Catherine Imbriglio: Parts of the Mass


SKU: 12385 Category:


Winner of the Norma Farber 1st Book Award of the Poetry Society of America.

This first book of poems juxtaposes contemporary physics, personal and public history, and a passion for the sound of words with the structural arc of the Roman Catholic mass. The poems invest both in wordplay and in inquiry, wonder, disagreement, dissatisfaction and ethical urgency. This “mass” is attuned to turmoil andto the challenges of our day.

Catherine Imbriglio was born and lives in Rhode Island. She received an MA (poetry) and Ph.D. (American literature) from Brown University. Her poetry and criticism have appeared in magazines like American Letters & Commentary, Conjunctions, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, First Intensity, New American Writing, No: A Journal of the Arts, and in The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries, ed. Reginald Shepherd. An essay on the poet Jack Spicer is forthcoming in After Spicer (Wesleyan UP). She has received an Untermeyer fellowship in poetry and a merit award in poetry from the RI State Council on the Arts. She teaches in the Expository Writing Program at Brown.

Parts of the Mass is her first book.

The languages of scientific discourse and of Roman Catholic liturgy and theology add a measure of high seriousness to the playful investigations in verse and prose of Imbriglio’s experimental debut. While it may be difficult at times to discern the reasoning that guides Imbriglio’s spirited arrangement of sentences within a poem, or even words within a sentence, the book’s insistently interesting verbal structures, textures and cadences suggest that the poet’s responsiveness to language’s physical properties is often her chief (and sometimes sole) interest and organizing principle. Occasionally, this aural fixation leads to clanging (“Here. Heresay. In here you’d say”) and even silliness, as in her homophonic translation of Laudamus te (“We praise you,” from the Gloria of the Latin Mass): “Loud, ah, uh, ah, uh, arm, moose, day, ‘A.’/ Loud, ah, uh, ah, uh, I’m, mousse, te, eh?” However when Imbriglio commits to subtler effects, or to a less complicated expressiveness, she rewards the reader with an almost preternatural beauty (“The light on the cherry trees elaborates the fallen petals of the cherry trees”) and a wonder-riddled quirkiness (“A fact we all agreed not to acknowledge: a billion Gainsboroughs into the space of this o”). These are moments wholly worth waiting for.

“By invoking the mass, Imbriglio sets us square in the middle of a ritual which takes as its premise at least two things: that a collection of words uttered by a collection of people has the power to produce a miracle of transformation (the bread becomes body), and that the broken body in turn gives power to the words uttered by those attending the mass. Imbriglio takes these assumptions and morphs them into an investigation of the relationship of word and body and word to incantatory power…. Her “Gloria,” for example, performs a gradual Zukofsky-like procedure on the Latin “et in terra pox, hominibus bonae” as she writes, for example, “Et in terra./Et in terror pocks./Et in terror pocks, ho, ‘meanie,’ buss,/bone, eh?” This phrase, often translated, “and peace on earth to men of goodwill,” resonates differently in their English homonymic translations…. One of the pleasures of this book is how much the poet invites the reader to think with her in this way; it is as if she creates a map of thought through language but gives no explicit directions and we are thus encouraged to set about the journey, readerly hand in authorial hand, through an expansive territory.”

—Christina Mengert, Reconfigurations: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry /Literature & Culture 1

“Part breathless run-on, part stacked chant, the shapes of Imbriglio’s individual poems wed urgency to order…. The masses in the text—beyond the apparent Catholic Mass and the human form as a mass—are the words. They are the “topographical shapes,” the physical features that engrave into the side of the rock, defined by the breath sweeping over…. The fluency of experience heals—not the fracture of portions, apportions, allocations. When elements are interchangeable, interstitial, brought together in rhythm and softened, division becomes union, partition becomes participation.”

— Joshua Hussey,Verse 25

“Formally exploratory as her poems are, poetry is for her not a formal exercise but a necessity, a way to understand the world and the words with which we know it”

—Reginal Shepherd
“This is a smart and wily book of poems, brilliant, clever, and courageous.”

—Bin Ramke

“Many of the poems want to be read aloud. They convey a faultless and timeless rhythm even as the words themselves bear images of our own lives.”

—Marjorie Milligan