Celebrated poet Daniel Tobin takes on the largest questions of the meaning and durability of language turned to art in his new book, On Serious Earth: Poetry & Transcendence. In the aftermath of Postmodernism, is there any lasting reason to believe that the timeless might inform our art? And if so, are we able to make value judgments about what among the productions of time most deserves to endure? Tobin finds guiding lights in a wide range of thinkers and poets, including Simone Weil, David Bentley Hart, Marilynne Robinson, Agha Shahid Ali, R. S. Thomas, Gwendolyn Brooks, B. H. Fairchild, and Natasha Trethewey. Navigating deftly between relativism and authority, nihilism and positivism, Tobin strikes a wise, informed balance.
Daniel Tobin is the author of eight books of poems, most recently Blood Labors (Four Way Books, 2018) and The Stone in the Air, versions from the German of Paul Celan (Salmon Poetry, 2018). He is also the author of a critical study, Passage to the Center: Imagination and the Sacred in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney, and a book of essays, Awake in America. Tobin has also edited The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in the Hand: The Selected Poems of Lola Ridge (with Pimone Triplett), Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play: Essays on the Practice and the Art, and To The Many: Collected Early Works of Lola Ridge. Among Tobin’s awards are the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry, The Discovery/The Nation Award, The Robert Penn Warren Award, The Robert Frost Fellowship, The Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize, The Julia Ward Howe Prize, The Stephen J. Meringoff Award in Poetry, and creative writing fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. He teaches at Emerson College in Boston.
“Daniel Tobin declares independence from the Academy of Postmodernist Poetry, the new establishment. He sees postmodernist relativism as a radical nominalism, flattening the world into cynical power-plays or even nihilism. To defend his counter-vision of language bridging to rich and even mystical realities, Tobin assembles the marvelously disparate company of Emily Dickinson, Simone Weil, W. B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Czeslaw Milosz, Gwendolyn Brooks, John Ashbery, Louise Glück, Yusef Komunyakaa, and R.S. Thomas, all writers who trust the fracture of language not to annihilate meaning, but to enlarge it. A complex, sophisticated, and magnanimous book.” –Rosanna Warren
“With unflinching sobriety and daring, Daniel Tobin’s new book, On Serious Earth: Poetry & Transcendence, figures as a necessary voice in a conversation too often shrill with hyperbole or lackluster with a chronic failure to commit. Never before have the poverties engendered by a loss of stabilizing values, however multiply conceived, found such an attentive and bracing response, intent upon a broader contemporary cultural analysis in which the conflation of taste and judgment emerges as symptomatic of a greater loss, a blindness to the metaphysics endemic to language and its healing power—exemplary forms as imaginative, precise, visionary, generous, inquisitive, and haunted. A smart and beautiful book.” –Bruce Bond