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Middens of the Tribe

A Poem

80 pages / 5.75 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

Poetry

  Hardcover / 9780807120002 / May 1995

Across a city a harried doctor makes his rounds: A dying child. A fatal streetcar accident. A stillborn delivery. A house-call to a mansion where, beneath an evocative painting of Susanna and the Elders, a former lord of the financial district broods upon his vanished power and awaits death in the company of his mercenary butler.

Thus begins Middens of the Tribe, part family saga, part naturalistic novella. As the relationships between the characters reveal themselves, what emerges is a Tarot of the unfulfilled. The frustrated artist. His lover, who posed as Susanna. A roughneck roundhouse worker. Wilma, whose identity is one of the book’s most disturbing secrets. The tongue-tied office boy. The illusionist Doctor Magic and his long-suffering assistant. The tycoon. His scathingly self-deluded wife. Their children, a mysteriously estranged daughter and two sons, one following, however falteringly, in his father’s footsteps, the other an archaeologist searching through the detritus of ancient lives for clues to the mysteries of his own:

Can the middens
of the tribe I study tell if family
strife always reveals a culture’s dynamics,
if, amid bones, flints, sufferings are the same?

Memories, nightmares, reveries intersect in Middens of the Tribe, unveiling a stark, four-dimensional nexus of lives intertwined—leavened by touches of the comic and grotesque: a cubist rendering of alienation, intimacy, and loss. Daniel Hoffman’s accomplishment is an ambitious one. For both narrative power and poetic intensity, Middens of the Tribe is an unforgettable book. 

Former poet laureate, Daniel Hoffman (1923—2013) published fourteen books of poetry, including The Whole Nine Yards, Beyond Silence, and Brotherly Love, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. His honors include the Arthur Anse prize for “a distinctive poet” from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and, from the Sewanee Review, the Aiken-Taylor Award for Contemporary American Poetry. He was the author of many critical studies, including Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe, also a National Book Award finalist. He taught at Swarthmore College and at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the Felix Schelling Professor of English Emeritus.

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