A View from the Tenth Decade
America’s foremost living poet sifts through life and the inevitability of the end
In Death Watch, National Book Award–winning poet Gerald Stern uses powerful prose to sift through personal and prophetic history and contemplate his own mortality. Characteristically audacious, uncompromising, funny, and iconoclastic, Stern looks back at his life and forward to how his story will play out. Wrestling with his identity in Judaism, he explores how his name was uprooted from its origins, as so much of his life was willfully disrupted from the expectations of his parents and the norms of a predictable path.
Stern recounts his life, itself “a grand digression,” which takes him from Pittsburgh, to the Army, to Paris on the GI Bill, and back to the United States, where he immerses himself in the literary culture around him. His early and traumatic loss of his older sister provides the occasion to imagine what her life might have been, and he revels in his past love affairs, the many women beloved in his life. He recollects books that occupy his recent reading—the work of W. G. Sebald, Blaise Cendrars, and Louis-Ferdinand Céline—and how memory is always at the heart of literary accomplishment.
Death Watch is an account of a beloved poet’s final journey; a vivid, passionate, and at times whimsical look at the gamble of choosing the life of a poet, philosopher, prophet, lover, radical, and perpetual troublemaker.
“Pittsburgh-born poet Gerald Stern’s latest collection of essays, 'Death Watch: A View From the Tenth Decade,' concerns itself almost exclusively with Mr. Stern’s impending passing. Now in his 92nd year, Mr. Stern, who was born and raised on Wylie Avenue in the Hill District, understands there are more days behind him than ahead. But this shouldn’t deter the reader by implying Mr. Stern’s musings on his own mortality are lugubrious or self-pitying. As in his poems Mr. Stern here is as gimlet-eyed as ever.”
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— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Gerald Stern is one of those writers whose style insinuates itself into your consciousness like a catchy tune, so that you find your thoughts echoing its rhythms, bopping from one to another, back and forth, like thought and language doing a jitterbug.”
— Philadelphia Inquirer
“In 29 vignettes, essays and memories recorded over 212 pages, Stern writes of a life characterized by clarity of vision and tremendous chutzpah.”
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— San Antonio Express-News