by Maxine Chernoff

to be published November 2017 – Poetry

[buy at SPD]










About the Book

Camera is both paean and lament for a world in flux. To render such a world with its unresolvable tensions between time’s embodiment and erasure is the focus of the collection. What does it mean to hold many irreconcilable presences? The task is to measure small changes, arrivals and departures. The work is a border between existence and disappearance. Moments named and described are “framed.” Though the created world with its emotional truths will not last, it is a topography of words and a realm of heightened scrutiny. To hold and revere its presence is the poem’s agency. A world is predicated by representation of nature, seasons, ritual, location, and the arts. Loss looming, love is attention given and the human bond holding writer and reader.



The poems in Maxine Chernoff’s new book wish “To be the camera for your gaze.” They are precise in just the way art is precise. They frame the world as a camera’s lens might frame a portion of what the eye might apprehend, adding a finely wrought filter of human feeling to the arbitrary world. Thanks to the artist’s care, we look through this Camera and see everything, vibrantly, again and again.


I marvel at how the lines in Maxine Chernoff’s Camera fold and unfold, at once seemingly effortless and precisely sculpted, all while capturing the fractures and pockets of beauty in our broken world. “Nothing undoes day’s dazed / grace unless it is captioned / or chiseled…” Camera accomplishes that difficult work. The poems breathe with and for the reader as bright and vital company in a dark time.


“I lifted to mind a piece of bright blue air,” wrote Robert Creeley, in a line Maxine Chernoff quotes in Camera. It’s apt: this is a book full of air and breezes, populated with doves and thrushes, swallows and crows. It’s an earthy book, too, where tender roots push through an eroticized earth (“thigh of hill/breast of leaves/belly of witness”). It’s never just a book of the body, though, or of the material world: each sharply sensed moment spirals out into history, geography, biology, or grief. It is a book where the world aspires to be voiced, and where words “send their tendrils toward the next refrain.” Camera lifts a world to mind, and holds it there.


About the Author

Camera is Maxine Chernoff‘s 16th book of poems. Her previous book, Here, was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award, as were 2 of her 6 works of fiction. Her book of stories Signs of Devotion was a NYT Notable Book of 1993. In 2013 she won an NEA Fellowship in Poetry and in 2009 the PEN USA Translation Award for a co-translation of the Selected Poems of Friedrich Hoelderlin. She is former editor of New American Writing and professor and former chair of the Dept of Creative Writing at SFSU. She has taught in Exeter, England, Prague, and St Petersburg, Russia, and was a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome in 2016.

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