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A Sum of Destructions


96 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations


  Hardcover / 9780807119327 / November 1994

The title of Theodore Weiss’s thirteenth book of poetry, A Sum of Destructions, expresses the paradox that informs the collection. Our lives inevitably sustain losses small and large. The more given, the more losable. However, we experience our gifts perhaps best, certainly most poignantly, in their loss. Against the backdrop of destruction, these poems propose the grand total to which our gifts add up.

“Fractions” directly reflects the volume’s theme. Emphasizing the root of its title—fracture, broken ness—the poem at the same time celebrates the recovery we can enjoy—through feeling, thoughts, words—of things broken or lost.

“The Garden Beyond,” the collection’s long poems, is a monologue Eve speaks to the serpent just before she eats the apple. She underscores the strains inherent in Eden from the start (especially as they involve her and her predecessor, Lilith) and the fractures needed to appreciate it: Is not a questioned, changing world preferable to a static, however seemingly perfect, one? And does not prizing things and people in itself introduce the ineluctable process of losing them?

With ardent cadence of thought and word, Weiss explores the human and natural conditions. Attending to his own moods, feelings, and ideas, he also confronts the predicaments of others in their search for basic identity.

Language itself—its resources, private lights and profound interplay with our lives—no less engages him. He witnesses our reliance on that language as well as the frustrations and confusions in which it often embroils us. 

Theodore Weiss is emeritus professor of English and creative writing at Princeton University and coeditor with his wife, Renée of the Quarterly Review of Literature. Among his recent books of poetry are A Slow Fuse and his collected poems, From Princeton One Autumn Afternoon. He has been the recipient of several honorary degrees in letters, a member of the National Book Award jury for poetry and the Bollingen Committee, a guest and reader at the White House, and winner of--among other prizes, including a Guggenheim and other fellowships--the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award.

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