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Terra Nova

Terra Nova

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Cynthia Huntington


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)


Crab Orchard Series in Poetry


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About the Book

Finalist, Balcones Poetry Prize, 2017

In this bold and ambitious book-length poem, National Book Award finalist Cynthia Huntington explores exile and migration—what it means to lose, seek, and find home in all its iterations—through a polyphonic work, written in multiple voices and evoking the method of Hart Crane’s The Bridge or the Nighttown episode in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Yet it is also a tough and vernacular work, owing as much to Patti Smith and the Clash as it does to High Modernism.

Again and again the work shows us outsiders forced into metaphorical and literal wildernesses, whether in a retelling of the biblical Israelites lost in the desert or in stories from Provincetown, Massachusetts, where the new world struggles into being at the edge of the sea. Yet the voices here, across many times and places, refuse to give in to desolation and despair.

Huntington’s approach is hybrid, oscillating between verse and lyrical prose to create a work that falls somewhere between an epic poem and a collection of lyric essays. Whether chronicling the creation of the world and the first exile from the Judeo-Christian Garden of Eden or imagining the terror and thrill of the first sea voyages, this is electric poetry: challenging, startling, and fulfilling.


Cynthia Huntington is the author of a prose memoir and four books of poetry, including Heavenly Bodies (SIU Press), a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. A Guggenheim Fellow, she has also received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Vermont Arts Council. A former poet laureate of New Hampshire, she is the Frederick Sessions Beebe Professor in the Art of Writing at Dartmouth College and teaches in the MFA Writing Program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.


“This is a magnificent work, focused on the history of an all but sea-surrounded town. The poet [tells] stories through many voices, from the elevated language of creation myth and prophetic rebuke, to vivid, realistic barroom scenes, hapless and violent, mediated through a voice of personal account and self-accounting. . . . It is one poem with many poems (some of them in prose) carried through the passionate singing rhythm of these voices, becoming the one grand poem that is the book.”—David Ferry, author, Bewilderment, and winner, National Book Award in Poetry
“Provincetown is the locus of this ambitious, wide-ranging, and archetypal collection, which takes up various histories of migration and exile and reimagines them for our time. Terra Nova has the feeling of a biblical prophecy, a lost book that has washed up from the sea.”—Edward Hirsch, author, Gabriel: A Poem 
“Provincetown is a place both mythic and mystical, and Cynthia Huntington is a someone who gets this right. The land’s end, the outermost places here, are never mere geography but the far reaches of history and psyche. Experience, however epic or quotidian, appears heightened in a phosphorescent shimmer from the wilding Atlantic. This cold fire pervades Huntington’s diction and rhythms, which press hard against the limits of what can be put into language. She quails at nothing, she excludes nothing, and in her deft hand, this cape’s furthest outpost becomes a vortex swallowing the world and time. Terra Nova sojourns everywhere and is peopled by multitudes—by fishermen and fishermen’s wives, the Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers, refugees, wanderers, prophets of the Old Testament, nomads of prehistory and more. It is impossible to catalog the dimensions of this book, and that is its magic and wonder. This is an astonishing achievement, a magnum opus. Open its covers and you may not surface for days.”—Frank X. Gaspar, author, Late Rapturous