The First Inhabitants of Arcadia
University of Arkansas Press
Christopher Bursk’s The First Inhabitants of Arcadia is a fascinating collection that investigates the magic of the alphabet and language. Herman Melville, Dusty Rhodes, and Hoyt Wilhelm skinny-dip and pick up gondoliers and cut figure eights into the ice in this collection. Here too are poems about a boy’s first investigations into the nature of language as he studies the backs of baseball cards, and a young man’s infatuation with the “F-word.” The titles sing their lettered songs: “An Ode to j,” “M-m-m Good!” and “O in Trouble.” And over the whole book broods the great lexicographer, Samuel Johnson, that deeply troubled caretaker of the mother tongue. More than an ABC book, this collection asks questions at the very heart of how we understand the world and shows us the glory and silliness at the heart of human life.
Bursk, recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Guggenheim and Pew, is professor of English at Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania. He is the author of a number of collections, including The Improbable Swervings of Atoms, winner of the 2004 Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. He has been recognized for his work with prisoners, the homeless, food banks and women’s shelters.