The Master Thief: A Poem in Twelve Parts by Camille Guthrie


ISBN-13: 978-1930068056
Published January 2000
Available at and

Camille Guthrie’s THE MASTER THIEF is a work of intricate architecture, allusive and elusive, as if one had been invited to a masked party in a remote gothic library, where the music is dissonant and the games as scary as a nightmare before a final exam. “I lay down on a bed of glass/ Small had mirrors examined my lunar profile/ When the giant imprinted its spine into my palm.” Like a modern Psyche, the heroine is tested. Her epic trials are turned by Guthrie into a compelling and ingenious vision

—Ann Lauterbach.

From Publishers Weekly

By turns gothic, romantic and reminiscent of Dickinson at her most riddling, this 12-part verse bildungsroman succeeds where so many recent archaically based girl-narratives fail. Unapologetically culling a loose patchwork of poetic and prosaic fragments from literary history, Guthrie’s speakers are alternately aphoristic (“Fear’s a calamity of translation”), petulant (“Betweenpie, I expected the loveliest brainchild ever”) and ironically exclamatory (“O monstrous act! I throw up a line and seize it right back”). Enigmatically named female characters—“She’s Big With,” “The Marked Child,” “The Girl in the Machine”—are drawn from the preoccupations and diction of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century pulp; each reads as a facet of a larger persona, namely The Master Thief. Each of 12 installments takes a signature form, including pseudo-pantoums, fragmentary dialogues, ironic pastorals and impassioned litanies. By cutting antediluvian lexicons with the tonal invectives of a 21st-century feminist, Guthrie furthers the text-combing tradition of Susan Howe, infusing it with a wry humor and irresistible panache: “Give the lie/ my female evil,” says “Emilia” in an aside, “Come on,/ admit impediments, show the choice// Myself I forfeit/ to be parent’s sweet counterfeit./ Above the bedroom door/ In red letter, read: FREE TODAY, TOMORROW PAY.” High seriousness, farce, and melodrama ensue, making this multivalent—or, more precisely, decidedly ambivalent–narrative richly rewarding, hilarious and heartbreaking. (Feb.)Forecast: Guthrie’s brilliant poems on the art of Louise Bourgeois have been appearing steadily in magazines. This book, those poems and another set loosely based on the unicorn tapestries (excerpted in the recent “American Poetry: States of the Art” issue of Conjunctions) augur a promising career: “my sentence read, the hatchet flashed,/ my two hands buried at the root.”

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Portrait of Camille Guthrie

Camille Guthrie

Camille Guthrie is the author of the poetry books Articulated Lair (2013), In Captivity (2006), and The Master Thief (2000) (all Subpress books), and the chapbooks Defending Oneself (Beard of Bees, 2004) and People Feel with Their Hearts in Another Instance: Three Chapbooks (Instance Press, 2011). Born in Seattle, she has lived in Pittsburgh and Brooklyn. She holds degrees from Vassar College and from the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Brown University. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and on web sites, including Arsenal, Art and Artists:Poems, Chicago Review, Conjunctions, No: A Journal of the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and The White Review. She raises two children with her husband in upstate New York and teaches literature at Bennington College.

Follow Camille Guthrie on Twitter: @GuthrieCamille