Many of the poems in Naming the Stars are about the difficulty of balancing the desires of one self with those of another and the problem of solving the arguments between the body and the soul. The collection's perspective often shifts as the poet wonders how to tell a story that she is not certain she understands even as she lives it, but she finds solace in the sonnet and near-sonnet, giving the volume a recurring shape and a sequential thread. This is Sutphen's third book of poems and it is a change, both in style and subject matter: the poems here are more immediate and revealing emotionally, and the language (lean and complex) matches this intensity.
Naming the Stars
This present tragedy will eventually
turn into myth, and in the mist
of that later telling the bell tolling
now will be a symbol, or, at least,
a sign of something long since lost.
This will be another one of those
loose changes, the rearrangement of
hearts, just parts of old lives
patched together, gathered into
a dim constellation, small consolation.
Look, we will say, you can almost see
the outline there: her fingertips
touching his, the faint fusion
of two bodies breaking into light.
Joyce Sutphen's first book of poetry, Straight Out of View, won the Barnard New Women's Poets Prize (Beacon Press, 1995) and was recently republished by Holy Cow! Press (2001). Her second book of poems, Coming Back to the Body (Holy Cow! Press, 2000), was a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, and other journals. She has read her work on NPR's A Prairie Home Companion. Ms. Sutphen's awards include the Eunice Tietjen's Memorial Prize from Poetry magazine, a Loft-McKnight Artist Fellowship, a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship, and grants from the Jerome Foundation. She holds a Ph.D in Renaissance Drama and teaches literature and creative writing at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota.