Winner of the Voelcker Award (PEN America) (2016)
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.
"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
"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 Anthem