Keeper of Limits: The Mrs. Cavendish Poems (Quarternote Chapbook Series), Stephen Dunn
Stephen Dunn’s The Keeper of Limits: The Mrs. Cavendish Poems is a poem sequence that resembles a small but self-enclosed novel. The poems describe a love affair sustained over a lifetime, beginning with the unnamed male speaker bouncing a basketball outside the young Rachel’s house in an effort to impress her, and ending with the last poem, “Mrs. Cavendish and the Man Left Behind,” in which Rachel mysteriously disappears. Along the way Rachel marries a Mr. Cavendish, her husband dies, a period of estrangement passes between Rachel and the speaker, as well as many other exchanges in this strangely intimate friendship. Rachel is Beatrice to the poet’s Dante, and the sequence a record of the surprising way an unconventional love can nonetheless sustain a rich blend of political, philosophical, and sexual interest over the course of a lifetime. The Keeper of Limits creates the record of a real infatuation that is also dream-like, an affair that's imagined from a more pedestrian relationship. It carries considerable weight, revealing much about temporal matters–what we hide and what we reveal, how the self is split and reformed, retaining a kind of essence. This is beautifully strange and moving new work.
Stephen Dunn is the author of seventeen collections of poetry, most recently Lines of Defense (2013, Here and Now (2011) and What Goes On: Selected & New Poems: 1995-2009. Different Hours won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001, and Loosestrife was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in 1996. His other awards include: the Academy Award in Literature from The American Academy of Arts & Letters, The Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement, Fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, three NEA Creative Writing Fellowships, the Levinson and Oscar Blumenthal Prizes from Poetry, and many others. He is Distinguished Professor (emeritus) of Creative Writing at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and has also taught at Columbia University, NYU, University of Michigan, Princeton, and the University of Washington. He spends most of his time these days in Frostburg, Maryland where he lives with wife, the writer Barbara Hurd.
Praise for Keeper of Limits:
“Like Freud, Dunn loves to name what nobody says out loud. Like Stevens, Dunn believes that to make things up is the best destiny. In this poetic sequence, all of Stephen Dunn’s virtues are manifest—aphoristic dexterity, psychological wis-
dom, and his hilarious take on the human comedy. ‘I feared,’ says the speaker, ‘that she might be suffering from a case of innocence.’ Delicious.”
“Without boundaries, we would not know the dangerously thrilling allure of transgressing them. Dunn—always a poet of logical, syntactical, and ethical reversals and subversions—has long been an unflinching explorer of the nebulous terrain in which one thing becomes something else, and these poems take his slippery speculations to new heights.”
“Love is expressed here by the poet’s care in doing justice to the particularities of his friend’s character, those he understands and those that remain mysterious. In poems that mingle, in shifting proportions, criticism, advice, forgiveness, and admiration, they manage to do justice both to the woman’s vivid distinction and to her final refusal to be understood in conventional terms. The result is a unique memorial, wise and moving.”