Holdfast by Christian Anton Gerard

In spokeshave, brute imagining, Holdfast’s willow-hearted son sleeps in iambs; a bucket-truck mechanic plays Night Moves on a blue guitar and Spenser’s Calidore could be the alcoholic ragged in an F-150. Gerard writes human’s weedy pasture in all its lushness and honesty.

In this vital book Christian Anton Gerard becomes his own persona. He is Berryman’s Henry become Berryman. As he writes, “I wish Whitman’s portrait could be my self-portrait, that Whitman’s ghost is real as me.” And for this reader he most certainly is. In long and sinuous lines, Gerard pulls us deep under his skin, and the skin of poetry itself, to articulate a “Defense of Poetry” that will survive and sing to us “when we’re most hungry–something about the physics of it all.”

Sean Thomas Dougherty, author of The Second O of Sorrow (BOA Editons, 2018), All you Ask for is Longing: New and Selected Poems (BOA Editions, 2014)

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Reading Holdfast, I’m reminded that an inheritance is an act of service. It’s possible to accept with grace what’s given, despite not always liking what’s received. “My Hope is open,” writes Gerard. And it’s true—Gerard’s second collection proves not even the wildness of grief can snuff the music within us, those “old glass bulbs— / their size, their weight, like an iamb’s.”Personal but never insular, what sets Holdfast apart is its exuberance. Here is a writer for whom every living thing is worth holding, whose generous and spirited poems deserve holding onto.

Shara Lessley, author of The Explosive Expert’s Wife (University of Wisconsin Press, 2018) and Two-Headed Nightingale (New Issues, 2012)

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The poems of Christian Anton Gerard’s Holdfast lacerate and celebrate the imperfect self. In anguish and prayer, the poet reaches out to other poets across the centuries—Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, Rainer Maria Rilke, Adrienne Rich, Robert Creeley, Audre Lorde—for guidance and absolution in the face of terrible self-doubt. But ironically, in these poems of relentless vulnerability, Gerard himself becomes a poet to whom others can turn for comfort and compassion in times of deep, prolonged self-reckoning. Can we ever have enough of those?

Nicky Beer, author of The Octopus Game (Carnegie Mellon, 2015) and The Diminishing House (Carnegie Mellon, 2010)

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“A lyric. A narrative.” This is how Christian Anton Gerard describes boys “practice-dancing” together in the opening poem of his second collection of poems, Holdfast, and lyric narrative is just what this book is: love songs to a life of first love, heartbreak, self-destruction, and, eventually, true and self love. “How do you articulate the speed your life is moving, has moved,” Gerard asks in “You Poem You.” Holdfast is his answer.

Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, author of Ghost Gear (Winner of the Miller Williams Prize, University of Arkansas Press, 2014) and the curator of poemoftheweek.org

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“I have Spencer, though,” Christian Anton Gerard writes, “his own allegory, to show me I am / my own allegory.”  And what an allegory this poet brings to us. Gerard, often featured as a character in these poems, leads us on a meta-journey that converses with the poets and poetries of the distant and recent past, even as he a carves a bright new literature of and for today.  Equally comfortable with Plato in his cave or Swayze in his Roadhouse, these poems—whether wrestling with alcoholism and recovery, or love and the vivid colors of the world—are always charged with wonder.  Holdfast is an astonishing book. We are lucky to hold it in our hands.

Matthew Olzmann, author of Contradictions in the Design (Alice James Books, 2016) and Mezzanines (Alice James Books, 2013)

 

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“What’s carried in my chest’s never my choosing,” says Christian Anton Gerard in his stunning new collection Holdfast. The speaker of these poems struggles with alcoholism and the work of recovery, with parenthood and family, and with the past itself. He recognizes that the urge toward self-destruction and the desire for love and salvation are age-old and closely related. The ghosts of Ben Jonson, Dante, Philip Sidney and Robert Creeley, as well as the specter of the still living like John Ashbery, are summoned to bear witness. But in the end, it is the poet who must testify to his struggle. “All the words I know dangle like ghosts,” Gerard writes in this essential collection’s title poem, “I can’t grip, I can’t stop gripping.” May his hold remain fast and sure.

Al Maginnes, Author of The Next Place (Iris Press, 2017), Music from Small Towns (Jacar Press, 2014), Ghost Alphabet (White Pine Press Poetry Prize, 2008), The Light in our Houses (Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Series Award, 2000)

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A short index by way of appreciation:

Gerard, Christian Anton
Berrymanic wit of…
Insight and thoughtfulness of…
Introspective bravery of…

Holdfast, Cathartic sobriety of…
Compelling narratives and deft lyricism of…
Good company of speaker’s voice…
Mixtape containing Aphra Behn and PM Dawn…
Shadows Shadows burnt up staring into…

Unseen Thing in Front of Me
Screaming for it to turn…

Whitman, Walt
Gerard’s competitiveness with…

Ed Skoog, author of Run the Red Lights (Copper Canyon, 2016), Rough Day (Copper Canyon, 2013) and Mister Skylight (Copper Canyon, 2009)

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Wilmot Here, Collect for Stella traces the relationship between Wilmot and Stella using a blend of narrative and lyric modes. As Wilmot makes collect call after collect call to the life he used to live, he’s forced not only to face himself, but also the tradition of narrative dialogic lovers’ sequences as he comes to identify as both a person in the world and a piece of poetry.

“Chronology be damned. Say the most notorious libertine of Restoration England places a phone call to the reigning mistress of Petrarchan address a century earlier. Say she’s his long-suffering wife. Does she accept the charges? You’d better hope so; you’ll miss a world of exorbitant fun if she does not. These poems are as gorgeous a romp as wit and irreverence and masterful craft can make. A jazz musician’s timing, imagination hungry as the ocean and, behind the alter egos and their buffetings, a mind of tempered kindness and a heart for grown-up love. This is a ravishing debut.”

Linda Gregerson, author of The Selvage (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) and Magnetic North (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007)
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“Funny, absurd, rollicking, whimsically allusive and sophisticated, Wilmot Here, Collect for Stella is a requited version of Astrophil & Stella and in its literary and cultural mash-ups and marital misprisions is something like The Honeymooners meets The Courtier.”

Michael Collier, author of An Individual History (W.W. Norton & Company, 2012) and The Ledge (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002)
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“Christian Anton Gerard’s debut collection enacts the obsessive psychological scaffolding of Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella—though not the sonnet sequence’s form—in these slyly post-confessional lyrics that dramatize the troubled love of the personae Wilmot and Stella. Gerard’s self-reflexive “he said/she said” dialogic structure frames the bracing self-interrogations of Wilmot, haunted variously by his marital infidelity, paternal legacies, and vexing adolescence. Between Wilmot and Stella, and within Gerard’s fraught and intimate poems, the ‘Ghosts keep us moving.’”

Anna Journey, author of Vulgar Remedies (LSU Press, 2013) and If Birds Gather Your Hair For Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009)
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“…In Wilmot Here, Collect for Stella Gerard applies both the tradition and the ethos of this time, these poets, to the twenty-first-century constructs of love, sex, desire. And, much in line with our predecessors, Gerard finds his verse—and the narrative therein—at the mercy of an implacable paradox: mystery stokes desire, but intimacy pursues knowledge, extinguishes mystery. Two lovers, husband and wife, Wilmot and Stella, give themselves full force to the efforts of love; they are sometimes hopeful, sometimes dejected, but mostly their struggle takes place in the liminal, ambiguous space of both…” Read more >>

—Caitlin Mackenzie, Cutbank Review
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