Hotel Malabar

Hotel Malabar

Winner of the 1997 Iowa Poetry Prize

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62 pages

“The view from the Hotel Malabar is one directly into the complex and self-contradictory heart of the American darkness of this waning century. Brendan Galvin has once again proven that long narrative poems can be as alive, exciting, and meaningful as the best novels without losing an ounce of poetic quality.”—R. H. W. Dillard

“Dovetailing first-person narratives of a handful of colorful characters, Brendan Galvin has constructed a story of strong import and cool ingenuity. Joseph Conrad or Graham Greene might have written something like Hotel Malabar as prose, but Galvin has made it genuine poetry as well as first-rate storytelling. This one's a dazzler!”—Fred Chappell

“For those who may think that poetry has abdicated its storytelling authority and lost out to the novelists the compelling power of narrative, Galvin's Hotel Malabar strongly says otherwise. Hotel Malabar has the fast-moving plot of a page-turning thriller, characters to enjoy and to remember, and a glorious sense of place. Hotel Malabar proves that poetry can, in the right hands, do it all, and with wonderful economy and efficiency.”—George Garrett

Hotel Malabar is a weird, gripping, and altogether remarkable poem about America's imperial excesses and the twilight world of espionage in which paranoia and manifest destiny jostle with the familiarity of burlesque comics doing their ancient routines. Galvin is one of our finest poets, and his preeminence as a master of the long poem is generally acknowledged. To his Wampanoag Traveler and Saints in Their Ox-Hide Boat he now adds this latest poem, which is altogether a triumph.”—David R. Slavitt

Hotel Malabar reads as if Brendan Galvin merged the William Faulkner of As I Lay Dying and the Joseph Conrad of The Secret Agent with Elmore Leonard's dialogue and the imagery of Sir Carol Reed's The Third Man. The result is a narrative poem that reads like a popular novel even as it displays the images and rhythms of a master poet.

The setting is a Cape Cod hotel during a mid-1970s summer, and the poem unfolds through the monologues of five distinctive characters, an elderly Yankee “banana hand” who spent years in Central America as a plantation manager, three federal agents sent to discover his wartime activities there, and an Indian curandero who is the old man's source of medicines. As it moves relentlessly toward its conclusion, this poem/mystery novel/spy thriller asks questions about human motivation, the nature of truth, and the consequences of secrecy and the willing fabrication of illusions, of a life lived in “a wilderness of mirrors.”