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2009 National Book Award Finalist,

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Ann Lauterbach
Or to Begin Again
Penguin Books

Video from the 2009 National Book Awards Finalist Reading


Photo credit: Diana Michener


Or to Begin Again, Ann Lauterbach’s eighth book of poetry, creates a world of permeability and fragment in contemporary lights and darks, in which what is visible entwines with what can be said, and what can be said is reality. The book’s central narrative, “Alice in the Wasteland,” is a high philosophical inquiry that’s mobile, capacious, and tender, veering from sibylline to ingénue’s pathos. Yearning is to make cohere.


Ann Lauterbach’s book work of poetry, Or to Begin Again, takes its name from a sixteen-poem elegy that resists its own end as it meditates on the nearness of specific attachment and loss against the mute background of historical forces in times of war. In the center of the book is a long narrative, “Alice in the Wasteland,” inspired by Lewis Carroll’s great character and T.S. Eliot’s 1922 modernist poem. Alice is accosted by an invisible Voice as she wanders and wonders about the nature of language in relation to perception. In this volume, Lauterbach again shows the range of her formal inventiveness, demonstrating the visual dynamics of the page in tandem with the powerful musical cadences and imagery of a contemporary master.


Ann Lauterbach is the author of eight collections of poetry, including If in Time: Selected Poems 1975 – 2000, and a collection of essays, The Night Sky: Writings on the Poetics of Experience. She has taught at Brooklyn College, Columbia, Iowa, Princeton, and at the City College of New York and Graduate Center of CUNY. Since 1991 she has been Director of Writing in the Milton Avery School of the Arts at Bard College, where she has been, since 1999, Ruth and David Schwab II Professor of Languages and Literature. Lauterbach was the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship in 1993. She lives in Germantown, New York.


Ann Lauterbach's Page at EPC

Ann Lauterbach's page at

Ann Lauterbach's Wikipedia Entry

VIDEO - Ann Lauterbach
Holloway Series in Poetry


The following excerpt includes the first two of the sixteen stanzas of “Or To Begin Again,” the title poem to Ann Lauterbach’s collection.



Way over in the particularities of evening

so many missing it seems we are alone at

last, you and whatever I am thinking about you,

not a happy thought, but not indifferent.

And that other world? The image

had receded under the angry claims of the

image, and in this redundancy

we stopped to buy apples, and to speak of the dead.

The face of the dead came into view

as a consolation, and the apples seemed

a magnitude of form, brightly gathered, a crowd.

These are impossible things to say clearly, because

the proper name has less than accurate

attributes: so little had been copied from life.

But think now of Seurat. Think of Child in White

rendered as absent agitations of a crayon. The end.


Or to begin again

gold touches the back of her neck. It spawns

a crest, a brief tattoo. She moves

into and beyond

shedding its improvisation, its effect.

The effect of gold is bright heat. She

seeks cover in a passing cloud, a passing leaf. Gold

moves off into the landscape, touching a wasp, a truck,

a stone. Down at the end of the path, a head

appears as that of a man, riveted to a wall.

The gold moves off and vanishes

as night ignites a halo

around the head at the end of the passage.

This is the assemblage of the nevertheless,

its sudden rupture. I thought of something else.

I thought of a stranger seated in a tent. The end.


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