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A Glossary of Chickens


With skillful rhetoric and tempered lyricism, the poems in A Glossary of Chickens explore, in part, the struggle to understand the world through the symbolism of words. Like the hens of the title poem, Gary J. Whitehead's lyrics root around in the earth searching for sustenance, cluck rather than crow, and possess a humble majesty. Confronting subjects such as moral depravity, nature's indifference, aging, illness, death, the tenacity of spirit, and the possibility of joy, the poems in this collection are accessible and controlled, musical and meditative, imagistic and richly figurative. They are informed by history, literature, and a deep interest in the natural world, touching on a wide range of subjects, from the Civil War and whale ships, to animals and insects. Two poems present biblical narratives, the story of Lot's wife and an imagining of Noah in his old age. Other poems nod to favorite authors: one poem is in the voice of the character Babo, from Herman Melville's Benito Cereno, while another is a kind of prequel to Emily Dickinson's "She rose to His Requirement." As inventive as they are observant, these memorable lyrics strive for revelation and provide their own revelations.

Author Information

Gary J. Whitehead is the author of two previous collections of poetry. His work has appeared in the New Yorker and has been featured on Garrison Keillor's public radio program the Writer's Almanac. Whitehead teaches English at Tenafly High School in New Jersey and lives in New York's Hudson Valley.


A distinctive, quiet-voiced, sharp-eyed collection.---Carol Rumens, The GuardianIt's skillful and beautiful without being twee, and like every book I'm about to mention, it deserves a wide audience. It's also gently amusing, with some high-flying acrobatics thrown in that never feel forced.---Barbara Berman, TheRumpus.net[T]o reread his book is to see its invention--and to wish it were longer.---Stephen Burt, Yale ReviewWhitehead's poems are learned without being fussy, masterfully observant and complete. He provides a seriously good time. . . . He is attentive in ways that offer a digestible, quirky adhesiveness. . . . [L]ike Tobias Wolff or other contemporaries in that league, Whitehead blurs with perfection the line between story-telling and poetry. . . . I repeat. Masterfully observant and complete.---Barbara Berman, Rumpus
Edition: Course Book
Audience: General/trade;