Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock What the Critics Say
About James Cihlar


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. Never showy, ever poised and clear, this is a brave, forthright, and moving book. — Bruce Bond, author of The Anteroom of Paradise and Cinder

The poems in James Cihlar's debut collection, Undoing, are pleasurable for their drama, that inherent drama that comes with a well-crafted narrative. The book comes together (like the individual poems) largely thanks to a cast of characters and the tension their relationships create. ... These poems, quite intentionally, are composed of fragments. One gets the feeling that without the structure the poems provide, without these stories, the whole thing would fly apart.
It's in this unraveling, though, that Cihlar learns to ask the important questions: What do we use to survive? "What tells us where to go?" "What comes after? / I'll always be circling back." And it's in this "circling back" that the reader finds his pleasure. He's sure to stick around to see what comes next, what's next to come undone. — Ryan Vine, Minneapolis Star Tribune

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Nebraska Center for Writers