Birds of the Air: Book summary and reviews of Birds of the Air by David Yezzi

Birds of the Air

Carnegie Mellon Poetry Series

By David Yezzi

Birds of the Air
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2013,
    88 pages.

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Book Summary

Like Robert Frost's North of Boston, David Yezzi's Birds of the Air intersperses charged lyrics with longer dramatic narratives. His monologues explore the frenetic pressures of urban life, as a number of memorable characters take stage: the guy who is hired to clear out a dying man's apartment; the actor stuck in an inadvertently hilarious production of Macbeth and his estranged girlfriend's tragic end; and the short-order cook who elevates his work to an art form. Like the birds of the air described by St. Matthew, these threadbare denizens of the modern city subsist on the few scraps that fall to them.

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Reviews

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"Starred Review. Sad and serious, attentive to meter and balance yet no slave to form, the dramatic monologues, rough laments, strict rhymes and accomplished syllabics in this third volume from Yezzi (Azores) go far beyond expectations: it should impress not just those who follow "formal" poetry generally, but almost anyone who has an abiding love for the poetry of Robert Frost. " - Publishers Weekly

Severe grace and elegiac intensity inform the deft lyrics throughout but particularly "Tomorrow & Tomorrow." Somber and replete with an elegant pathos, this travesty of Macbeth lingers in my mind after the second reading. - Harold Bloom

"As sandstone ends, the world of ghosts begins": David Yezzi's poems - these vivid remembrances of things past, these depictions of "the mess that's me" - are essentially short stories, tales of naughtiness in nursing homes, of the griddle wizardry of short-order cooks, of a love affair wrecked by a second-rate production of Macbeth. While Yezzi's verse may be formal and polished, his voice is always intimate, often slangy, and extraordinarily confiding. "It must give pleasure," said Wallace Stevens, and David Yezzi's Birds of the Air does that, again and again and again. - Michael Dirda

The title poem of David Yezzi's book is charming, and the narratives that follow give repeated pleasure by their rough vigor of form and language. - Richard Wilbur

Yezzi is equally good with a naturalistic verse monologue, with high ridiculousness or high seriousness, and also with the most gratifyingly low light verse. But the mode in which he's probably most distinguished among contemporary poets is dramatic verse, which seems to be forgotten in the U.S., maybe because people believe verse is too formal to accommodate natural speech rhythms. But Yezzi gives the lie to this idea with his superb sense of rhythm, phrasing, diction, timing, and syntax, with his special skill at characterization, and with deep sensitivity to real speech. He brings these gifts to his lyrics as well, in a way that challenges the limitations of the contemporary autobiographical poem. - Joshua Mehigan

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David Yezzi's books of poems include The Hidden Model (2003); Azores (2008), a Slate magazine best book of the year; and Birds of the Air (2013). His work has been anthologized in The Best American Poetry (2006, 2012), The Paris Review Book, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Poetry Speaks Who I Am, Bright Wings, and elsewhere. He is editor of The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets (foreword by J. D. McClatchy) and executive editor of The New Criterion. He lives in New York City.

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