Wesleyan University Press, 2010
“In poems that proceed snakelike across a page or in traditional flush-left frames, Roberson's images and ideas are starling and complex, often difficult in their dreamlike qualities. His lines have been accurately described as syntactically double-jointed and labyrinthine—and, as with any maze, readers must find a hold an outside wall to guide them through Roberson's sometimes surreal vision of the earth. That 'hold' may be the earth itself….” —Karla Huston, Library Journal
In To See the Earth Before the End of the World, Ed Roberson presents us with 120 new poems, each speaking in his unique voice and seen through his unique eye. Earth and sky, neighborhood life and ancient myths, the art of seeing and the architecture of the imagination are all among the subjects of these poems. Recurring images and ideas construct a complex picture of our world, ourselves, and the manifold connections tying them together. The poems raise large questions about the natural world and our place in it, and they do not flinch from facing up to those questions.
Roberson’s poems range widely through different scales of time and space, invoking along the way history and myth, galaxies and garbage trucks, teapots and the history of photography, mating cranes and Chicago's political machine. This collection is composed of five sequences, each developing a particular constellation of images and ideas related to the vision of the whole. Various journeys become one journey—an epic journey, invoking epic themes. There are songs of creation, pictures of the sorrows of war, celebrations of human labor and human society, a respect for tools and domestic utensils that are well made, the deep background of the past tingeing the colors of the present, and the tragic tones of endings and laments, a pervading awareness of the tears in things. Most of all, there is the exhilaration of a grand, sweeping vision that enlarges our world.
“Ed Roberson’s labyrinthine, syntactically double-jointed lines work at a nervous, disconsolate pitch, peculiar insight and curious angle at the forefront of the tutorage they bring. His most compendious volume to date perhaps and certainly true to its title, To See the Earth Before the End of the World moves in many directions, often all at once, a 360-degree jitterbug waltz of a book.” —Nathaniel Mackey, author of Splay Nationof Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry
“In this dreamy collection, human features stand out as distinct then blend into the nature of the world surrounding them. We can’t always tell plant from animal from mineral, and Roberson reminds us that in the end, as in poetry, such distinctions are moot.”—Camille T. Dungy, editorof Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry
About the Author
Ed Roberson is the author of ten books of poetry including a chapbook, Closest Pronunciation (Drinking Gourd Series, Northwestern University Press).
His most recent book, To See the Earth Before the End of the World, published by Wesleyan, was a finalist for the 2010 LA Times Book Award and was one of two runners-up for the 2011 Kingsley-Tufts Award. The New Wing of the Labyrinth (2009) was published by Singing Horse Press and City Eclogue was published in the Atelos series (2006, No. 23). His collection, Voices Cast Out to Talk Us In, won the Iowa Poetry Prize;Atmosphere Condition was a winner of the National Poetry Series and was nominated for the Academy of American Poets’ Lenore Marshall Award.
Roberson is a recipient of the Lila Wallace Writers’ Award and the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Award. In 2011, he received the Stephen Henderson Critics’ Award for achievement in poetry by the African American Literary and Culture Society at the American Literature Association Conference. He recently received the 2016 PEN Voelcker Award for poetry.
Retired from Rutgers University, Ed Roberson lives in Chicago where he is currently emeritus in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Northwestern University. He has taught classes and workshops as Visiting Professor at Columbia College Chicago and University of Chicago and as Visiting Artist in the Center for the Writing Arts at Northwestern University. From 2009 – 2014 he was Artist in Residence at Northwestern University, teaching in the English Department Creative Writing Program. Roberson served as an instructor at the Cave Canem Retreat for Black Writers (2008-2019) and in 2014 he was the Holloway Visiting Professor at University of California, Berkeley.
Ed Roberson graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1970, where, as an undergraduate research assistant in limnology, he traveled across Canada, through Alaska, Kodiak and Afognak Islands and later Bermuda with research expeditions. As a member of the Explorer’s Club of Pittsburgh, he climbed mountains in the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Andes. Ed worked in the steel mills, as an aquarium diver-tankman at the Pittsburgh Aquazoo, and in advertising graphics. He motorcycled across the U.S. and has traveled in West Africa, Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America.