University of Georgia Press, 2019
Winner of the National Poetry Series, Selected by Jericho Brown
In his second collection, Christopher Kondrich asks how and why we place value and meaning on life’s intangibles. Valuing questions the origination of one’s value system through deeply personal poems that explore faith, love, ethics, and mortality. As they strive for presence and understanding, the poems in Valuing remind us, as one speaker proclaims, “you cannot sneak through your life.”
“A stunning work with a one-of-a-kind feel, this reflection on the major issues of self and others demands time and thought, but it delivers. Highly recommended.”
— Library Journal (starred review)
“Kondrich’s poems feel like hymns released into the sky. Valuing is a refreshingly sincere and skilled book about the ineffable.”
“I choose to love / as asylum from that which presses me / to hate,” says the opening poem of Valuing, a rich and vital book by Christopher Kondrich. Lines like these are quite apropos in such a philosophical work of art in which Kondrich questions and embraces both God and pessimism, all the while trying to establish a self—a being worth more than what late capitalism can allow—by chanting what seems like spells born before anyone was born: “Also, I must capture you in song. I must find music to set to this / aging and follow the river to my death.” There is not space enough for me to write all I love about this book and its potential for influence on poetry and on any mind made vulnerable to poetry.
— Jericho Brown, author of The New Testament
It is one thing to know there are limits to human knowledge, boundaries to how much we can accurately say about our labyrinthine selves, the objects we touch, and, more vastly, the mystery in which we spin. It is another thing entirely for a poet to articulate this so keenly that suddenly our limits become our bounty. What is of value in us? “To live amongst walls and proclaim those walls a home,” Kondrich writes. Valuing instructs us through disappointment and joy in a rare and trustworthy measure. The poems are entire philosophies, but they must try again and again with each turn of the page, as such is our lot. And although we move within the limits of knowledge and language, “Do not worry. The other side / will lift you and change you / if how you were standing / doesn’t make it across.” I, for one, need this book.
— Katie Ford, author of If You Have to Go
In Valuing Christopher Kondrich fashions startling, arresting images and fabulous metaphors that are all the more startling, arresting, and fabulous because they’re so functional to the overflowing reality and profundity of his poems. He has an excellent mind accompanied by an exuberant imagination.
— Vijay Seshadri, author of 3 Sections
Free Verse Editions, 2013
Finalist for the New Measure Poetry Prize
The poems in Christopher Kondrich’s first collection allude to contrapuntal composition by sustaining two voices and two distinct, but overlapping narratives. As described by Mark Strand in Boston Review, the first is allegorical and he other concerns two versions of a self—past and present—who merge in the voice of the poet. As it dismantles the wholeness of life to create the wholeness of art, Contrapuntal presents readers with a unique, challenging experience.
“The brilliance of Contrapuntal is realized through the relation that the poems bear to one another… Kondrich delves deeper and deeper from one poem to the next; his poems seem to burrow within mental obsession and neurosis, rather than providing a series of surface-level snapshots.”
“[Contrapuntal] is what contemporary poetry is poised to accomplish, and Kondrich has a measured and meticulous style that winds well around the musical and interpersonal ideas he’s presenting here. “
“Kondrich’s live performance recorded on the page harmonizes real time (experience as it occurs) with memorized time (experience as it is reproduced). It is our luck to be able to return to these lyrics over and over again.”
“Contrapuntal isn’t easy-listening poetry but perhaps, as Christopher Kondrich writes in one of his sophisticated poems, “a tenuous grasp is / enough.” If our future “is full of music,” we have time yet to tighten our grip, but also to recognize that the search is our sound—the melody that makes an already inspired collection sing.”
In Contrapuntal, an enormously ambitious and masterful debut, Christopher Kondrich has shaped this material into a work of such inventiveness, wit, wisdom, bravura, tenderness and beauty, it leaves me in awe. Or rather, it brings me back to a level of awe I had forgotten I had access to, restoring to their original size my hopes for what a book of poetry might accomplish. I am inordinately grateful for this book.
— Timothy Donnelly
Before the book begins, the book begins, with contrapuntal movement: “So I take my hand, / and even though I know my hand, / I know I know it, / it feels like your hand.” Throughout the remaining books of this book, a singular duality continues to play, and it is a play of the body, of hands—“I can feel the sounds / between my hands / as I clasp them to play.” In this latter poem, the play on “play” and “pray” is especially apt and emotionally wrought, and—caught up as it is with music, with playing of sounds into emotional sense—such play is both profound and continually delightful. This is a book that needs to be known.
— Bin Ramke
Christopher Kondrich’s Contrapuntal is an eerie world of dysymphony and desire, in which the actors have lost their way among objects and senses. Scraps of sound and thought float free, unmoored from belief, and suggest we find a way to bring weight back to the human world. This is a strangely comforting dystopia, pleasing to linger in, a place made of mood and novelistic smoke, the characters in it so clearly our own.
— Eleni Sikelianos