From Kingsley Tufts Award finalist Kathy Fagan comes Bad Hobby, a perceptive collection focused on memory, class, and might-have-beens.
In a working-class family that considers sensitivity a “fatal diagnosis,” how does a child grow up to be a poet? What happens when a body “meant to bend & breed” opts not to, then finds itself performing the labor of care regardless? Why do we think our “common griefs” so singular? Bad Hobby is a hard-earned meditation on questions like these—a dreamscape speckled with swans, ghosts, and weather updates.
Fagan writes with a kind of practical empathy, lamenting pain and brutality while knowing, also, their inevitability. A dementing father, a squirrel limp in the talons of a hawk, a “child who won’t ever get born”: with age, Fagan posits, the impact of ordeals like these changes. Loss becomes instructive. Solitude becomes a shared experience. “You think your one life precious—”
And Bad Hobby thinks—hard. About lineage, about caregiving. About time. It paces “inside its head, gazing skyward for a noun or phrase to / shatter the glass of our locked cars & save us.” And it does want to save us, or at least lift us, even in the face of immense bleakness, or loneliness, or the body changing, failing. “Don’t worry, baby,” Fagan tells us, the sparrow at her window. “We’re okay.”
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Praise and Prizes
“Bad Hobby is an exquisite and excruciating book of continual epiphany and insight. The poems are gorgeous, or they’re stony, or they’re both; they astutely examine caregiving, memory-making, the inscrutability of childhood, the inscrutability of old age, and how on earth to exist in between. In this tenuous time, I’m so grateful for Fagan’s brilliant excavations of hospitals and pastures and classrooms and dreamscapes and how a body learns to live and to die.”
“I drank Kathy Fagan’s Bad Hobby down in one gulp, as I suspect you will, Reader. I can’t imagine that anyone could set this book down with poems still unread. Fagan’s subject is loss—the death of one parent, the receding of the other into dementia’s distances: ‘I said like, as in: like we kill time. / I mean metaphor, as when time kills us back.’ ‘The art of losing,’ as Bishop wrote, is mastered here with intelligence, wit, tenderness, and a blending of the personal, historical, and etymological. Reader, prepare yourself for wonderment. Take time. Drink up.”
“Kathy Fagan startles her readers with the sheer range of her observations—of poetry, of the natural world, of humankind, and of those curious visitors who haunt our memories, the dead. Her sly humor and impeccable form buoy the beautiful strangeness of this book that deftly considers the koan-like predicaments of both motherlessness and childlessness. Six books into her career, she's at the top of her game—more vulnerable and complicated than ever. And the way she ends a poem is unrivaled.”
“Fagan leans into descriptions of the world that pay tribute to what it is, not what it could or might be. ‘How will I choose,’ she writes, ‘between Heaven & Sorry.’ This vibrant book resides in that in-between, honoring the loss that comes with love.”