About the Book
This collection addresses issues of identity as two people find themselves living in an uncommon landscape. Through hybrid narrative prose poems, Hank and an unnamed narrator try to navigate their relationship and understand their identities amid a landscape that offers them almost nothing. The continent at first seems empty, but something emerges in the vacuum of Antarctica. The narrator’s gender skips and changes, and the characters’ self-awareness grows into a sort of horror. Dennis James Sweeney’s poems consider the fullness of emptiness, revealing attempts to love and grow when surrounded by a white and frigid landscape that seems to go on forever.
The space of these poems is something beyond the Antarctic of scientific exploration, the icy outpost that has served for so long as a masculine proving ground for polar explorers. This is the Antarctica of domestic disharmony, of love amid loneliness, where two people encounter themselves in the changeless breadth at the end of the world.
Thanks to Poetry Daily for featuring Dennis.
Praise for In the Antarctic Circle
Hints of Samuel Beckett and William Gass (snow, wind, eternity, terror) haunt this book. “You will learn,” the narrator warns: “In a whiteout you cannot see shadows, but that does not mean the edges are not there.” Sweeney startles with the precision of his figurative description: “Harpoons loll in our arms like children too old to be held. Along the horizon animals run, disappearing over the brink of snow.”
—Nick Ripatrazone, The Millions
As we move through the collection, many will begin to get a sense of an overall plot and may start to feel that the poems are part of some discovered logbook, a diary found in an abandoned shelter on the ice. This feeling comes from Sweeney’s keen ability with description as well as his talent at bringing out the human experience while still experimenting with greater themes.
—Marin Killen, Heavy Feather Review
Of literary “whiteness” Toni Morrison asked, “What is it for? What parts do the invention and development of whiteness play in the construction of what is loosely described as ‘American’?” In this extraordinary debut collection, Dennis James Sweeney revisits the question via the snowy, violent terrain of love, loss, and supreme isolation. What is the Antarctic Circle and why would anyone willingly live there? It was once promoted, perhaps, as a pristine place, a place to start over, to begin anew. But one cannot leap to newness without acknowledging “[t]he ancient lies [that] rise and gather blackly at the ceiling,” without those pesky blank pages that “intentionally [hint] at loss,” or without a nod to the “Black toboggans of the future” Sweeney observes.
—Yona Harvey, author of You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love
This elliptical, haunted document is as beautiful and dangerous as the cold continent of which it sings, whispering of loss, of loneliness, of identity, of extinction. A perfect Beckettian marriage between the spoken and the unspoken, the said and the unsayable, this sublime collection speaks as much from its white spaces as from its exquisitely ordered text. In the Antarctic Circle is an unforgettable experience from a master stylist.
—Maryse Meijer, author of The Seventh Mansion: A Novel
What is love in a habitat in crisis? How does desire survive when the land offers no mercy? These are the questions of Sweeney’s In the Antarctic Circle, with its precise and surrealist depictions of ice, snow, and wind coupled with aching gestures toward the lover’s warm body, somehow always out of reach. “I am alone in the whiteness. I stretch into it and huddle.” We don’t have to visit Antarctica to understand the thrust of these questions; all our landscapes now threaten to reject us. And nonetheless, “the living are marking what they can.” This exquisite writing is a testament to the effort to survive and to love within a self-generated hostility, a climate of whiteness in which we can only, “hold our wounds dear, open them repeatedly.”
—Julie Carr, author of Real Life: An Installation