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Composing Voices: A Cycle of Dramatic Monologues  
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  Robert Pack

ISBN 978-0-9762114-0-2    $20  /  $25 (Canada)    5.5 x 8.5   144 pp   September 2004    Poetry





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Robert Pack’s new volume of poetry, Composing Voices: A Cycle of Dramatic Monologues, is a fabulously expanded version of his 1984 book, Faces in a Single Tree. In each of the poems a single person is talking to one other person to whom he is intimately related, creating deep dramatic tension: a father talking to a bereaved daughter or puzzled son; a sister confronting a sister gone astray or a brother to whom she is confessing her compromised pregnancy; husbands and wives, old and young, reviewing some crisis of their lives together. Combined with these human dramas are the dramas of nature. Pack inherits Robert Frost’s sensitivity to the minutiae of spectacle and evolution, the mysteries of God and Darwin’s theories. He regards these with humor and compassion. And, perhaps miraculously, but surely most wisely, he does it all within the regulations and beauties of blank verse.

Pack has added to his first cycle of monologues some characters who are not necessarily related by blood. Here we find relations of professional intimacy—lawyer and client, doctor and patient. All possible human concerns are excavated in these poems: humans and God, humans and the environment, humans and their most significant others, including pet monkeys and ghosts. All these characters are, of course, the creations of a single mind, that of the author’s. In this new book, Pack has included a prologue and epilogue that explain his rationale for such a work of human exploration through fictional invention. His Prologue opens thus: “Perhaps I can convince you that I am/ quite like the other characters you’ll meet / within with book, although I have a life / that’s more than words where we, alas / Dear Reader, here in this country / where bright orchestrated words are all / the measured air we can accommodate.” And the “Author’s Epilogue” begins thus: “Go little book, get the hell out of here, / I’ve had enough of these imagined lives/ invented to augment my finite own.”

 

After establishing yourself, after Frost, as our best poet of nature, you are competing for the crown, after Browning, of best dramatic monologist. Composing Voices: A Cycle of Dramatic Monologues is superb, each monologue a suggestive story, with lovely continuing references to attacking grizzlies, plane crashes and the like. And your “Author’s Epilogue” is perfect. Congratulations. . . . Your voice in these poems is so relaxed and normal, yet the poems are full of tension. You go from strength to strength out there in the Montana wilderness.

—Robert Brustein

This is a book born of deep long-lasting fascination with the human predicament, and with the history of English poetry and its uses; it is a book that could well be treasured by a new generation of poets looking for a way from simple self-expression into meaningful vision and afirmation.

—Pamela White Hadas

 

The dramatic monologues in Composing Voices are not just poetry; they are our own voices—if we dared utter these thoughts and feelings. The subjects of these poems are the things we imagine saying to our loved ones, or to our most intimate friends, but we can never quite find the right moment; they remain unsaid. Not in this book. These monologues express such intimacy; they say the unspeakable.

—John Irving

About the Author

Robert Pack

Robert Pack

Among Robert Pack’s eighteen books of poetry, his most recent collections are: Elk in Winter (2004), Rounding It Out (1999), Minding the Sun (1996), and Fathering the Map: New and Selected Later Poems (1993), all published by the University of Chicago Press. Pack’s poetry focuses on such major themes as man’s relationship to nature, and human intimacy—friendships and family relationships. His most recent book of criticism, Belief and Uncertainty in the Poetry of Robert Frost, was published in 1993 by the New England University Press, a study of Frost in the tradition of nature poetry. Pack’s earlier collections of essays, The Long View: Essays on the Discipline of Hope and Poetic Craft and Affirming Limits were published by the University of Massachusetts Press. He has completed a book about Shakespeare’s major plays, Willing to Choose, to be published in 2006 by Lost Horse Press. Pack received his B.A. degree from Dartmouth College in 1951 and an M.A. from Columbia University in 1953. He taught at the New School for Social Research in New York, at Barnard College, and at Middlebury College, where he was given the Chair of Distinguished Faculty Professor of Literature and Creative Writing, a position which allowed him to teach wherever in the curriculum his interests took him. He taught literature and creative writing classes in the English Department and the Literary Studies Program and also in the Program in Environmental Studies, where his interests in psychoanalysis, Big Bang physics, and Darwinian evolution came into play. He served as the Director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference from l973 to 1994 and taught at Middlebury College’s graduate school of English, The Bread Loaf School, for over three decades. For years Pack served the Woodrow Wilson Foundation by teaching in residence for a period of one to four weeks at various small liberal arts colleges throughout the country, most recently at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, in 2000, where he was awarded an Honorary degree in the spring of 2001.

Pack has had a Fulbright Fellowship to Italy where he translated the Mozart librettos, and has been given awards for his poetry by the National Council of the Arts, The Borestone Mountain award, the American Scholar Mary Elinor Smith Poetry Prize, and, most recently, the Mortar Board of Montana award for excellence in teaching. His poems and essays have appeared in over a hundred magazines and anthologies such as American Scholar, The New Criterion, The Kenyon Review, The Georgia Review, The Yale Review, and The New Yorker. In 1994 he was awarded the Dartmouth College medal for lifetime accomplishment and leadership.

Pack now teaches courses in Shakespeare, Romantic Poetry, Modern Poetry, Creative Writing, Visions of Nature, and Ways of Knowing at the University of Montana in Missoula in the English Department and the Honors College.

Awards

2005 Montana Honor Book of the Year Award for Poetry