Winner of the 2016 FIELD Poetry Prize
Chance Divine explores the broadest territory possible, from the origins of the universe to the speculative, precarious future. Bookended by the dazzling prose poem sequences called "Genesis" and "Revelation," Jeffrey Skinner's new collection is equally grounded in the contemporary science of photons, black holes, and climate change and the uncanny mythology of celestial talk shows, shifting identities, angels, and politicians. Visionary, wildly unpredictable, and often unsettlingly funny, this is a book that matters.
Jeffrey Skinner has a metaphysical thirst so large and fierce and energetic that it can only slake itself in the ocean of language. And that is what it does in these amazing poems, which are amazing both for their complexity and sophistication and their buoyant clarity and immediacy.
Jeffrey Skinner shatters our narratives and then rearranges them with stunning imagination and wisdom. His poems are part physics, philosophy, religion, and part master storytelling—but they’re all poetry. Here, creation is a wrestling act between the sublime and the everyday. Or it’s a non-sequitur leaping from idea to idea. In the final section, "Revelation," Skinner is a contemporary Dante confronting death, dare I say experiencing death, in a multidimensional tour-de-force that left me dazed and grateful. It is rare and exciting to come across a book this original, this alive, this knowing. These poems aren’t about—they simply are—and they are what poems are meant to be—Chance Divine.
—Anne Marie Macari
From its opening poem, "Genesis," to its closing poem, "Revelation," Jeffrey Skinner’s Chance Divine swings between blasphemy and reverence, playfulness and dark seriousness, performance and intimacy, the cerebral and the visceral. Inside these arcs we find wild and often visionary arrivals at self-understanding and -assessment—sometimes through razor-sharp observation of the external world, sometimes through a probing of the interiors of memory and emotion. This is a dizzying, singular, and utterly masterful collection.
I’d like to be Chancellor because of the sound
I’d like to nestle in a child-blue blanket
I’d like to forgive, but forget who
I’d like to think no one spectacular
I’d like to save up nonsexual thoughts
I’d like a quiver of thoughts
I’d like some extra hot sauce, please
I’d like the drama to come to a musical end
I’d like a tad more Manhattan
I’d like revenge for something, something!
I’d like flowers for the conflagration
I’d like to keep the broken helmet
Aging, I dare more for less
May I wear your necklace to the void?
Superman Attempts Rescue of Philosophical Dilemma, Fails
Be honest—if what we call nothing actually existed
who would be the one to report it? Consciousness added
to nothing is no longer nothing. It’s one, added to zero.
And if you think death plunges us into nothing
that thought also requires the I, which you call lost
in death. Ok: maybe self rises from, is adjunct to, matter,
disappearing with the body. But we can’t locate the I
in the body, nor do we understand how it might arise
from any congress of cells. We can only sense
some cloudy version of nothing when mind is present,
never one apart from the other. Which turns everything
on its head! As if Clark Kent could only have being
when seen at the same time as Superman, & Superman
only exist with Clark. And this, of course, is the truth—
as we the viewer, the observer, the comic book page-turner,
the mind without a home, have always known.
Who brings these messages
disguised as trees or vehicles
but which are in fact
people I once may, or may not
have known? Laurence
in his Big Apple cap, & Nancy,
her peasant skirt flaring
as she closes her eyes to dance;
Chris, eating a plum & sweeping
the back stoop in Rye;
Frank Dunn, Wonder Bread
white & chubby in a cloud of blue
smoke, before the coffin
closed on so much less of him.
Time doesn’t mess with these
cameos… And what will god
think of next, I think
when the steel side of a delivery
truck throws a panel of sun
in my face, then guns it
around the corner. Jesus… I’m
back in the street again, facing
a tiny man made of light
blinking at me, telling me Go
ahead now, it’s all right to cross.
Copyright © 2017 by Jeffrey Skinner. May
not be reproduced without permission.