Books

fosRancho Nostalgia (Dream Horse Press, 2013)

“James Cihlar’s deeply cinephilic Rancho Nostalgia revisits, reimagines, and refashions the characters and plots of old movies, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely, but always strangely and aptly. The poems challenge us in the best possible writerly ways, asking that we think about the collection as a whole as cinematic experience itself: the book is even presented playfully as a movie, with Opening Credits, Overture, Feature, Finale, and Closing Credits. But the movies here aren’t just an easy shtick for Cihlar to organize his poems around, and they’re more than just indulgent fandom, too. The nostalgia he explores is more deeply metaphysical. In a particularly noir-drenched piece, ‘Murder, My Sweet,’ the poet is preoccupied with the magic of cinematic light: the villain is ‘Wearing light like gilding’; ‘Shadows swirl into a point of light / whose focus widens / into a woman’s scream’; and (miraculously) ‘One lamp lights a whole room.’ This final curiosity reminds us of the fantasy of film, the deceit behind an image, the constructedness of narrative. Elsewhere, Cihlar is more explicit: ‘the significance of an episode changes / with its placement in the story, tragic / at the end, comic at the beginning.’ Rancho Nostalgia tries—straining quite admirably and beautifully to do so—to reaffirm faith in the expressive lamp that lights not only a whole room but the whole world.”

—Jeremy Schraffenberger, North American Review, Fall 2014

 

“You know the marquee, the one above that closed and chained movie palace you still pass every time you visit your hometown, hoping it has been resurrected. If you managed to get inside, you’d feel as if you were drifting in and out of someone’s noir scrapbook, which also housed scratched glossies and faded lobby cards from Hollywood’s golden age. Rancho Nostalgia’s title should be spelled out with an achingly incomplete alphabet on that dark marquee. In this engagingly surreal collection of poems, Jim Cihlar has produced what we’ve been secretly yearning for. He’s located the keys to that movie palace, shaped the absent letters, replaced the projector bulbs, and polished the lenses clean—but not too clean. When you take your seat and watch the smoky images begin to move on screen, you’ll feel the bittersweet tug of our collective irretrievable pasts.”

—Eric Gansworth, author of A Half-Life of Cardio-Pulmonary Function

“Midway through James Cihlar’s splendid Rancho Nostalgia you’ll find some advice: ‘Keep reaching into the past / to grab something new.’ One of the great wonders of this book full of wonders is that Cihlar follows his own instruction so brilliantly. Whether invoking scenes from classic movies or from the poet’s own life, the results are poignant, complex, and full of bracing insights. These poems feel like they’re being projected from a beguiling, not-quite-familiar place somewhere behind us, ‘close to the border, where / the light is good.’”

—Mark Bibbins, author of The Dance of No Hard Feelings

“James Cihlar’s poems in Rancho Nostalgia contain the twisted love of a stage mom and the nervous energy of an Oscar Show producer. Here’s a cinephilic poet who can pretty much direct anything, even the transformation of Sherlock Holmes into a ‘wharf rat.’ Of course, Cihlar can’t shut off his camera. A woman’s face ‘is the Wrigley building lit at night.’ Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill are ‘rag dolls in future’s toy box.’ And Cihlar’s alter ego ‘parades down Wall Street wearing a diadem of wheat.’ At one point, he flatly says, ‘Inspiration comes when we don’t want it.’ Lucky for us he has the conviction to be willfully misguided. Every page in this book possesses at least one tiny miracle.”

—Steve Fellner, author of The Weary World Rejoices

fosUndoing (Little Pear Press, 2008)

“What do we know about James Cihlar and his first book, Undoing? That ‘words are tied up with places,’ that colors can stand alone, for themselves, or for an empty sleeve, or the sky in Nebraska, ‘a white wall . . . pulsing like a ghost’ or ‘a blue so near// you can sink your hand in/ a tarp you can reach up and touch.’ We know ‘I didn’t know I could be who I am// until I left my hometown.’ We know that ‘sometimes a little upheaval is good for a life’ and that partners in houses know that ‘one of us is in transit, in motion,/ at risk, and the other/ needs to keep our place safe for return.’ We know what rises in this lovely book, as surely as cream, is the sweet life in the speaker, a poet, a lover of words, colors, domiciles, cats, his husband, his need to sing and sing and sing from the junk heap of a wrecked childhood the daily pleasures of lives lived at risk. Read ‘Gertrude Christina in Repose’ and be glad we’ve come upon Jim Cihlar’s poems. Here is forgiveness and joy. And the wisdom that comes, who knows how, through the measured language of memory that will not be undone.”

—Hilda Raz, author of Trans and All Odd and Splendid

“In James Cihlar’s collection, Undoing, we find an emotional richness and range convincingly authenticated by details of domestic disarray–a father’s absence, a mother’s rage, a child’s retreat into the language of his imagination. The result is a deepening meditation snipped into lyrics, measures that mirror the quiet immediacy of their white space, that move with unflinching precision, picking through the difficult remnants, transmuting alienation into lineage, heartbreak into grace, undoing into understanding.”

?Bruce Bond, author of The Anteroom of Paradise and Cinder