Exit, Civilian


Title Details

Pages: 88

Trim size: 5.500in x 8.500in



Pub Date: 04/15/2012

ISBN: 9-780-8203-4348-8

List Price: $19.95

Related Subjects

POETRY / American / General

Exit, Civilian


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  • Description
  • Reviews

In her second collection, Idra Novey steps in and out of jails, courthouses, and caves to explore what confinement means in the twenty-first century. From the beeping doors of a prison in New York to cellos playing in a former jail in Chile, she looks at prisons that have opened, closed, and transformed to examine how the stigma of incarceration has altered American families, including her own. Novey writes of the expanding prison complex that was once a field and imagines what’s next for the civilians who enter and exit it each day.

On Bafflement

We drew a prison in the sand and it wouldn’t go away.

Not even beneath the foam of the biggest waves.

The torn leg of a starfish clung to the door.

A piece of seaweed clung to the bars over the windows.

The tide came in higher and we thought, So much for the prison.

Somebody asked why did we draw that thing,

And were we growing old watching it this way.

We felt compelled to make love in the sand a few feet off.

Then we drew another one, just to see if we’d make love again.

We only imagine ourselves free. Idra Novey's stark, inventive poems hurtle forth with brash lyricism, forcing us to reflect on our roles as captives, alternate swinging open and slamming shut the prison doors. There is no work like this, no tales so beautiful and hurtful, no stanzas that bite this hard and linger this long.

—Patricia Smith, author of Blood Dazzler

In Exit, Civilian, Idra Novey takes Vasko Popa’s ‘little box’ and morphs it into a ‘little prison.’ The sweetness of the name ‘little prison’ draws us in, and Novey tracks her discomfort with the justice system with surprising and illuminating tenderness. Novey has taught for the Bard Prison Initiative—one poem zooms in on the poignant detail of the crumpling of a wedding dress as it moves into and out of the prison, another imagines a mother named ‘Trial’ giving birth to a child, ‘Verdict.’ I finished this book with these words still in my head: ‘Do you want to hear more / About the little prison / Have you noticed / It is everywhere.’ These poems truly change what and how we see.

—Matthea Harvey, author of Modern Life

‘Enter an apple / And come out the teeth marks / In its yellowed core,’ writes Idra Novey. In this spare, remarkable collection, she harnesses and transforms prison experience into a visionary exploration where boundaries dissolve, and we find ourselves transformed.

—Arthur Sze, author of The Ginkgo Light

[T]he book reveals superb acts of attention, by a writer whose reliable moral sense matches her first-rate ear.

Publishers Weekly

Novey’s work has always had a subversive quality, exploring unsanctioned facets of identity, and her discoveries here are just as fresh as in her first collection, if more openly dangerous and political. . . . [Her] images and scenes are meticulously constructed, crystalline, inviting us into a parallel world that reflects back the darker parts of our own.

—Michael Simon, Denver Quarterly

A meditation on imprisonment, using surrealism as a tool to understanding the real; this is a smart and immaculately crafted book that deserves and rewards you.

—Mathias Svalina, The Volta

The prisons, courthouses, and hideaways featured in Novey's National Poetry Series winner are very real, but we don't encounter so much bars, barbs, and barbed wire as metaphysical shrinkage and change. . . . Startling.

—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

[Novey's] modes vary from flashes of anecdote to surreal narrative, from prose to brief lyrics to long-lined poems. The effect is one of an extended reach toward concretions, routines and environments that won't yield to mere wishes to understand or change them. . . . In Exit, Civilian, the thing is the prison, intractably present—and freedom, more than simply a life outside a jail, comprises an infinite speculation on the meaning of itself. The tonal gives way to the atonal, the fuzzy.

—Ron Slate, On the Seawall

About the Author/Editor

IDRA NOVEY is the author of the novel Ways to Disappear. Her fiction and poetry have been translated into ten languages, and she has written for the New York Times the Los Angeles Times, NPR’s All Things Considered, New York Magazine, and the Paris Review. She is the recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Poets & Writers Magazine, the PEN Translation Fund, and the Poetry Foundation. She has taught at Princeton University, Columbia, NYU, Fordham, the Catholic University of Chile, and in the Bard Prison Initiative.