“The dramatic monologues in Ned Balbo’s Lives of the Sleepers are superb, the lyrics enthralling, and the meditations haunting. Balbo’s taut lines pulse with life—the life of the moment in which they live and the lives of the great poets whom Balbo has assimilated, and transformed with his love. In the nuanced profundity of the past’s living in the present and the present’s being alive to the past, Balbo’s aesthetic intelligence shimmers in every line of this powerful book.” —Andrew Hudgins
“Many of the poems in Ned Balbo’s new collection seem to center around a moment when the various sleepers provided by his erudite imagination awaken into their lives, or into their lives transformed by the strangest of dreams, or into the dream itself. It is perhaps the fact that we are never quite sure which of these situations obtains that gives these poems their impressive force.” —Charles Martin
“To realize the muse is song and not the girl—not the lost girl, not the dead girl (Ophelia, Laura, Alice, Beatrice, or Madeleine)—may be one of the poet’s more resisted lessons; nevertheless, Ned Balbo traces this difficult education in new and lovely poems.” —Judith Hall
Ned Balbo’s Sandeen Prize-winning collection of poetry seeks a voice for contemporary and historical figures as they face the ecstasy and grief of love. In these assured and powerful poems, Balbo’s confidence in lyric, narrative, and dramatic forms is always evident: lovers whirl in Dante’s circle, saints suffer for their faith, and characters from Hitchcock films are caught in traps of their own making.
With energy and insight, Balbo gives us Alice Liddell’s last word on Lewis Carroll’s infatuation, a Victorian heroine who uncovers a wax museum’s hidden crimes, and a bestiary where courtship rituals are both savage and redemptive. Lives of the Sleepers explores the connections of men and women across the centuries, and interrogates those patterns that always reassert themselves. These sleepers are joined in a dialogue that transcends any one era. The joy of their connection and the grief of their separation also reflect the history of our own age.
This morning was the first time: all the snow
That buried us receding, still in drifts
Piled high, crusted with ice and yet receding,
Slowly drawing back—abandoned cars
Revealed, crushed grass, the shattered road ice-slicked,
Salt-splashed, slush running downstream, breaking up
Over the drains, dissolving—All this time
I thought the whole world lost, but now the light
Glances off roofs still cracking with the weight
A little less, today. The second time
Is now: when I can bear to look around
Once more and watch this world emerge—old world
From which so much is missing still, new world
In which so much will, one day soon, appear.
“Among Balbo’s most significant achievements in this volume is the way he inspects humanity from a biological perspective. He often reveals what is most human (loss, love, transformation, moral deformity) by writing with scientific exactness about bees, birds, and banana slugs. . . Balbo creates a collection distinguished for its eloquent merging of the historic, the biological, and the mythic.” — American Book Review
“Dark and moving, sometimes morbid, yet also haunting in its search to understand the human mind, consciousness, emotion and expression, Lives of The Sleepers is profound and memorable.” — Wisconsin Bookwatch
“This evocative collection by an award-winning poet brings together voices from different centuries in an effort to unravel the patterns that unite them. Using lyrical monologs, the poet travels through time, introducing such figures as a Victorian heroine uncovering a wax museum’s hidden crimes and characters from Hitchcock films caught in their own traps.” — Library Journal
“Nearly every poem in Balbo’s second book offers a dramatic moment snatched from history or the archive, where the desires of the senses, of the body, negotiate their relation to intellectual love, the desires of the soul.” — Pleiades, A Journal of New Writing
Winner of a 2005 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award, Gold Medal in PoetryFinalist for the 2006 Arlin G. Meyer Prize, Lilly Fellows Program