Small Talk: Poems

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Dos Madres Press, 2021
96 pages
$18

“Elegant and intimate… Delbos proves his deep attunement to the natural, and to bright blasts of language.”
–Nina MacLaughlin, The Boston Globe

“In his elegant and intimate new collection of poetry, Small Talk (Dos Madres), poet and translator Stephan Delbos, first poet laureate of Plymouth, lands us into the lights of different locales: Berlin, the Balkans, the ‘pliant mouth’ of Plymouth. There’s an oneiric, watchful feel to his lines, as he explores a shifting present, particularly in a long poem centering on his new son. Ash becomes ‘a vacant story for the wind’ and ‘grass / in parks sparks teeth of frost,’ and Delbos proves his deep attunement to the natural, and to bright blasts of language. He’s also alert to the uselessness of language, the moments of beauty, the moments of deep swallowing horror. He writes of the Marathon Boston bombing, the 2011 earthquake in Japan, four boys killed on Gaza Beach, moments of disaster and monstrosity. And he addresses poems to Charles Bronson, students, Michael Jackson, and Solzhenitsyn. Delbos raises good questions, too: ‘What malicious, blessed dreamer / pries us from our common sleep / to see the secret / radiance of the ordinary, / then sets us groping / again among rough stones?'” —Nina MacLaughlin, The Boston Globe

“Some smaller poems… are only three lines long, yet deliver impactful insight by capturing brief moments of solitude and intensity.” —Dave Kindy, The Old Colony Memorial

“In Small Talk, Stephan Delbos has accomplished, if not the impossible, then the highly unlikely feat of fusing a Rilkean Romanticism with something like Bunting’s al dente concision and taut rhythms, a squaring the circle of a 21st century modern lyric that no one could have predicted.  I take great pleasure in it, line by line, whether driven by sharp memories of childhood, or the difficulty of facing the world as a new father; a startling elegy for Charles Bronson, or a subversive homage to Bob Dylan; contemplation of a steel urinal in Dublin, or a door handle in Prague; whether in praise of wind or the winding legends of his native Plymouth;  Delbos’ imagination is populated by the bright objects of the world in an idiom all his own.  With a warmth and humor that’s not afraid to run disabused and cold, Delbos hits the road as a winning  cosmopolitan of the present particular, a surprising troubadour of the now.”  –Joshua Weiner

Light Reading

“The titles of the minimalist poems appear at the bottom of the page; it means a slowed-down knowing and an after-the-fact awareness… a playful inversion. Delbos draws inspiration from Chopin, Philip Glass, Václav Havel, and pulls from disparate influences and reference points, from the Sex Pistols to Homer to Micro Machines. The result is an active, acrobatic collection.”
—Nina MacLaughlin, The Boston Globe

BlazeVOX, 2019
102 pages
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“Delbos manages a clever feat with his new collection— he crafts an easily accessible opening with self-aware poems that lure the reader in and gain their trust for the more challenging poems that follow… He approaches his craft without any semblance of fear, and seems to expect that same thing of his readers. How refreshing.”
—Kenneth J. Pruitt, Rain Taxi

“Delbos’ language is so gorgeous… But the main feature of this collection is its windows that let in the light of illumination, the heat of passion, and the movement of language through its pages that will motivate poets to write, and readers to read. All with a bit of humor thrown in.”
Terry Lucas, The Widening Spell

Light Reading, operates, in a sense, as a verbal museum, where intellectual artefacts from various epochs and cultures are exposed in a variegated pattern that celebrates life and creativity.”
—Anton Romanenko, Dispatches from the Poetry Wars

“In reading this collection I had the feeling that these poems, these condensed, precise evocations of the possibilities—and limitations of language—seemed to be coming into being on the page, speaking to ghosts, alluding to the unutterable, to the moment captured in the empty spaces. Unconfined, open-ended and illuminating, Light Reading is a work that leaves plenty of room for exploration. And enjoyment.”
—Joseph Schreiber, roughghosts

The poems in Light Reading interrupt silence with whispers, occasional shouts, erasures’ spaces. Delbos’ lines resonate with startling spontaneity and sprezzatura. A master minimalist, he writes with risible daring and poignance. His mind’s at poetic play throughout these refreshing poems, leaping with erudition, oneiric strangeness, and Czech allusions that would charm Kafka. “Your brain is a beehive” and “honey tastes like blood,” he writes in “Bagatelle for György Ligeti, Eternal Light & Honeycomb.” I love the buzz and blood of this book.
—Chard deNiord

Fragmentary, elliptical, and aphoristic, Stephan Delbos’ lyrics resonate beyond the page. As he notes, “language / outlives us.” If American poet Bill Knott whispers below these cool surfaces, so too do Celan and Ritsos, allowing Delbos the “Ghost notes” of his interior yet cosmopolitan voice. There’s warmth too (“here / hang / your / shells / shadows / shame”) and playfulness (“I carry music like Samson / in my beard and later / on my Samsung”). Light Reading, as the title suggests, is breezy and prophetic, mirror and depth, and pleasurably “drunk on wordscotch.”
—Michael Waters

Lorine Niedecker called her work a “condensery,” and the term is equally appropriate to the poetry of Stephan Delbos in his brilliant Light Reading. His minimalist pieces are charged with rare wit and intelligence, his bagatelles are as poised and surprising as those of Bartok, and his tongue-in-teach suggestions for his fellow poets turn out, ironically, to be wise advice despite themselves (“A poem controlled by someone else / A someone who doesn’t speak your language”). According to Delbos, “What is worth believing / is impossible / to believe / and really only / that will save you…” And you better believe it.
—Norman Finkelstein

This is a fascinating, disquieting book whose ghostly narratives emerge from tenuous connections between statements, between words, as well as between words and the page’s negative space. Ineluctably conditioned by the very writing of them, histories of walks along Prague streets, of places where the poet eats or drinks, have become forms of desire. Light Reading’s opening line, “what you cried when you came from the womb is your name,” reveals an intuition of experience that constitutes a radical departure from In Memory of Fire, the prior collection by Stephan Delbos. Midway through the new volume the equally laconic “Why Writing” makes this simple observation: “Even our names are words.” To be human is to be suffused by language. And to write is the most human act, which brings us to fullness. Naming allows us to belong, yet the poet, the artist, who makes marks in the world fashions our existential paradox; inscription throws the self into flux. Delbos has crafted a poetry of ideas. His marvelously lyrical insouciance both destabilizes and heroicizes our belief in the poet’s vocation.
—Burt Kimmelman