Books

Photo: Stephane Guisard, Perseid Meteor over Paranal Observatory, 2010

Order 3 Nights of the Perseids

Richard Wilbur Award

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Ned Balbo’s eye for detail is so keen, you’ll find yourself squinting at the page, hoping to find even more. And you do.  Read each poem again and again and watch them come together in a feverish mix of praise and anger, of sparks and a world often dark in its emptiness. Balbo welcomes us into the chaos but leaves us calm with the certainty that we all have the ability to find ourselves back in the light. 3 Nights of the Perseids is an amazing book. –Erica Dawson

 Ned Balbo’s new book channels the Robert Frost of narrative blank verse poems and of short and focused sonnets. These are poems set in this strange world of baseball and tattooed girls, Choose Your Adventure and LSD, WikiLeaks and Smart TVs, crop circles and UFO reports, yet also in the stranger world behind the world, a place of threat where “harbingers” and “celestial menace” are always hanging over us like the prophesies of Nostradamus or the calamitous trajectory of a meteor turned meteorite. It is a book obsessed with music and social injustice, but running through it all is keen sorrowing awareness of time—time which gives us the “news/a century old” in a Wild West tour as if to crack open “history itself, a box shut tight.” 3 Nights of the Perseids sings with backward-looking elegies, a present tense of political and social critiques, and fearful prophesies of the future. Look up, this book says, before it’s too late.—Tony Barnstone

When Ned Balbo writes, “Words trapped in time—/That’s all a poem is,” we know we’re reading a poet attuned to language, history, prophecy, and this-our-very-moment—an epoch populated by museum-going kids on their cellphones and by mysteriously dissolving sea stars, an era blighted by the unconscionable plight of contingent faculty and the populist politics of a self-righteous crybully. Balbo “speak[s] the names / in praise and elegy,” and more than once in protest; yet even knowing “loss / becomes the weight and measure of our days,” this maestro of light rhyme and nimble rhythms recognizes the power of imagination and the possibility that “what we felt while carried off by song / was what we’d feel forever: touched, transformed / into the someone else we truly were.” This time-haunted book—with its moving set of poems about music, that most temporal of arts—looks forward and backward with something like hope: after all, we can still hope that these words, trapped in time, have arrived in time to point us toward survival.—Stephen Kampa

Order Upcycling Paumanok

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Ned Balbo is one of the most gifted critics of popular culture writing today. His criticism, however, appears not as journalism but as poetry. He ranges widely through contemporary American life, while remaining in touch with one of the great breeding grounds of the American dream — the Long Island suburbs, where he grew up. There the nightmares are as vivid as the dreams. Read “The Case Against Standardized Testing” for a taste of the evil potential in a walk home through the neighborhood. Here in Upcycling Paumanok is the vital history of one of the crucial American places.— Mark Jarman

A formalist with a fine ear for the colloquial, Balbo is primed to notice wonderful quirks of language. From what the unimaginative might dismiss as ephemera — board games, nineteenth-century newspaper articles, fabulously trashy movies of the ’70s, real estate-ese — he plucks gems of American vernacular and polishes them with his mordant wit. Balbo is also unafraid of examining subjects closer to the heart; his meditations on romantic love, parenthood, and friendship demonstrate how formal shapeliness weds the many shapes of feeling.—V. Penelope Pelizzon

Ned Balbo is a wizard of the workaday, revealing in a “parcel of suburbia” signs of our humanity and of the beauty that ennobles it. Some of these poems remind us “that awe is possible, today, / and should be shared, or taught,” while others—several of them recalling Balbo’s Long Island childhood — are achingly elegiac: “all of us who bear our memories and mysteries/ throughout our lives, will make our own departures, / bound or solitary, in due course.” Balbo does not shy from the question: Has the dream died that gave rise to America’s suburbs? In this splendid collection, their abiding hopes and disappointments are still gorgeously alive.— David Yezzi

Order The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems

Donald Justice Prize & the Poets’ Prize

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One of the things I love about The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems is how pop culture references to the monsters and heroes of horror films, science fiction novels and television series, sprinkled throughout, are not glibly hip, but both personal and universalizing—we see them for the modern mythology they are. The father of modern horror, Edgar Allan Poe, himself provides a thread running through this book-length meditation on adoption and identity, on love and heartbreak, alienation and belonging. “Hart Island,” a multifaceted long poem about New York City’s potter’s field, an island of the nameless and unclaimed dead, orphans, the homeless, convicts—lies at the tell-tale heart of the book. Caught up in Balbo’s fluent, contemporary vernacular, one tends to overlook the dizzying array of forms he employs it in: blank verse, ballade, ghazal, ottava rima, pantoum, villanelle, sestina, sonnet. That is also because these forms prove never to be mere clever exercises in technique; rather, we find they are vessels of almost uncontainable longing.       —A.E. Stallings

Order Lives of the Sleepers

Ernest Sandeen Poetry Prize & ForeWord Book of the Year Gold Medal

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The dramatic monologues in Ned Balbo’s Lives of the Sleepers are superb, the lyrics enthralling, and the meditations haunting. Balbo’s taut lines pulse with life—the life of the moment in which they live and the lives of the great poets whom Balbo has assimilated, and transformed with his love. In the nuanced profundity of the past’s living in the present and the present’s being alive to the past, Balbo’s aesthetic intelligence shimmers in every line of this powerful book. —Andrew Hudgins

Many of the poems in Ned Balbo’s new collection seem to center around a moment when the various sleepers provided by his erudite imagination awaken into their lives, or into their lives transformed by the strangest of dreams, or into the dream itself. It is perhaps the fact that we are never quite sure which of these situations obtains that gives these poems their impressive force. —Charles Martin

To realize the muse is song and not the girl—not the lost girl, not the dead girl (Ophelia, Laura, Alice, Beatrice, or Madeleine)—may be one of the poet’s more resisted lessons; nevertheless, Ned Balbo traces this difficult education in new and lovely poems. —Judith Hall

Order Galileo’s Banquet

Towson University Prize for Literature, co-winner

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In his extraordinary and compelling debut volume Galileo’s Banquet, Ned Balbo investigates a cosmology of human aspirations that is deeply intimate and openly public. Wherever Ned Balbo trains his lens, we discover a poetry that is both historically wise and psychologically complex. His supremely lyrical narrative pulsars will be with us, I’m confident, for many, many years to come.—David St. John

Ned Balbo’s first book, Galileo’s Banquet, is about what can be seen, known, and trusted, and what cannot. The seeing involved is both celestial and earthly, as the poet comes to terms with his own secret adoption and the painful revelations that follow years later. In an age that prizes unchecked confessionalism, Balbo handles heavily freighted emotional issues with clear-headed restraint and a beautiful formal control. His poems demonstrate that, in a world of imperfect and broken human relationships, the very act of writing poetry is a form of consolation, of healing.—Elizabeth Spires

Ned Balbo’s Galileo’s Banquet marks the elegant debut of a writer whose poems link the history of the galaxy to a family burdened with secrets. His images and his mastery of meter and form will take your breath away.—Nancy Willard

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