Reviews

Photo: aspens in Crested Butte, Colorado

Selected Reviews

Jane Greer reviews The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots and 3 Nights of the Perseids in Literary Matters.

“The second important aspect of Balbo’s poetry is his formal inventiveness. His attitude toward traditional poetic tools is respectful but self-assured and not overly scrupulous: he works within often-nameless forms, or nonce forms of his own invention. He bends formal rules and sometimes deploys slant rhyme with an efficacy surpassing true rhyme’s capability. Rules are made to be broken, when breaking them is best. Taste is a judgment call, and Balbo is an almost unerring judge.”

 

Stephen Scott Whitaker reviews 3 Nights of the Perseids in The Broadkill Review

“Ned Balbo’s 3 Nights of the Perseids, winner of the 2018 Richard Wilbur Award…is the lauded poet’s fifth book, one of two published in 2019 (along with The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots, winner of the New Criterion Prize) and Perseids delights…Balbo pokes fun at our follies and interests and celebrates our trivial loves. Facebook and social media get skewered in ‘deadbook,’ and later in part two, Bowie, Prince, the Beatles, sing out of the poems, which function both as spiritual/emotional diagnostics and radio…Perseids is focused upwards, but Balbo gazes everywhere, to loved ones, to politicians, and to rock stars. The marriage of the low and the high brow culture are unified through Balbo’s skill and formal choices.”

 

Barbara Egel reviews 3 Nights of the Perseids in Light

“The book has four sections, each with a theme (space and geography, music, the academic life, and the life of poetry), and the voice established in the first poem carries us through all of them. It’s an unusual persona in that it is serious and witty all at once. It manages to be earnest without being in any way soppy or humorless, which is a high bar to clear, and Balbo certainly does…This is a thoughtful, well-crafted book with an agile and unsparing voice.”

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Lesley Wheeler reviews Upcycling Paumanok in Kenyon Review

“Balbo’s complicated sense of place and his poetic resourcefulness make this book worth your time, but what impresses me most are the extended narrative lyrics, the first of which appears several pages in. Balbo’s deftness at balancing story and music is often breathtaking…”

 

Stephen Kampa reviews Upcycling Paumanok in Birmingham Poetry Review

Excerpt: “Balbo’s self-appointed task is twofold: to bear witness to all that we stand to lose should we fail to remain faithful to memory and to acknowledge that despite our best efforts the memory of all that must be lost is the most we can hope for outside the possibility of a miraculous final intervention….Balbo’s political commitments, for example, animate several poems…and some of the loveliest moments come in his poems of domesticity….Throughout Upcycling Paumanok, Balbo shows himself to be a careful craftsman with a knack for using fixed forms in thematically expressive ways.”

 

Maria Serena Marchesi reviews Upcycling Paumanok in Italian Americana

Excerpt: “In his latest collection of poems Balbo deals with the painful issues of the human condition in a quietly hyper-realistic language made stronger by the elegance of understatement….In ‘The Poseidon, Capsized,’ eternity and the afterlife acquire immediacy and poignancy through the metaphor of the audience blinded by the lights at the end of a B-movie, with the masterstroke of the colloquial opening: ‘But, really, who knows what takes place beyond/the final reel.” …On the other hand, the dead’s urge to communicate with the living…is to be found in ‘The Ghosts at Ground Zero,’ which could be termed a dramatic polylogue where the voices of the dead melt into one collective voice as a powerfully symbolic rendering of a collective tragedy.”

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Angela Alaimo O’Donnell reviews The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems in Valparaiso Poetry Review

“Ned Balbo’s new book, The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems, is a brave foray into the sometimes terrifying world of childhood.  The collection, which won the Donald Justice Prize in 2010, consists of 25 well-wrought formal poems, each one substantial and some (such as, ‘Hart Island,’ a powerful blank-verse narrative at the heart of the book) qualifying as tour-de-force in terms of their deeply imaginative engagement of the subject and the deftness of the poet’s craft.”

