October 25, 2007

Lee Upton Explores Ambition and Failure in her Latest Book

Undid in the Land of Undone is English professor’s 10th book and fifth volume of poetry

In Undid in the Land of Undone, Lee Upton, professor of English and writer-in-residence, ponders the concepts of ambition and failure. The book, which has just been published by New Issues Press, is her fifth volume of poetry and her 10th book.

Undid in the Land of Undone meditates on the exhilaration of ambition and the double-edged nature of failure,” says Upton. “A failure can bring pain, certainly, but a failure may also signal our ability to act on our best and highest hopes. A failure of our own is more exciting than a success that doesn’t challenge us.”

Upton explains that she gathered inspiration for her book from a number of sources including the works of Shakespeare, mythological characters and creatures, and plagues. She frames and illustrates many of the book’s poetic subjects from these sources.

“A seven-page poem at the center focuses on ambition in its more malevolent form –greed – and on the desire for endless transformations,” she explains. “The poem draws from a story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses about a man cursed to hunger endlessly, and about his daughter, who is given the gift of changing into any form she wishes. The poem explores certain problems in contemporary culture: an unending appetite for novelty and a desire for inhuman perfection.”

According to Upton, this book is distinct from her other collections.

“Each book I write differs markedly from its predecessors,” she says. “Undid in the Land of Undone contains my longest poem to date as well as the largest number of comic poems to be gathered in any of my collections. It’s probably one of the few books available that includes both a double-sonnet on The Three Stooges and a poem that exhibits the bald ambition of bearing the title ‘The Truth.’”

In a pre-publication review, ForeWord magazine wrote that “Upton shatters the prescribed readings of ancient paintings and stories and rebuilds them, broadening their concerns to mirror contemporary living. It is with the title that she reconciles her funny poems with her more mythic, serious work. In the land of undone, the populous tries desperately to create, to do. The poems ultimately result from that choice to create, and they reinvigorate both mythmaking and poetry.”

Upton is the author of four other books of poetry including: Civilian Histories: Poems (1999); Approximate Darling: Poems (1996); No Mercy (1989); and The Invention of Kindness (1984).

She is also the author of four books of literary criticism: Defensive Measures: The Poetry Of Niedecker, Bishop, Gluck, And Carson (2005); The Muse of Abandonment: Origin, Identity, Mastery in Five American Poets (1998); Obsession and Release: Rereading the Poetry of Louise Bogan (1996); and Jean Garrigue: A Poetics of Plenitude (1991). She is also the co-author of a book of stories for children.

Upton’s poetry, fiction, and literary criticism appear widely and frequently in periodicals. Her poems have been published repeatedly in the New Republic, and in the Atlantic Monthly, American Poetry Review, Poetry, Harvard Review, and in many other journals and anthologies. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 journals, including the Antioch Review, Epoch, Short Fiction (England), Redivider, Shenandoah, Northwest Review, and Ascent. She has published over 40 articles and essays about literature, appearing in such journals as Soundings, Studies in Short Fiction, Studies in the Humanities, Poesis, South Atlantic Review, Critique, and The Best Writing on Writing.

Undid in the Land of Undone was preceded by Defensive Measures, published by Bucknell University Press. Edward Hirsch, president of the Guggenheim Foundation, called the book “nothing less than an uncanny and original defense of poetry itself,” and poet Sherod Santos has claimed, “It is a bold argument, boldly argued, and it aspires to nothing less than a paean to the purposive nature of the poetic art.” A. J. Cuda in CHOICE wrote: “she demonstrates a command of contemporary poetics that is both shrewd and capacious” and argued that “Combining intellectual rigor with a poet’s sensitivity to nuance, Upton’s searching chapters on Lorine Niedecker and Anne Carson should be required reading for students of alternative strands of 20th-century poetry.”

Upton is the recipient of a National Poetry Series Award, a Pushcart Prize, and was twice the winner of the Georgia Contemporary Poetry Series Award. She has also received the Lyric Poetry Award and The Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America.

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