A collection of funny and thought-provoking poems inspired by surprising facts that will appeal to poetry lovers and poetry haters alike, from the author of the essay collection The Unreality of Memory, “a work of sheer brilliance, beauty, and bravery” (Andrew Sean Greer)
Known to be both “casually brilliant” (Sandra Newman) and a “ruthless self-examiner” (Sarah Manguso), acclaimed writer Elisa Gabbert brings her “questing, restless intelligence” (Kirkus Reviews) to a new collection of poetry.
By turns funny and chilling, these poems collect strange facts, interrogate language, and ask unanswerable questions that offer the pleasure of discovery on nearly every page: How does one suffer “gladly,” exactly? How bored are dogs? Which is more frightening, nothing or empty space? Was Wittgenstein sexy?
With her sharp observations building to extremely quotable one-liners, the poems in this collection are earwormy, ultra contemporary, essayistic, aphoristic, and philosophical—invitations to eavesdrop on a mind paying attention to itself. Normal Distance is a book about thinking and feeling, meaning and experience, trees and the weather, and the boredom and pain of living through time.
Praise for Normal Distance
“‘There is a hole in your nightmare / you could fall down,’ writes Elisa Gabbert from America of the 2020s, where ‘normal’ has never been ‘normal’ and now distance is up in your face. ‘Every year, when the lindens bloom, I think of the year / when the lindens didn’t bloom,’ begins this journey wherein distraction helps thinking and precision allows perspective, and indecision, which by now is a character trait of a large group, touches on metaphysical: ‘everything reminds me of it, but I don’t know what “it” is.’ But Gabbert knows answers, and isn’t afraid to share them: ‘We are born not remembering why we walked into the room.’ She knows, too, that ‘what it wants is desire. / A barrier to crossing / the chasm of the day.’ The metaphysics in this book is felt, and lived, and searching. The questions are playful, the answers are wise, and the language is always precise, beautiful. Normal Distance is a joy to read and re-read.” —Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa
“‘I feel,’ says Kierkegaard’s aesthete ‘A,’ ‘as if I were a piece in a game of chess, when my opponent says of it: That piece cannot be moved!’ But in this playfully despairing book, our speaker—call her the melancholy American—feels to me like she’s on third base with a) the bases loaded and b) the distinct feeling that the batter’s going to get walked. He does, she saunters, and, refreshingly free of ballyhoo, she scores. The poems in Normal Distance find Elisa Gabbert taking her trademark even-keeled clairvoyance and matter-of-fact sass to new extremes of quotidiana, new culs-de-sac in the abyss. Say them and they’ll eat at you all day.” —Graham Foust, author of Embarrassments
“A magnificent book of poems, unafraid to interrogate our maddening existence, vengefully honest, and pierced with a blazing conversation towards philosophy. Gabbert has a gift for exposing human longing, with poker-faced lyricism, for the fantasy it often is. Suffering pervades this book: our addiction to it, our denial of it and the absolute inevitability of it. What Gabbert shows us is that suffering comes in many forms, and one of the most prevalent is boredom: ‘The secret to immortality is boredom. If you’re bored enough you’ll never die,’ she writes. Always there is a solidarity in the poems. We are all together in this; we are the poet. And humor—which Freud knew held as much rich unconscious content as dreams—makes these elegant, genius poems anything but boring. ‘Can you not pay attention to your desires?,’ she asks. She replies with all her pitch-perfect characteristic sagacity: ‘I don’t care. I want to change my mind.’ Same.” —Bianca Stone, author of What Is Otherwise Infinite
“Elisa Gabbert’s newest book of poems, Normal Distance, is a must-read. It is a work of full force and cannot be forgotten long after you close its pages. Its intricate language mazes and areas of language play create a landscape of full sensations, thoughts, and pure emotion. In the book, you enter places where the starkness of our time is met with the tenderness of what it means to be a human. Places where the ‘lindens’ both ‘bloom’ and ‘didn’t bloom,’ where ‘suffering was less absurd,’ places where the ‘inflection of a spell’ ‘turns off your power,’ where ‘everything is a monolith,’ places with ‘frightening’ ’empty space,’ and where ‘youth is a kind of genius.’ These poems are places where anything can be anything and where what the poet feels intimately can still be everything. As Gabbert writes, ‘We are born not remembering why we walked into the room,’ and I believe her. This is a book that you will remember for a long time, after birth and death, and into the eternal space where poetry still lives.” —Dorothea Lasky, author of Milk
“What I love about the poems in Normal Distance is how each uncannily assembles within the reader a scale model of Gabbert’s own booming wonder—a New Mexico moon rises ‘absurd on its face. // All ha ha ha.’ Sleep is where ‘Time comes out of time’; then, it’s ‘a performance for God.’ It’s all just so delight-full, delight in the Horatian sense of dulce et util, delight that pierces the reader’s mind so wisdom can get in. Gabbert achieves that highest lyric aim: she restores to living a bit of its baffle.” —Kaveh Akbar, author of Pilgrim Bell