Normal Distance

Normal Distance by Elisa Gabbert

Normal Distance is now available.

Praise for Normal Distance

Literary Hub Most Anticipated Book of the Year

An American Booksellers Association Indie Gift Guide pick

“There is humanity here, and cheekiness. But the true distinguishing characteristic is the fullness of a life lived without pretension. Gabbert does what the best poets do: she makes you think and feel at the same time. The poetics of her lines fill the inner void as she addresses mind and heart. Madness, death, boredom all play a role. Gabbert’s insights make for a perfect post-pandemic collection. These are poems to return to again and again.” — Booklist

“Reading Normal Distance is like overhearing one side of a conversation conducted by a brilliant and intimate friend. There is no affectation and no aspect of performance, but the way the full range of Gabbert’s curiosity and intellect can be so easily accessed somehow feels like a magic act. Each of the 35 poems in this collection is made up of prose-like lines, some that meander and others that slice the air with near-painful precision. Like jotted lines in a commonplace book or a Notes app–but sharper and more prescient–the genuine wonder of it all is not diluted by its ordinariness… Each line is delivered with the same frank tone, simultaneously vulnerable and detached, and each builds on the next, ultimately creating a collection that defies logic and insists on praise.” — Shelf Awareness

“Questions about time, philosophy, language, and the significance of human emotions color the funny and perceptive fifth collection from Gabbert … There is an idiosyncratic logic to Gabbert’s musings (‘Eye pain feels inherently emotional. The way odd numbers feel more random’) that is engaging and accessible to all readers. The humorous, aphoristic quality of Gabbert’s self-examination will charm those seeking a bright, contemporary voice.” — Publishers Weekly

“Elisa Gabbert answers life’s most innocuous and important questions in this collection of poems, for people who love and hate poetry alike. Her musings are metaphysical, her concerns existential.” — Nylon (September 2022’s Must-Read Books)

“Quiet but thoroughly engaging, Elisa Gabbert’s latest collection of poems coaxes readers through observations, opinions, and declarations of facts. Carefully structured but rarely barreling toward a resolution, how its individual lines affect you might have everything to do with where your head is at any given point. Often very funny.” — Vulture (7 New Books You Should Read This September)

“Playful and perceptive. Her poems have fun with language, juxtaposing the ordinary and the metaphysical, interrogating a phrase until its meaning completely changes. Normal Distance is delightful, surprising, and totally thought-provoking.” — Electric Literature (Favorite Poetry Collections of 2022)

“The opening and turning outward to the largest questions we can ask—time, the afterlife—remind us of all we do not know. In our shared ignorance, Gabbert stokes a sense of wonder. It is no coincidence that the noun form of the word ‘wonder’—a feeling of surprise mixed with admiration and closely related to awe or sublimity—also has a verb form—to desire or be curious about something, and in a secondary definition, to feel doubt. Questioning produces the feeling of wonder; engaging in the world through curiosity opens this integral and most human sensation… Even with these large thematic and philosophical questions, the collection is not self-serious. Gabbert tempers the weight of her questions with humor… The refrains become earworms, like a song that is stuck in your head, and I find myself wondering whether the question began with the reading or in my own mind. In this way, there is a sense of openness to the poems, a feeling of closeness shared between the poet and the reader.” — Ploughshares

“What I love about the poems in Normal Distance is how each uncannily assembles within the reader a scale model of Gabbert’s own booming wonder—a New Mexico moon rises ‘absurd on its face. // All ha ha ha.’ Sleep is where ‘Time comes out of time’; then, it’s ‘a performance for God.’ It’s all just so delight-full, delight in the Horatian sense of dulce et util, delight that pierces the reader’s mind so wisdom can get in. Gabbert achieves that highest lyric aim: she restores to living a bit of its baffle.” — Kaveh Akbar, author of Pilgrim Bell

“A magnificent book of poems, unafraid to interrogate our maddening existence, vengefully honest, and pierced with a blazing conversation towards philosophy. Gabbert has a gift for exposing human longing, with poker-faced lyricism, for the fantasy it often is. Suffering pervades this book: our addiction to it, our denial of it and the absolute inevitability of it. What Gabbert shows us is that suffering comes in many forms, and one of the most prevalent is boredom: ‘The secret to immortality is boredom. If you’re bored enough you’ll never die,’ she writes. Always there is a solidarity in the poems. We are all together in this; we are the poet. And humor—which Freud knew held as much rich unconscious content as dreams—makes these elegant, genius poems anything but boring. ‘Can you not pay attention to your desires?,’ she asks. She replies with all her pitch-perfect characteristic sagacity: ‘I don’t care. I want to change my mind.’ Same.” — Bianca Stone, author of What Is Otherwise Infinite

