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ISBN: 978-1-62557-996-6
Reviews & Media Book Trailer
Categories Poetry

City of Incandescent Light

Publication Date: May 2018


“We are all just trying / to make it through yesterday” writes Matt McBride in this painfully insightful exploration of our twenty-first-century brand of alienation. In poems that are stylish and skewering, with uncommon wit and unsettling resonance, McBride takes on technology, militarism, love, nostalgia, divorce, the ubiquity of advertising, the institution of the presidency, and the ever-expanding surveillance state. This is a deeply sad and strangely fun and totally shining book that has given me, among other things, the best slogan I’ve heard yet for the current moment: “no flag is small enough.”

-Natalie Shapero

Clearly, these poems are the Chinese fortunes dandelions would dispense, that is, if you woke up too in cities like these that would give Continental Bards a run for their money, and then some, that is, if verse finally managed to gain the upper hand on prose—local banalities upended in an orgy of absurd lyrical excess.

—Timothy Liu

There’s no doubt about it: Matt McBride’s City of Incandescent Light is a heavy-duty book of shadows, with the speaker’s divorce as one of its central preoccupations. As a result, it’s weary and wary and sad with a massive darkness hanging over it, a jaw-dropping plethora of bewildering astonishments. And yet, we are led by the hand with so much heart through it—city to city, photograph to photograph, year to year—with awe and marvel, redemptive grace and explosive weirdness—that in the end one feels lighter, lit up, almost luminous from the inside out for having read it. The “many heavy-possibles” of our journey transformed into “Ssssszzzzzhhhhhaaaaa”! Somehow this is comforting and depth-charged and wise. This is a devastatingly terrific first book.

—Matt Hart

Matt McBride has made a potent stew of precisely recurring imagery: sheep, bones, pears, divorcees…The poems are arranged like seasons—as they appear, they reappear, the oft-recycled titles symbolizing the poet’s civilized and changeless despair, unassuaged by the garnish of time known as calendar.

His is a world in which humans endure the paradox of loving each other into divorcing each other, of making “cities” of multiple selves only to enclose the single self in solitude, of creating art as a means of posthumous haunting.

The poet’s final plea, “don’t bury me deep,” is the perfect bookend to the transparent, fragile and vulnerable “glass” life under the lights. McBride’s lights are there to underscore the darkness—and this is the book’s core theme—it is the darkness that is peopled, not the architectured city. Darkness is where warmth is possible, thought is quiet, night is real, and dreams are safe from “commercials.”

City of Incandescent Light is so fascinatingly depressing that it comes across as playful. It is a horrible, ironic playfulness, yet edifyingly genuine, capturing the essence of a broken existence in a “full-circle” universe. McBride as commentator of this perennial journey gives us a language of heartbreaking apathy, both harrowing and irresistible. Read with caution: this is a poetry that doesn’t ring twice.

—Larissa Szporluk

About the Author

Matthew McBride

Matt McBride's work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Another Chicago Review, Cream City Review, Columbia Poetry Review, FENCE, Forklift, Ohio, Map Literary, Ninth Letter, Packingtown Review, Smartish Pace, and Typo amongst others. His chapbook, The Space Between Stars, won the 2007 Wick Poetry Chapbook Prize from Kent State University Press. He is the recipient of a Devine Fellowship, a Writers in the Heartland Residency, and an Ohio Arts Council Grant. He holds an MFA in poetry from Bowling Green State University and a PhD in comparative literature from the University of Cincinnati. Currently, he is a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of Iowa. This fall, he will be joining the English faculty as an instructor at Wilson College.

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