School Reunions

Because the geeks and jocks were set in stone,
I, ground between. Because the girls I ate
lunch with are married now, most out of spite
—because the ones I spurned are still alone.
Because I took up smoking at nineteen, late,
and just now quit—because, since then, I’ve grown
into and out of something they’ve never known.
Because at the play, backstage, on opening night
she conjured out of the vast yards of her dress
an avocado and a razorblade,
slit the one open with the other, flayed
the pebbled skin, and offered me a slice

—because I thought that one day I’d say yes,
and I was wrong, and I am still afraid.

"His range is very great. I am hugely impressed by his command of form, and by his refusal to neglect the traditional skills of rhyme and meter when the poem demands them. (He is always at the service of the poem, and the result is that his skill does not obtrude. We are given the poem and only the poem). Yet he is also a very modern poet, living in the day-to-day world. His images are sharply observed, he is amused and saddened by the human condition, he celebrates very clearly the joys of life; he is, for example, a noted celebrant of food. His vocabulary is precise and exciting."—Leslie Norris

"Craig Arnold’s poems are as edgy as they are elegant, and possessed of a dark, briny savor. Haunted by food—which so often stands here for desire, and for the intractable fact of physicality—Arnold’s poems are energized by a deep nervousness about the body, a heady admixture of relish and horror about our common flesh. Transparent is a particularly stunning performance, a poem of remarkable reach and authority, and this memorable book’s a genuinely accomplished debut."—Mark Doty

"This extremely accomplished first volume presents difficult poems, both in form and subject matter. . . . It is not easily forgotten."—Rochelle Ratner, Library Journal


“Energetic, cool, and stylish. He should have been a gang-leader.”—THOM GUNN

"Arnold writes out of his own experience, but he easily stands outside of himself, never seeming superior to anyone else, as likely to be a bozo as any guy who needs the lesson he teaches in Locker Room Etiquette. He can be discomforting and amusing in the same poem, and technically, he is adept but relaxed in many verse forms."—Booklist

"Further distinguishes the famous series. . . . From the carapaces of the many sea creatures in them to the closed circuits of longtime relationships . . . to the psychological armor of the people in the poems. . . . He can be discomforting and amusing in the same poem, and technically, he is adept but relaxed in many verse forms."—Ray Olson, Booklist

“It’s Arnold’s mastery of traditional forms and techniques that announces him as a more than capable poet for the future, and there’s something incredibly fresh, lucid, and promising about Shells. If you aren’t afraid of trying something new, I highly recommend it.”—James Sitar, Dartmouth Contemporary

"This is poetry that cuts through the veil of gentility, or ignorance, that often make life bearable. . . . In Shells, Arnold lays bare the viscera of relationships, leaving them exposed, gleaming in the sunlight. He does so with intelligent and not without humor. . . . The writing is sensual, strong, moving and accessible. The feelings these poems arouse are not easily forgotten."—Kristine Morris, ForeWord


"Graceful, fluent verse that’s formal without drawing attention to its technical expertise. . . . Throughout the volume the shellfish’s exterior becomes the controlling metaphor for the armor we build around ourselves—a smooth exterior much like the expert meters that house Arnold’s disturbing thoughts. . . . A piquant debut."—Kirkus Reviews

Shells is a fine debut from a poet to be watched with interest in the coming years.”—Chris Doda, Literary Review of Canada


"Arnold uses difficult forms with accuracy and skill. . . . Warmer, more intimate and lifelike than much of what passes for poetry in the mainstream."—Laura Rosenthal, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Craig Arnold uses difficult forms with accuracy and skill in Shells, the winning collection in this year’s Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. . . . It is warmer, more intimate and lifelike than much of what passes for poetry in the mainstream."—Laura Rosenthal, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“With Arnold, glimpses beneath the surface reveal the shape-shifting, catch-me-if-you-can bravado of a mischievous flirt.”—David Yezzi, Poetry


"Readers will find Arnold’s pearly conceits hard to resist"—Publishers Weekly

"Very strong, with fresh and tight writing. . . . One can trust that the young Arnold has a compassionate knack for observing relationships and studying character. How people love is expressed in the dished they make, the spices they use, and the stories they tell."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"[A] powerful debut. . . . [Arnold’s] book contains, like a brilliant shell, its own marvelous balance of fluidity and form."—Allan Jalon, Washington Post

"What I admire most in these well-formed, expansive poems is their unabashed enthusiasm and the way that they absorb whatever is churned up in their path. Though often the topic or catalyst here seems to be food, in the end, as this poet acknowledges, 'each story blurs into the next,’ and what begins as a delicious taste comes to stand for a willingness to take a big bite out of life itself, to stay engaged with the people, places and objects of the world. Often the formal scheme is based upon an unobtrusive, short line with a a-b-a-b rhyme or some variation thereof. The poet uses form masterfully. The rhymes do not clang; they whisper and echo, forming a musical surface against which the more tangential and surprising images and sounds are clearly silhouetted. The poems about mermen and mermaids are a pleasing pair, fanciful yet decidedly human."—Enid Shomer

Winner of the 1998 Utah Arts Council Original Writing Award for a book in poetry

Winner of the 1999 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award
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