Sophie Cabot Black is an unabashedly passionate poet. Her language is exquisite, each word falling perfectly into precise structures of vision. Whether in a loose sonnet form or in a taut longer line, these poems are exercises in the extension of the soul.
Devotional and pure— Black’s voice is a voice of inconstant waiting, of meditation on edge. Longing, inheritance, obsession: there are poems from an informed heart as it struggles with commitment and discernment, with the essential matters of faith.
The Misunderstanding of Nature encompasses two New Worlds: the contemporary one and the one of seventeenth-century New England. At its epiphany, this collection presents a long poem called “The Arguments,” a monologue in the voice of Dorothy Bradford, one of the first Englishwomen to have set foot in America. Through her complicated search for transcendence, we overhear the movements of learning to belong, caught at the rim of the wilderness.
“Black is a passionate and breathlessly forceful writer…The Misunderstanding of Nature is a distinguished collection, one of the liveliest first books in years.”
“…Altogether this is a beautiful book: in poem after poem, the topography of a late twentieth century landscape of impasse: ‘There is only what you might do/And what you damage.’ ‘The Arguments’ finds all this present but suppressed within the very origins of America– and in the process a wild, leaping, beautiful music. Berryman’s ‘Homage to Mistress Bradstreet’ has found an eloquent, authentic sister.”
“…of the rich complexity of this auspicious debut…Black astonishes with the places her poems go…though these are ‘songs of unsafety’, we are far richer for having read them.”
“Black’s book is dazzling in its range and ambition, its eloquence and mastery… The Misunderstanding of Nature seems to me to be an almost startlingly accomplished first collection.”
—Poetry Society of America Norma Farber Book Award (citation)
“Sophie Cabot Black’s The Misunderstanding of Nature is an impressive debut… [her] diction has surprise and energy.. [she] can summon us to a rediscovery of the extraordinary with the ordinary… it’s clear from the powerful language and distinctive vision of her work that Black is a substantial new presence.”
“‘The Arguments’ finds all this present but suppressed within the very origins of America– and in the process a wild, leaping, beautiful music. Berryman’s ‘Homage to Mistress Bradstreet’ has found an eloquent, authentic sister.”
— Frank Bidart
“It’s gratifying to know that poetry can do this. If Bradford, as heroine, loses unequivocally, her voice, thanks to Black, wins.”
“The language of “The Arguments” is intense, written in the voice of a sensibility unable to protect itself from the primitive energy of a wild continent…It is a beautiful poem, rich with detail and psychological accuracies.”
“Black has a voice perfectly tuned to the dramatic monologue…the voice of Black as Bradford is a perfect ventriloquism, a delicate, devotional, and, at the same time, bold exploration of faith, discovery, longing, and perseverance.”
“I was especially impressed by the work’s beautifully conceived and brilliantly executed long sequence called ‘The Arguments,’ which dramatizes the Mayflower’s first confrontation with the wilderness of the New World from the perspective of the famous chronicler William Bradford’s wife Dorothy.”
—Sandra Gilbert/PSA/Norma Farber First Book Prize