 

Lucas Jacob reviews The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems in Studio

“The writer we know by the name Edgar Allan Poe famously refers again and again to a central fear of being buried alive. Ned Balbo—who shares with Poe some vital bits of biography, most importantly having been taken in at a young age and raised by parents not his own—has in the Donald Justice Prize-winning collection The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems rechristened the father of American gothic literature with his birth name, and has tethered the poems in this appropriately haunting collection to a different end-of-life fear: that of being buried unclaimed.”

 

Estella Lauter reviews The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems in Verse Wisconsin

“The central image of ‘Hart Island’ is Jacob Riis’s “magic lantern,” the new technology he used in his public lectures to raise awareness of the ‘Other Half’ of society after he visited the New York Morgue, Blackwell Island’s Penitentiary, the Lunatic Asylum on Ward’s Island and Hart Island.  Balbo’s poem is the poetic equivalent of that lantern, and thus it qualifies as political poetry—not in the sense  of pushing for a particular solution to a social problem, but by illuminating its existence and pressing the human spirit to make room for understanding.”

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James Matthew Wilson reviews Lives of the Sleepers in Pleiades

“Nearly every poem in Balbo’s second book offers a dramatic moment snatched from history or the archive, where the desires of the senses, of the body, negotiate their relation to intellectual love, the desires of the soul….These are brilliant, painful poems that suggest the danger of religious or spiritual desires when they meet the physical world, but also the persistence, dignity and necessity of that sometimes strange meeting.”

 

Image Update reviews Lives of the Sleepers

Excerpt: “Throughout Lives of the Sleepers, Ned Balbo finds the critical moment when cause engages effect–when life, beyond our control, tips into a kind of living death, or adoration seizes us with a blind grasping after the beloved until, suddenly and mysteriously, we are brought back to our senses. Guided by ancient mythology, Balbo creates a netherworld of human longing stretching from classical poetry to the scientific age….Lives of the Sleepers leans on such masters as Dante, Virgil, and Petrarch–not to mention the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Alfred Hitchcock is also thrown in for good measure.)… Balbo’s affection for moments like Beatrice finally hearing Dante’s plea for her help, listening ‘past the music of the spheres–/that slow celestial humming–for his voice,’ makes the classical contemporary….The Christians in the title poem, persecuted by Rome and sealed away like first century Rip Van Winkles, awaken into an unfamiliar world. There they face the gravity of their loss–the stripping away of the familiar….Lives of the Sleepers is a search for places of emergence, from past into present, fear into hope, sleep into waking–or, as it may happen, back again into the realm of dreams.”

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Melanie Jordan reviews Galileo’s Banquet in Crab Orchard Review

Excerpt: “In his first book, Galileo’s Banquet, Ned Balbo uses the heavens as a mirror to reflect personal and human misgivings while still making redemption and forgiveness appear possible…Balbo won’t let us find futility, not even in the painful excavation of what appears to be his own shrouded adoption….Balbo refuses to progress simply from the heavens to his personal ghosts. He re-expands to a diverse set of material, culled from pop culture, history, art, and the traditions of verse. His agility with forms is complemented by his constant use of questions; we get the sense that these poems are questing themselves in a ‘banquet of constellations’ so vast they can only know some of the answers…”

 

Sam Schmidt reviews Galileo’s Banquet in WordHouse

Excerpt: “Galileo’s Banquet, winner of the 1998 Towson University Prize for Literature for a Maryland writer under 40 and 1998 co-winner of the Washington Writers’ Publishing House annual competition, is unfashionable in the best sense. It teaches some fine lessons which run counter to how most poetry is being written today. One lesson is the value of ‘the interesting’ as poetic material, the strangely cool energy of an enquiring mind. Another is the power available to the poet who avoids ‘self expression’ in his work (although many of Balbo’s poems are deeply personal). And then, by no means lastly (this list could be extended), he handles meter and rhyme as they should be handled, so naturally we almost forget their presence.”

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