Catherine Chandler's Poetry Blog

Testimonials and Endorsements

On The Frangible Hour:

Catherine Chandler’s breathtaking The Frangible Hour is the best new collection I've read in a very, very long time. It comprises a lovely coherence woven from disparate strands, not only of subject but of form. The forms display Chandler’s mastery of technique as well as an ear and a heart that demand perfect harmony between what is said and the way it is said. And these are intelligent poems – not stuffy, not showy, but in the way they draw metaphors, similes, and images from far away, or seemingly far away, to bring clarity to the muddled complexities of life. They lead us, challenge us, and finally reward us with moments that become nothing less than new words, a vocabulary that enlarges us. 
– Richard Wakefield

As a long-time reader and admirer of the work of Catherine Chandler, I expected great pleasure from The Frangible Hour, and have been delighted to find that all the familiar virtues are present: the effortless mastery of form, the lyricism, the fresh use of nature imagery that appeals to all five senses, the capacity for communication on many levels. But I was wrong not to prepare for surprises. One of the most elegant and haunting series in the book, “Days of Grass,” uses the familiar passage from Psalm 103:15-16— “As for man, his days are like grass. . .”. The effect is biblical.
 – Rhina P. Espaillat

Fans of Catherine Chandler’s earlier work will be delighted to find that she remains at the top of her game in this new collection.
 – Timothy Steele

For her formal excellence, her ease with the minutiae of the natural world, and her skilled translations, Catherine Chandler is an apt recipient of the Richard Wilbur Award. One feels that these poems have been a long time coming and have been mulled over and revised in the late hours with a true love of the hardest task of the poet’s craft. She excels at short poems and even in he nutshell of the sonnet has made herself the queen of infinite space.
– R.S. Gwynn

Catherine Chandler’s poems radiate a wisdom that earns the reader’s trust, both intellectually and emotionally. But it’s her words that make her a marvelous poet: “The hours buckle, folding into pleats,” says one poem. A sonnet, with a light opening to a darkening story, describes neighbors as the “misnamed Grayces”. And don’t expect this collection to be somber. Take, for instance, “Reunion Muzak”: I wish I could copy it here – because the only way to really give The Frangible Hour enough credit is to use Chandler’s own words.
– Deborah Warren


On Glad and Sorry Seasons:

I’ve just finished my second reading of Glad and Sorry Seasons, thinking this would be a sober reading to “turn the garment inside-out and see how it was made,” as my sample-maker mother used to do with clothing after examining it on the outside. But no, I’m still too drunk to think about the seams and stitches, still in awe of the sheer beauty of this sumptuous collection that looks and feels as if it had been born this way, rather than made at all!

The first poem, to begin with, knocked me out, and then the following ones in that first section wouldn’t let me recover, because each one is a new kind of attack. I think you get stronger and wilier as you keep writing. The one dress I’ve turned inside-out so far is “After a Line by Millay,” because the music of the rhymes is so subtle and yet so powerful that I had to track you down to see what you were up to, and have discovered it’s a mirror that reflects on itself in line 7 and 8: how gorgeous! Millay would have loved it, and I’m going to teach it this October here in my yearly workshop to locals, as an example of form following sense and yet being wholly musical, as if there were no words involved at all. I love the way the final quatrain keeps all the promises the opening five lines don’t even bother making, after the distractions of that middle stanza, so oddly orderly after an apparently “unrhymed” opening. Talk about “riffs” on the sonnet form!

But aside from that, I’ve finished the second reading with the same greedy inattention to craft as the first, simply noting in passing that you’ve done sestinas, an ovillejo, various French forms, a glosa, haiku and some glorious faux Wilbur het-met, all as if there were nothing to it. Your deadly sins, your reply to Frost, your tributes to other poets—including Alfonsina!--your translations—wonderful ones from Spanish!—that cento, the killer Hopper poem that closes the book, all of it is a delight, full of humor and pain and wisdom. Now I’m going to read the notes and see how much I’ve missed, and then do a third reading for criminal purposes, to select what I need to steal. You are a marvel, and I thank you for the repeated pleasure of this book.

