Reveling in the paradox of the formal prose poem, Donna Stonecipher’s Transaction Histories gathers together six series of poems that explore the disobedient incongruities of aesthetics and emotions. Stonecipher’s carefully sculpted forms and exacting language are held in tension with an unruly imagination to provoke a vision of experience densely layered with bodies impinging upon and altering each other, engaging in transactions that unfold in poetically complex and emotionally startling ways. By turns wry and melancholic, playful and acerbic, erotically charged and politically skeptical, Stonecipher’s poems marry a deeply felt lyricism to a fascination with the mechanisms of narrative. The result is akin to Roland Barthes’s notion of “the novelistic”: writing that flirts with the gestures and spaces of the novel without the trappings of plot, character, or action. Narrative fragments dart in and out of sight, spectral figures and motifs recur in fugal patterns, and habits of ruthless observation are brought to bear on the details of both intimate life and social organization.
Stonecipher lays claim to a stylistic achievement and vision that are entirely her own, transparent and elusive, casual in address and rigorous in design. Whether training its eye on fetishized polar bears, illegal garbage dumping, or ideological debates around rose chintz wallpaper, Transaction Histories tracks the fitful and tragicomic relationships that exist among objects, landscapes, texts, and people, and lays bare the ways in which our transactions keep our lives going.
“The prospect of a book filled with prose poems is admittedly better than the prospect of a book filled with thumbtacks, but not by much. So it is greatly to Stonecipher’s credit that Transaction Histories is a delight: a mordant yet romantic survey of art, love, hunger and plastic owls in which seemingly unrelated observations are meticulously knit together to form a resonant whole. The method here is generally to put a figure or phrase in play — for example, a little girl who “turned out to have just one wish for her tenth birthday: an entire box of fortune cookies to herself” — and then to move immediately away from it, only to return again later in an altered context that forms the poetic equivalent of a chord (several pages later, the girl and her fortune cookies return as a counterpoint to a man who “felt most at home in airports”).”—The New York Times
Previous praise for Donna Stonecipher's Model City:
“[A] highly affecting work of imagination and sensibility . . . one often feels afloat in a world concocted and dreamy, there and not there.”—Martha Ronk, The Constant Critic
“In the same way that architecture must abide by certain rules and regulations but can still create a thing of beauty, Stonecipher, by constraining herself to engineer within her own parameters, forms beautiful language and ideas.”—Hamzah M. Hussain, DURA
“How many poets are there in the world that you go looking for online, checking regularly, even impatiently, to see whether and when their new books will be out? Not many. Among the poets whose work I anxiously await, Donna Stonecipher has long been near the top of the list.”—Michael Thurston, Massachusetts Review
Excerpt from “Persian Carpet 3”
She walked with her seven-year-old niece over the “skybridge” and then through the business “park.” Suspended in the sky she looked down at the river, the lake, the freeway and knew what perpendicular longing the sky does anything but abridge. Was it the deer or the decoy, bounding silver-footed through the trees? He admired the reproduction Greek temple set on the hill.
Selected as one of The New York Times 10 Best Book of Poetry, 2018