In Memphis Shoals, the second volume in Brad Crenshaw’s extravagant epic poem that began with his book Genealogies, we return with Bartlett Smith, narrator of both books, to Memphis, Tennessee, where Smith confronts his personal demons and those of his long-lived extended family. Like his adoptive father, John Elam, a sixteenth-century privateer rendered immortal by his Native American wife, Sarah, Bartlett Smith circumnavigates the world’s seas, only to return to the place his journey began. There he confronts the murderous tempests of passion and desire, and the faulty, but enduring consolations of kinship, forgiveness, and love.

In Memphis Shoals, poet Brad Crenshaw has given us another sinuous, beguiling, tough, and sexy passage in his on-going epic of changes and becomings. It’s all that I could ask for in a work of poetry (including transparent snakes and gene splicing). Crenshaw has another way of narrating the American experience—with humor, science, melancholy, and the longing for home that troubles American hearts. Get ready to be amazed.
D. J. Waldie, author of Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir

This hypnotic transmigratory epic visits a family archive of autism and the myths and fantasies it spawns. “Like phantoms freed by Orpheus,” the generations confront each other in a song of mutation and dismemberment. Crenshaw’s sounding of memory plays the literary tradition (Homer, Euripides, Shakespeare, Melville, Faulkner) for its uncanny echoes across time and space, and the vibrations remained with me long after I closed the book.
Julia Lupton, author of Shakespeare Dwellings: Designs for the Theater of Life

Memphis Shoals is the new installment of Brad Crenshaw’s saga about a most unusual family and its adventures from the sixteenth through the twentieth century. It appeals to me as a distillation of savors from the length and breadth of western literature. The book remembers Odysseus’s wanderings and search for home, and Ishmael’s strange companionships at sea; the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez; the troubles passed down through generations of kin in the novels of William Faulkner; and the Beat Generation’s jubilant rebellion against false ways of portraying the human condition. Over and above all of these influences, I think of Ovid and the Metamorphoses when I’m reading Memphis Shoals. This tale has the tone and texture of a myth, in which ancient truths about our passions, dreams, and follies, our habit of inflicting harm and our capacity to care for each other, come to life and demand we reckon with them.
Sean Keilen, author of Vulgar Eloquence: On the Renaissance Invention of English Literature



Brad Crenshaw’s Genealogies, an epic poem in blank verse that transgresses and transcends conventional poetic genres, is a tour de force of dazzling originality. This book-length poem concerns a sixteenth-century privateer rendered immortal by his Native American wife, and includes time travel, birdmen, genetic manipulation and a plot to assassinate the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, with stops at a Grateful Dead concert and forays into quantum mechanics, infectious diseases, horse racing and Manichaeism, among other diversions. Part science fiction, part philosophical conjecture, Genealogies mines our literary history and contemporary philosophical and scientific investigations to create a work of astonishing range and power. The author of My Gargantuan Desire–a suite of Shakespearean sonnets presented as prose poems–once again challenges and enchants his readers with deep intelligence and a rare music.

An uncommonly rich panorama of the American experience, Genealogies rewards readers doubly in its narrative drive and with its supple poetry. Brad Crenshaw is funny, erotic, critical, and elegiac–not by turns but all together–in revealing local history’s abundant possibilities for tragedy and renewal. You’ll not find Hernan Cortes, Odysseus, and the ladies of the Raleigh Baptist Church together in any other story. They are here, full of life and disorder, along with pre-Cambrian mating habits, time travel, and the ironies of marriage. This is a jungle of a book: fecund, mysterious, and full of animal heat. It is a garden of a book too: beautiful and satisfying.
D.J. Waldie, author of Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir

A wild and cunning novel-in-verse, Genealogies features the time-traveling immortals Sarah and John Elam. epic plot lines meet lyrical invention and mordant wit: “His death is sure to fix/his rheumatism,” Sarah observes. Crenshaw’s wide-ranging knowledge–of the history of the Americas, horticulture, neuroscience–anchors his narrator, Bartlett Smith, who, with Homeric scope, vivifies the couple’s tragicomic adventures. On every page of this mesmerizing achievement, language does its deep work: it delights, it consoles, it elevates
Robin Becker, author of Tiger Heron

Both jazzily conversational and compressed to a kind of surrealism, this time traveling poetry is funny and beautiful, full of surprises: a joy to read.
Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Aurora, The Years of Rice and Salt, Red Mars



Brad Crenshaw’s formally paradoxical prose sonnets combine wild control and wacky gravity, clinical description and lyric incantation, story and song, memory and vision. His book lives up to its Rabelaisian title with abundant energy, sensory richness, and extravagant wit.     –Stephen Kessler

As if readying specimens for dissection,Brad Crenshaw directly exposes his brain and heart to the bright light of the page. He says, here are the tangible parts of desire and anguish, this is what I know and I am not satisfied; what more can be done? As a reader I want with a kind of desperation to come to his rescue and yet feel guided, by his bravery and intelligence, to see this difficulty in all our lives. He pleads “I have obscenely fingered the lewd essential privacies,” and implies that, even so, the tempting and painful mysteries remain. His range of embarrassment, humor, brilliance and befuddled wonder leaves a complex taste which will not fade.     –Killarney Clary

“My life is a miracle,” Brad Crenshaw proclaims, and in a voice both idiomatic and esoteric, quotidian and visionary, he presents the evidence line after line. His poetry investigates and examines the great myths–Greek, Christian, Asian, Native American, and many more–as well as our small but important individual day-to-day stories. His poems derived from his medical experience explore the essence of what it means to be human. Through it all, Crenshaw redeems the past and pulls us into the present and beyond by following his imagination, his vision, and while consistently untethered from the predictable, wrestles sense and no small illumination from the one history of our world.     –Christopher Buckley

Resonating with humor, pathos and searing intelligence, My Gargantuan Desire is preoccupied in the deepest sense with mortality and the epic nature of our seemingly mundane lives. Whether parsing the intricate syntax of a marriage or teasing out the mysteries of the human brain, each poem in this masterful collection is mythic in scope but obstinately down-to-earth. In language rich and haunting, these poems reveal the heroic grandeur of our ordinary, blessed lives.     –Gary Young

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