Heavenly Questions Poems

Gjertrud Schnackenberg

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

80 Pages



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Winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize

Heavenly Questions, the first new collection of poems from Gjertrud Schnackenberg since her critically acclaimed The Throne of Labdacus, finds her at the height of her talents and showcases her continued growth as an artist. In six long poems, Schnackenberg's rhyme-rich blank verse, with its densely packed images, shifts between the lyric and the epic, setting passion to a verbal music that is recognizably her own.

An exceptional and moving new collection from one of the most talented American poets of our time, Heavenly Questions is a work of intellectual, aesthetic, and technical innovation as well as a deeply compassionate and strikingly personal work.


Praise for Heavenly Questions

"Schnackenberg has written nothing less than a Miltonic book-length poem on eternity, infinity, and the meaning of life, and it is . . . unarid and fleet. She mills her ponderous themes, by imaginative inhabitation and force of skill . . . into fairy dust."—D. H. Tracy, Poetry

"Gjertrud Schnackenberg is a pillar of American poetry. This, her sixth collection, is the first in almost ten years. The six long poems form a lullaby to a tired universe—in the background a reader hears a great crashing to statues falling and tectonic plates scraping past each other. In the foreground the poet sits at the bedside of her dying husband . . . And so these are love poems, some of the most beautiful you will ever read . . . There is a new DNA in this collection, in the spiraling self-creation of shells and also in the portrait of grief . . . But most important, the re-creation of love for our benefit."—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

"The book is lapidary. Its blank verse lines are at once elusive and twinned. Despite is voluble helixes, it is as much about silence as it is about speech. Schnackenberg is a Penelope, spinning, though she knows incontrovertibly that no voyager comes back from the land of the dead. One gossamer line follows another, like bands of ghostly sisters. The beloved's relics turn numinous . . . There is no one in her generation to equal Schnackenberg's control of the blank-verse line, nor to match her technical abilities. Even here, the breath in that line is hers . . . There are six poems in this book. We await more."—Cynthia Zarin, The Yale Review

"Perhaps the most powerful elegy written in English by a poet in any recent memory, and it is a triumphant consummation of Schnackenberg's own work. In it, a poet of wide learning and traditional poetic form has been hurt into outraged and incandescent song."—Karl Kirchwey, Slate

"A collection of lullabies and lamentations . . . these new poems are marvels, and they are intimate songs about putting a beloved to sleep after a long and losing battle with a fatal illness. Yet they also continue a conversation between the poet and her brilliant, missing partner, a conversation that ranges between philosophy, history, intellect, and illness . . . Her dream songs remain both impossibly intimate and formally perfect: a double monument to love and to grief."—Eliza Griswold, The American Prospect
"Schnackenberg has written nothing less than a Miltonic book-length poem on eternity, infinity, and the meaning of life, and it is . . . unarid and fleet. She mills her ponderous themes, by imaginative inhabitation and force of skill . . . into fairy dust. I wonder who else would try such a thing as Heavenly Questions, and how far back you would have to go to find someone who could even fail at it."—D. H. Tracy, Poetry

"It is Schnackenberg's great achievement to have revealed how, in the dark of the hospital night, the small and large, the personal and the impersonal, the purposeful and the pointless, all collapse into one, the universe, still inexplicable, still impersonal, reduced for that moment to the force of a simple, urgent desire . . . All we have is love; when love is all we have, we create memorials to help us hold onto that love . . . Heavenly Questions is that memorial, and, as such, the answer to its own questions."—Levi Stahl, The Quarterly Conversation

"This sometimes heartbreaking, always ornate sixth collection will please [Schnackenberg's] admirers . . . as before, Schnackenberg bestows her gifts of diction on scientific wonderments, on the horrors of history, and on the religious and philosophical texts of the past."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

A visit to the shores of lullabies,
Where Archimedes, counting grains of sand,
Is seated in his half-filled universe
And sorting out the grains by shape and size.
Above his head a water-ceiling sways,

Read the full excerpt


  • Gjertrud Schnackenberg

  • Gjertrud Schnackenberg was born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1953. The Throne of Labdacus received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry.

  • Gjertrud Schnackenberg Mike Minehan