(cover art by Madara Mason)
Catafalque was selected by Erica Dawson as winner of the 2017 Richard Wilbur Book Award and was published by the University of Evansville Press in July 2018. Previously, Catafalque was a finalist for the Diode Editions Book Award, a semi-finalist for The Word Works’ Tenth Gate Prize, and a distinguished mention for the July 2016 open reading period at Tupelo Press.
You can purchase a copy exclusively on Amazon.
Publisher’s Book Detail:
In Catafalque, Adam Tavel’s third collection of poetry, the poet dazzles his readers with a kaleidoscopic range of subjects. In odes to expletives, washcloths, imaginary men, and touch tone phones; in poems about Eazy-E, family, Elvis, Phineas Gage, He-Man, and Prince; and in meditations on the shapes that life and death impose on us all, he brings us face to face with the beautiful and the bitter. Yet when he speaks of death, of all those borne upon the catafalque, it is for him only an opportunity to explore the Ovidian transformations that ripple outward from those moments. For example, in “Son Net,” “The Day my youngest child became a net / witless villagers scooped his diamond holes / and cast them at the sea,” the father too dives in and turns “to silvered scales….” Likewise, in “Elegy for Elvis…,” his mother learns of Elvis’s death while on an elevator, and “Her tears flood the lift and wreck / its gears and pulleys.” And in the book’s title poem, the pallbearing narrator tells us how imagination melds an ending with a beautiful transfiguration: “We carried / cumulus and sky /shimmering on the casket lid….” Here are poems that will transform the reader with their grace and formal dexterity, and as Erica Dawson writes, “Chances are, you haven’t seen anything this way before.”
“The poet Richard Wilbur, who passed away in 2017, is especially celebrated for the finesse with which he handled complex formal structures, and one can easily picture him giving a nod of respect from beyond the grave to Catafalque, Adam Tavel’s third poetry collection and the 20th winner of the award that bears his name. Over and over in Catafalque, Tavel harnesses difficult poetic forms to his purposes…his great intelligence kneads syntax like Play-Doh, bringing out a rarely seen plasticity in the language without sacrificing legibility.”
“I doubt if the judges who awarded the 2017 Richard Wilbur Book Award to Adam Tavel’s Catafalque were thinking about Edgar Allan Poe at the time, but they might have been. Tavel’s clear insistence on the music of meters forces us to give some thought to the idea that poetry, even amid strong tendencies to speech rhythms, is still an analyzable form of music. It’s a welcome change.”
“Beneath the irony lies a seriousness in the implicit insistence that things we are accustomed not to think much about are themselves worthy of the sustained attention that poetry can bring to bear on them. Many of the poems in the collection strike a perfect balance, using apt poetic language to capture the beauty and uniqueness in everyday objects.”
“Is there anything Adam Tavel can’t write about? In Catafalque, he gives us a book as wonderfully curious as its title. We’ve got an ode to an expletive. Turkey buzzards talking about sonnets. A decapitated wind-up toy shepherd boy. Just in case that’s not enough to make you read these poems, know this: with his deft use of form and keen eye for the unusual, Tavel tirelessly pursues perception. It’s not enough to say that he creates images; rather, he engineers images in such a way that we, too, become makers, seeing something of reality in every stanza. Chances are, you haven’t seen anything this way before.”
“In Catafalque, Adam Tavel makes iambs sizzle. The poems are formal but never confined by tradition; they’re elevated and energized by meter and rhyme rather than slavish to it. Catafalque is steeped in elegy, with speakers as varied as Joan of Arc’s executioner, an armless He-Man figure, and Eazy-E, whose imagined last letter to his children is both gritty and tender: “Morphine dreams/ are Compton, August, you girls sweat-slick/ from double-dutch while I roll a pitbulled/ baseball for you boys to practice grounders.” Again and again, Tavel subverts our expectations, showing us how nimble and dynamic metrical poetry can be.”
“Like a catafalque itself—a frame that supports a coffin—the poems of Adam Tavel’s third full-length collection are tough, restrained, and carefully wrought—the lines sounding with sharp music, the rhythms insistent and haunting. And they have necessary work to do, these poems, these many voices; herein we grieve and celebrate and speak, always, of what is true and good and sad. “The moon gives us morning back,” Tavel writes, and this book, too, is a lovely dawn.”
“Adam Tavel’s poems are at once worldly and intimate, ranging from tender and acutely rendered lyrics of parenthood and family history to historical monologues and quirky character studies. But this collection is no mere miscellany. It resonates thanks to a formal dexterity that is displayed whether the poet is working in free verse or offering precise and muscular sonnets. These finely shaped and heartfelt poems deserve to be read–and, especially, to be re-read.”