“‘There is a hole in your nightmare / you could fall down,’ writes Elisa Gabbert from America of the 2020s, where ‘normal’ has never been ‘normal’ and now distance is up in your face. ‘Every year, when the lindens bloom, I think of the year / when the lindens didn’t bloom,’ begins this journey wherein distraction helps thinking and precision allows perspective, and indecision, which by now is a character trait of a large group, touches on metaphysical: ‘everything reminds me of it, but I don’t know what “it” is.’ But Gabbert knows answers, and isn’t afraid to share them: ‘We are born not remembering why we walked into the room.’ She knows, too, that ‘what it wants is desire. / A barrier to crossing / the chasm of the day.’ The metaphysics in this book is felt, and lived, and searching. The questions are playful, the answers are wise, and the language is always precise, beautiful. Normal Distance is a joy to read and re-read.” — Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa

“If you were to start Elisa Gabbert’s sharp and companionable new book by reading the Notes, you’d find the tracks of a restless thinker whose trip through the past—what has been written, thought, said, felt—is lined with the present-tense vertigo(s) of self-doubt, forgetfulness, anxiety, pain, joy. But don’t start at the end: read this sequence from the start, open to its unfolding entanglement of quick revelations, ‘the way you fail to see, or recognize yourself, in a mirror at strange angles.’ Like its unresolvable title, Normal Distance vibrates between assertiveness and mystery, poking at philosophy’s rules and continually returning us to questions of a less containable sort: how and what the body knows, and how and what the body of the poem might tell.” — Anna Moschovakis, author of Eleanor, or, The Rejection of the Progress of Love

“Reading Elisa Gabbert’s Normal Distance is like seeing through ‘a mirror at strange angles,’ where contradiction and paradox fascinate and stymie the human drive to know. I loved wandering with Gabbert through extended, long-lined meditations and drilling down with her into short intense lyrics on the eternal subjects—suffering, boredom, madness, the moon—like I’d been taken in hand by a mad hatter epistemologist, wondering why we think we know what we know. You can use Normal Distance for bibliomancy, opening its pages at random to find just the right words for what ails you, and what might lift your mind and spirit too. It’s friendly and surprising, thinking with Gabbert: her wit is sly, her apprehension of the ordinary so strange and true: ‘We are born not remembering why we walked into the room.’” — Dana Levin, author of Now Do You Know Where You Are

“‘I feel,’ says Kierkegaard’s aesthete ‘A,’ ‘as if I were a piece in a game of chess, when my opponent says of it: That piece cannot be moved!’ But in this playfully despairing book, our speaker—call her the melancholy American—feels to me like she’s on third base with a) the bases loaded and b) the distinct feeling that the batter’s going to get walked. He does, she saunters, and, refreshingly free of ballyhoo, she scores. The poems in Normal Distance find Elisa Gabbert taking her trademark even-keeled clairvoyance and matter-of-fact sass to new extremes of quotidiana, new culs-de-sac in the abyss. Say them and they’ll eat at you all day.” — Graham Foust, author of Embarrassments

“Elisa Gabbert’s newest book of poems, Normal Distance, is a must-read. It is a work of full force and cannot be forgotten long after you close its pages. Its intricate language mazes and areas of language play create a landscape of full sensations, thoughts, and pure emotion. In the book, you enter places where the starkness of our time is met with the tenderness of what it means to be a human. Places where the ‘lindens’ both ‘bloom’ and ‘didn’t bloom,’ where ‘suffering was less absurd,’ places where the ‘inflection of a spell’ ‘turns off your power,’ where ‘everything is a monolith,’ places with ‘frightening’ ’empty space,’ and where ‘youth is a kind of genius.’ These poems are places where anything can be anything and where what the poet feels intimately can still be everything. As Gabbert writes, ‘We are born not remembering why we walked into the room,’ and I believe her. This is a book that you will remember for a long time, after birth and death, and into the eternal space where poetry still lives.” — Dorothea Lasky, author of Milk