Almost Human by Thomas Centolella

by Thomas Centolella


Winner of the Dorset Prize, selected by Edward Hirsch

As in a profound love affair, Thomas Centolella’s new poems register attraction, delight, expectations fulfilled and foiled, and moments of great feeling cherished and/or lamented.

Format: paperback

ISBN: 978-1-936797-97-4 Categories: , , , Tags: , ,

Winner of the Dorset Prize, selected by Edward Hirsch

As in a profound love affair, Thomas Centolella’s new poems register attraction, delight, expectations fulfilled and foiled, and moments of great feeling cherished and/or lamented. Employing the vividness of narrative without yielding to its linear strictures and overly familiar tonalities, many of the first-person protagonists in Almost Human are mysterious figures at once engaging and idiosyncratic, even outright eccentric. Often betwixt and between, neither here nor there, they are uncertain of actually getting anywhere. Almost Human documents the restive life-force incarnated in an endangered species—our own—and charts the movement of the self between spirit and human, recalling the idea, attributed to Teilhard de Chardin, that we aren’t human beings having a spiritual experience but spiritual beings having a human experience.

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Additional information

Weight .4 lbs
Dimensions 6 x .5 x 9 in

thomas-1Lannan Literary Award winner Thomas Centolella has published three previous books of poetry: American Book Award-winner Terra Firma (Copper Canyon, 1990), California Book Award-winner Lights & Mysteries (Copper Canyon, 1995), and Views from along the Middle Way (Copper Canyon, 2002). He was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and has taught literature and creative writing at San Francisco State University, the University of California extension, the College of Marin, and in the California Poets in the Schools Program as well as for the Institute on Aging and WritersCorps. He lives in San Francisco.




“Centolella invites the reader to join him on an essential journey for meaning. In ‘Song,’ the form is like an essay, and after a quote from Nietzsche, ‘Without music, life would be a mistake,’ the poet anthropomorphizes music. Then there’s his focus on the minutiae of desire and love in ‘Nuptial’: ‘I claim the mole above your absurdly kissable lips.’ In the standout, ‘All That We Think, We Are,’ the poet speaks in the voice of Siddhartha, writing, ‘Wisdom has no use for preconceptions of wisdom, it simply waits for you to arrive.’ Centolella testifies to the often-missed lyrical nature of daily experiences, such as honoring a piano for its patience ‘as needed / before slipping back / into its bed of silence.’ He offers a prayer for letting go of material possessions in ‘The Mission’: ‘Travel light’ he tells himself, delighting in the acquisition by others of what he has given up. His tribute to the poet Robert Creeley is a loving student’s story about his teacher’s youth and how poets learn to be poets. Poet Centolella is warmly human and engaging.” — Raúl Niño, Booklist

“This collection, exquisitely tuned by a musical ear, finely turned by the hand of a master poet – one of our best – clearly revels in its obsessions: Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) adrift in the present day; the piano, the recurrent piano, which tinkles along to no small delight as leitmotif through its pages; Berlin, chockablock with griefs and guilts that the poet sometimes takes upon himself.” — Bruce Sager, The Lit Pub

Almost Human has an arresting, original voice, . . . both elusive and direct. On the one hand it can be riddling and elliptical, the voice of someone who possesses the ‘art of caring from afar.’ On the other, it can be startlingly open in expressing . . . concern with finding a vision to live by. The poet . . . is bracingly honest about the resistance of the world to revelation, and at the same time seems always open to change, so that the simple act of sitting down to play the piano is felt as making contact ‘with everything that has come before / and is still to come.’  . . . The result is a book that keeps drawing the reader back and keeps surprising.” — Carl Dennis, Pulitzer Prize winner of Practical Gods

“Thomas Centolella is one of those poets whose deeply thoughtful poems are best read on a quiet evening beneath stars.  Philosophical without being didactic, they unfold, usually with the help of a chance human encounter, a sight, smell or sound emanating from the city, all while musing on an old master’s lost notion.  Quite simply, I love his meandering poems which twist and turn as if walking a labyrinth of back streets.  Almost Human is an unusual combination of urban and spiritual, the eternal and the every day.” — Dorianne Laux

“Somehow magical — the way these well-made, oddly elusive, sometimes funny, lyrically discursive and poignantly beautiful poems engage the mysteries.” — Edward Hirsch

Download the free reader’s companion here.


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