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Mrs. Dumpty

Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.

Winner of the 1998 Felix Pollak Prize, selected by Donald Hall, and the 1999 California Book Award silver medal in poetry. "Mother Hunger" was selected by Ellen Bryant Voigt for the Marlboro Prize. "Tired Sex" was reprinted in The Best American Poetry (1999), and "Mrs. Dumpty" in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (1999). Poems from this collection first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, The New Yorker, Poetry, The Threepenny Review, and other journals.

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listen Listen to Chana Bloch reading "Tired Sex"

listen David Del Tredici's setting of "Tired Sex" from his song-cycle Chana's Story (1998)

listenListen to Chana Bloch reading "Mrs. Dumpty"

Mrs. Dumpty

The last time the doctors gave up
I put the pieces together
and bought him a blue wool jacket, a shirt
and a tie with scribbles of magenta,
brown buckle shoes. I dressed him
and sat him down
with a hankie in his pocket folded into points.
Then a shell knit slowly
over his sad starched heart.

He'd laugh and dangle his long legs and call out,
What a fall that was!
And I'd sing the refrain,
What a fall!

And now he's at my door again, begging
in that leaky voice,
and I start wiping the smear
from his broken face.

"I was spellbound by Mrs. Dumpty. Chana Bloch deals with the most agonizing personal experience with hair-raising honesty and, always, unwavering control. Her command of metaphor is absolutely authoritative. . . . Mrs. Dumpty isn't a comforting book, but I admire the speaker's rare ability to step outside herself, to look at herself and her situation with harrowing candor, wit, hard-won wisdom, deep feeling. The supply of forceful metaphor seems inexhaustible, the language sounds like a living voice. This is a stunning collection." -- X. J. Kennedy

"A woman who knows her own strength, and the strength of the beautiful and suffering world, tells the story of the life and death of a marriage: this is a clear-eyed and heartbreaking sequence of poems." -- Jean Valentine

"Whether searing or celebratory, ironic and analytic or rueful and reproachful, Chana Bloch's bitterly honest poems are as beautifully cadenced as they are poignantly frank. This intimate portrait of a marriage becomes also a history of lives in motion and thus a moving tale of chance, change, and survival. For even while Bloch offers us a chronicle of pain, she demonstrates that "the end of safety" is the beginning of revelation and transformation." -- Sandra Gilbert

"Chana Bloch's Mrs. Dumpty is an exceptionally strong book. The more powerful the words, the more piercing the images, the deeper the healing. That is what real poetry can do. And that is what Mrs. Dumpty succeeds in doing: healing with words, making this life liveable." --Yehuda Amichai

"Chana Bloch's Mrs. Dumpty opens an affective window on the complex feelings of a marriage undergoing terrifying transformations. . . .The restraint of the book's voice, its calm, matter-of-fact narrative empty of hysteria, conveys heartbreak poignantly. . . . [Her ear] is impeccable." -- Jay Rogoff, The Georgia Review

"Bloch writes primarily short, free-verse, narrative poems that use clear visual imagery and tighten down like a vise to deliver a gut-wrench at the end. . . . Bloch's poems resemble black-and-white photos with stark chiaroscuro: their focus is sharp but fixed. . . . [Her prosody] is powered by a relentless process of distillation. . . . The clarity and thoroughness of her gaze are substantial achievements. . . . Mrs. Dumpty captures the visceral pain of failed marriage as well as the exhilaration of undamaged love." -- Enid Shomer, The Women's Review of Books

"Bloch offers maturely crafted, psychologically probing lyrics that do not, for all their candor, lose touch with humanizing compassion. . . . And they continually move us by asserting -- against the all-too-immediate forces of chaos and thanatos -- their hard-won allegiance to clarity, to aesthetic ordering, and to life. . . . This is a poetry of restrained, exact metaphors, . . . [acknowledging] the grip of the personal past from which none of us is free." -- Jeredith Merrin, The Southern Review

"How do you go on living when the world you habituate falls into pieces? From where do you get the courage to go on? Bloch's Mrs. Dumpty uses language to redeem her shattered world, putting the pieces together again in poetry. . . . In order to write such poems of clear-sightedness, self-awareness, and control of language and its silences, the writer must be able to step outside herself [and] reach the other side of pain." -- Rebecca Rass, American Book Review