--- Rhina P. Espaillat 

On Lines of Flight:

Catherine Chandler’s poems — I think particularly of the sonnet “Vermont Passage” — offer the reader a plain eloquence, a keen eye, and a graceful development of thought. Elsewhere in this fine book [Lines of Flight], she puts her gifts at the service of wit, as in the little anti-poetic poem “Supernova.” Lines of Flight is altogether a lively performance.

Catherine Chandler’s Lines of Flight is a marvelously accomplished first collection. Even to call it a ‘first collection’ seems somehow misleading; it is a first collection as Housman’s A Shoropshire Lad was. These are poems that have been long meditated and patiently crafted; they are distillations of experience captured in exquisite measures. There seems to be no forms of which Catherine Chandler is not a master, from quatrains and Sapphics to ballads and pantoums. She is an especially brilliant sonneteer. 

Her formal artistry is not on display for its own sake but is employed with often lacerating effect to probe “the hush/of who I am.” Her poems on natural things, particularly those on birds, are alive with the rush of wings. For, though she modestly denies it, she is a poet who can “explicate the texture of the air.” Poem after poem offers what she calls “fugitive vignettes” and yet, despite her ironic title, there’s nothing fugitive about her verse. These beautiful poems have been made to last.

In Lines of Flight, we hear an engaging and authoritative new voice. Catherine Chandler displays a dazzling command of poetic forms, writing skillfully in the sonnet, ballad stanza, rondeau, villanelle, cento, tercets — but to enjoy her work, the reader doesn’t have to be a fan of form. A keen observer of the natural world, she can also capture human life in all its harsh crudity (see “Boots” or “To the Man on Mansfield Street”). She writes with drive and force, and yet is able to convey what she calls “the delicate forensics of the heart.” Her instrument has many strings.

On This Sweet Order:

The sonnets in This Sweet Order sit at the confluence of music, intellect, and philosophy. Some sonnet-writers are content to fill in the pentameter like a puzzle where form trumps meaning. For Catherine Chandler, word and idiom are primary; she bends the form into the service of the content. The poem announces itself as a sonnet only insofar as its structure (quatrain, octave, sestet, couplet) is integral to the idea. The subject might be a flower, a highway, a season, or a loss: expect wisdom; expect plenty of wit: expect surprises. 

If poems like ‘Matryoshka’ and ‘Sonnet Love’ are easy on the ear, above all they delight the mind. Chandler is a philosopher: ‘Assembly’, ‘She’, and ‘Mother’s Day’ (for example) articulate thoughts with such immediacy that I almost feel as if I’m inside the poem. These are not poems that let you get away with just reading them. They bring you right into the conversation.

Cathy Chandler is the irritating girl you grew up with, perfect in her white pinafore while you, stupid boy, were bloodying your nose in the schoolyard, hated by the nuns.   Read this book of sonnets and give thanks for perfection.

Catherine Chandler’s chapbook, from its very title down to the smallest element in each poem, reflects the central creative paradox of the sonnet form: the book itself is a highly complex, yet fundamentally simple organisation of highly complex, yet simple, individual components. This Sweet Order comprises twenty-seven sonnets set out in a sequence where the overall organisational principle itself shapes meaning which is reflected and probed in detail in each individual piece. The sequence embodies an extraordinary synergy of surgically precise use of language, trope and structure to examine, delineate and serve, with immense poetic authority, a series of writs which enact, contain and codify ‘the delicate forensics of the heart’. 

This poet has earned unequalled dominance of the traditional sonnet form among contemporary poets: here the result is a sequence which poetically illuminates the interior life of that which makes us human. But for all her immense skill as a poet, Chandler is also a curandera: these poems do not only illuminate — they heal. I read a great many sonnets in the course of teaching and editing: Catherine Chandler’s stand out for their technical mastery and intimate humanity. Highly recommended.

Paul Christian Stevens, Editor, The Flea, The Chimaera, SCR