These strong, multilayered poems test the transformative powers of dressmakers, jewelers, actors, and Darwin’s darkest finches as they adapt to a changing world where the same train hurtles past them toward marketplace and death camp both. Throughout, many of the poems use inherited forms to tell their stories, but the inheritance here comes down damaged and threadbare—yet full of power.
In Worth Robyn Schiff inquires about making, buying, selling, and stealing in the material world, the natural landscape, and the human soul. Opening with the renowned couture house of Charles Frederick Worth, the father of high fashion— “The dress was so big, / one's hand is useless to take glass from table; / the skirt approaches while the hand is yet distanced” —and ending with the House of De Beers and a diamond thief named Adam Worth— “You'll know me by my approach / I'm coming on foot with a diamond in my mouth” —Schiff moves from Cartier and Tiffany to the Shedd Aquarium, from Marie Antoinette to the Civil War, from Mary Pickford to Marilyn Monroe.
“Robyn Schiff's Worth restores originality to its proper and meaningful function: this is a book of new beginnings, of self-creations and re-creations. These poems offer pleasure and disturbance in equal measure and at all times; they are as dazzlingly constructed as a Chanel gown and as breathless as a hovering finch, both of which are among the elements of Schiff's densely populated imagination. This work manages to strike me as unlike anything I've seen before, while feeling perfectly inevitable. Worth is a marvel.” —Mark Levine, author of Enola Gay