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June 1, 2010
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v2.1 Reference

Commonwealth of Wings

An Ornithological Biography Based on the Life of John James Audubon

A Portrait of the Last Days of the American Wilderness

Combining the best of poetry, nature writing, a biography, Pamela Alexander in her book-length "persona poem" brings to life John James Audubon and a world not yet aware of nature's limits. She distills the essence of this remarkable naturalistic-artist and gives him voice to tell his life story in fragments and letters, journal entries, actual vignettes, and lyrical passages. Captivating, and accessible, her poem reads with the authority of autobiography, the dramatic coherence of a novel, and the evocative clarity of an Audubon print. The reader, briefly transported to the natural world of America a century and a half ago, cannot help but contrast its condition today and feel a poignant sense of loss.

About the Author

PAMELA ALEXANDER won the Yale Younger Poet award in 1984 for Navigable Waterways (1985) and has published poems in the New Yorker and Atlantic. After writing short persona poems on Amelia Earhardt and Howard Hughes, she says, "I had an urge to write longer poems about unusual people." Her interest in Audubon dates in part from childhood, when her mother, a veteran birder, "talked to me about ecology decades before the word was commonly used." She currently teaches in the Writing Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


"Employs the fiction writer's narrative strategies, the poet's music, and the autobiographer's intimacy...a linguistically inventive and emotionally compelling portrait"—Robin Becker, Prairie Schooner


"It is very rare indeed to encounter a poet so willing to submit to the imaginative discipline of a life separated from her own by cultural circumstance, by gender, by vocation, by temperament, by history. Pamela Alexander has minutely attended to the life and work of John James Audubon and to his voice as recorded in letters and journals. She has produced a poetic sequence of great stateliness and scruple, a sequence mobile in its wit and sympathies, articulate in its passions, accomplished in its music."—Linda Gregerson

"Thanks to Pamela Alexander a legendary life hatches before our eyes: the precise glint of detail, the gradual soaring of diction."—James Merrill
Wesleyan University Press
Wesleyan Poetry Series

9780819569929 : commonwealth-of-wings-alexander
Electronic book text
72 Pages
$12.99 USD

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