Off the Shelf: Stephen Cushman

February 25, 2011

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Anne Bromley:

February 25, 2011 — Stephen Cushman, Robert C. Taylor Professor of English, "Riffraff." Louisiana State University Press.

Cushman will read from "Riffraff," his new book of poems, on March 2 at 5:30 p.m. at the New Dominion Bookstore on the downtown mall.

The collection is Cushman's fourth book of poetry, following "Heart Island," "Cussing Lesson" and "Blue Pajamas."

Cushman's other books of nonfiction and literary criticism are "Bloody Promenade: Reflections on a Civil War Battle," "Fictions of Form in American Poetry" and "William Carlos Williams and the Meanings of Measure."

From the publisher:

Brothers at Breakfast

People are like eggs, the younger says.
Some are scrambled, some are sunny-side-up.
From another room, with one sock on,
I want to add coddled or deviled,
but the older says first, How about
poached or hard-boiled
?  It’s December,
month of black mornings.  Wouldn’t you call
Dad over-easy
? the younger says.
Month of my birth and black afternoons.
Not really, the older replies.
I’d call him sunny-side-down.

© by Stephen Cushman, 2011

Stephen Cushman's "Riffraff" embodies the spirit of its title, a Middle English word for "every particle" or "things of small value." In this striking collection, scraps of the overlooked and distasteful – a prostitute passed in the street, the speaker's own forgotten dreams, toothless dogs rolling in deer offal – become occasions to meditate on the rich experiences from which we too often turn away.

The poems reflect on the possibilities of language, the natural world, politics, history, eros, aging, family and spiritual devotion. Without pretension, Cushman values "adepts who can dwell in the kiosk of a kiss." Skillfully, he transmutes his own curiosity and surprise into moments of shared instruction. "Keep low," he whispers. "Stay put. / Learn from the leaves."

"Riffraff" culls what we have discarded, saves from abandonment the notions we have taken for granted and, indeed, venerates every particle.

— By Anne Bromley

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications