The Alphabet Not Unlike the World
In her highly ambitious second collection of poems, Katrina Vandenberg writes from the intersection of power and forgiveness. With poems named for letters of the Phoenician alphabet, and employing such innovative forms as the ancient ghazal, Vandenberg deciphers the seemingly indecipherable in this emotionally poignant collection. Moving between the physical and the abstract, the individual and the collective, The Alphabet Not Unlike the World unearths meaning—with astonishing beauty—from the pain of loss and separation.
A deeply confident, compelling voice.
— Naomi Shihab Nye
Katrina Vandenberg recognizes the alphabet as a site where the global and the local join, where history becomes the present moment, where history has moment, is momentous. In these poems, ‘seeing is not the same / asseeing through,’ but both occur, guided by the double recognition of the alphabet as both medium and message. These poems live near enough to ‘the house of the unsaid’ that when in one of them the first person invests the second to ‘tell me if you want me to stop,’ a reader may say, as I did out loud, Not yet. Please, not yet.
— H.L. Hix
A stranger pays your bar tab out of pity; the inmate — seeking approval — changes his tune year after year; a saint stands still enough for birds to nest in his hand: these poems take us to the profane, to shed light on the tenuous sacred. Vandenberg’s prosodic gift takes us to the breezy edge of the line. In traditional forms like the ghazal, witty alphabet poems, and cyclonic free verse she reminds us that truth already is slant, ‘Hell is holding onto a secret, some of us already know.’
— Kristin Naca
I had meant to read a few poems, then return to the book another time. Two hours later I put it down, shaken and exhilarated. It careens between heartbreak and breakthrough in ways that began by amazing me and finished by moving me to the point where I had no choice but to agree when Vandenberg writes in the book’s last poem, ‘You can’t, in the end / close the book.’
— Jim Moore
Vandenberg fills her hands with the world and offers it to us in a gleaming, dripping plenty: a love letter to letters, an omnibus inventory of signs, symbols, and gestures, a guileless gift of all the things she loves, knows, and feels.
— Todd Boss
“Using letters as a frame, Vandenberg exercises restraint in her poems, letting the personal and historical inform one another.”
“Vandenberg puts the reader on notice: these poems will demand one’s full attention because they hover between the narrative and the experimental. Make no mistake, though: the mix works splendidly. Vandenberg’s intricate matroyshka-like writing may require a second and third read, but the reader will quickly realize this effort should be given without regret.”
“Through the alphabet’s power to gather and to name, Vandenberg senses, perceives, and interacts with the world. More than that: she contains it, while acknowledging it cannot be contained.”
“Vandenberg, a line and language manipulator, manages cleverness without pretension and puts her first collection (Atlas) to shame. Intelligent and assertive. Read it.”
This book stands out in the shelves of thin volumes as it’s not an arrangement of poems that serve as settings for a few gems: every poem, it seems, is a standout. I read it in one sitting. Once my grades are in, I’ll sit down and read it again.
Read poems from Alphabet online:
“Abyss” and “The Night the Painter Unpinned Her Hair,” at Memorious
“Oarlock, Oar,” at The Academy of American Poets
“Say Something,” at The Rumpus
“Fuchsia,” at Orion
“Driving to Doug and Hilary’s Cabin in Northern Wisconsin” (appears in Alphabet as “O/P/R/S”), at Orion
“Earthworms,” at Orion
“Dark Ages” (appears in Alphabet as “Once, he had brain fever”) and “D Ghazal,” at Blackbird
“One Argument for the Existence of God” (appears in Alphabet as “We Kept Having to Say”), at The Sun
“Handwriting Analysis,” at Waccamaw
Several poems at Connotation Press
“Courage and Horror stand side by side,” read by Steve Mueske at Linebreak
“Virginity,” read by T.R. Hummer at Linebreak