Titles 1998-2018

Speculative Music, Jeff Dolven


Jeff Dolven’s poems take the guise of fables, parables, allegories, jokes, riddles, and other familiar forms. In each poem, an uncanny conceit surprises the form, a highway paved with highwaymen, a school for shame, a family of chairs. Dolven makes these strange wagers with grace and edgy precision, accessible lyrics that still manage to listen in on our echoing interiors.

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Jeff Dolven grew up in Massachusetts and studied at Yale and Oxford. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Times Literary Supplement, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. Speculative Music is his first collection. He teaches poetry and poetics, especially of the English Renaissance, at Princeton University, and is an editor at large at Cabinet magazine. Sunset usually finds him in Brooklyn.


If these poems are hands, and these hands move within us—their readers, their puppets—they are sleight of hands, conjuring a deep cavern beyond their spare proscenia.  As though through a distorting glass, Speculative Music’s slant untruths only focus more acutely the poems’ profound yearnings.  Goethe would recognize a cousin!

—Susan Wheeler

In Speculative Music, Jeff Dolven takes up the great and rare project of "inventio": these poems are imaginative discoveries, beautiful contraptions.  A music-hall sprightliness barely cloaks "the querying steel" flashing throughout. The command and dash here at times might remind you of Auden, but Dolven is his own (split) man.  Here is the world, askew. Here is a poet who can indeed “string a string . . . through everything.”

—Maureen McLane

It's the kind of book where you want to call up a friend and say, listen to this, listen to his other one, whatever is he going to do next?  Utterly original, within the poem leaping like a mountain goat from one change of meaning to another of some word or homonym the poem obsesses on. He can tell you that the humming bird hums because it doesn't know the words, and that on the phone it's neither hear nor there, and hello, hello, am I still here? All by means of an extremely adept prosody, always always alive. Sometimes (rather cheerfully ) despairing, sometime coolly objective, always sympathetic to who he is and who we are, and amused by all of us. It's a delight. More than a delight. But it's a delight.

—David Ferry