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The Self as Constellation

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The Self as Constellation by Jeanine Hathaway

Winner of the Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry.

From University of North Texas Press | Paperback: 9781574411447 | $12.95 | April 2002


“If, as I remember reading somewhere, poetry is language that tends to get itself reproduced exactly, readers can be grateful for contemporary poems that do not sound like a computer stuck in overdrive. Jeanine Hathaway’s The Self as Constellation reveals an incisive mind and adventurous spirit, not fashionable, perhaps, but deeply rewarding. Every key word is concentrated—24 carat—both word and setting chosen with lapidary precision. The poet engages major themes in an original way: birth and death; maternal and filial love; prayer, grace, and the search for God; the dimensions of the self; art and solitude. Here, ‘God.../blooms like a white peacock.’ This is a collection to be read in sequence because the continuity is powerful and persuasive. If we are attentive readers, we end like the nuns in the storm cellar ‘not knowing whether/we’ve been struck by lightning or by love.’” —Madeline DeFrees, Judge, 2001 Vassar Miller Poetry Prize


from ForeWord, 2002, by Janet Holmes: “This year’s winner of the Vassar Miller Prize, Hathaway’s book traces her twofold path—that of the flesh and the spirit. Ex-nun, ex-wife, mother, and elder, Hathaway documents her own changed life in poems that admit a conflicted relationship with the holy: her left hand, she writes, “when I am/ seated at God’s right, will be closest,/will brush against the hand of God/ as we pass around desserts.” In ‘Walking My Baby Back Home,’ she leaves the church on Good Friday with a consecrated host in her pocket ‘to show him around’: “Three families live in that house; they are not related at all./ One family lives in this one. Yes, I know they could/ shelter some homeless. (If you prick my conscience,/ I’ll eat you.)’ In another poem, whose title elides into the first line, ‘The Name of God Is/ simple as the attraction/ of nipple and mouth.’ These God-troubled poems intermingle in a narrative of love, betrayal, divorce, dating, childbirth, and solitude, a life in which feminism and physical pleasures edge to the forefront. For the speaker in ‘Sinister,’ languages are dangerous (‘the power to be flagrantly accurate/ in two honey gold tongues’), but story is obviously a strength: The Self as Constellation forges a complex story from moments often bluntly, simply, straightforwardly caught.”

from Image (online, no date): “Jeanine Hathaway’s poems are earthy, grounded in the physical, playful, but also haunted by glimpses of transcendence. Weighted with history but never overawed by it, her work makes the ancient and contemporary equally real; their juxtaposition is at once gorgeous and unsettling. At the heart of her poetry is the intuition that doubt—even chronic, unsettling doubt—is the handmaiden of faith.”