FINALIST FOR THE KINGSLEY TUFTS AWARD
Meditative and richly written, this collection of poems by Kathy Fagan takes the sycamore as its inspiration—and delivers precise, luminous insights on lost love, nature, and the process of recovery.
“It is the season of separation & falling / Away,” Fagan writes. And so—like the abundance of summer diminishing to winter, and like the bark of the sycamore, which sheds to allow the tree’s expansion—the speaker of these poems documents a painful loss and tenuous rebirth, which take shape against a forested landscape. Black walnuts fall where no one can eat or smell them. Cottonwood sends out feverish signals of pollen. And everywhere are sycamores, informed by Fagan’s scientific and mythological research—shedding, growing tall, pale, and hollow enough to accommodate a person. Fluidly metaphorical; filled with references to film, sculpture, and architecture; and linguistically playful—“Word games reveal a lot,” says Fagan’s speaker—these poems unflinchingly lay bare both the poetic process and an emotional one.
Spellbinding and ambitious—finding catharsis in wordplay and the humanity in nature—Sycamore is an important new work from a writer whose poems “gleam like pearls or slowly burning stones” (Philip Levine).
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Praise and Prizes
“Kathy Fagan’s poems explore the mysteries in the matter-of-fact; they bring a sharp eye and tender heart to the exact and strange particulars of life.”
“It’s hard not to fall in love with this book, with its bravado and vulnerability. Kathy Fagan’s mind is endless with depth and truth—her thoughts like songs, her heart and wit twin birds flying in the air of the pages, landing on the tree limbs of her lines. How fierce and immense to imagine living in her grove of sycamores, hardy, odd, and gorgeous. There, we are bigger than ourselves—we are each other too, living and remembering within each other’s shadows, limbs, sky. Sycamore is a book a reader clutches to her chest, eyes closed for a moment in bliss and recognition.”
“Sycamore burns like ice, with a seemingly cool crystalline surface nonetheless hot to the touch. . . . Kathy Fagan’s flinty, well-crafted poems abound with texture and verve, and make an excellent companion for meteorological or existential cold snaps.”
“Fagan erects a veritable forest in her fifth collection. Austere and elegant, the first poems call forth a cold, still world inhabited by ghosts. . . . Still, though, there is substantial hope. Trees grow, emotions thicken, and, structurally, poems melt: shorter, tenser lines ultimately give way to sprawling ones.”
“Sycamore is a complex and layered poetic consideration of the mortality of relationships, of the body, of eros, and, most generally, of the moments in time we momentarily inhabit. These are timeless poetic themes, but what Kathy Fagan does with them is stunningly original. Sycamore is erudite and referential and nonetheless consistently welcoming as we navigate Fagan’s inventive structures and nuanced wordplay. It gives us a full view of the human heart and mind simultaneously in action.”
“Kathy Fagan’s poems are pitiless, sensual, mythic, and steeped in elucidative mystery. I admire her sleek armor of language and landscape: she may ‘dress defensively’; however, ‘all that pristine weather / and footwear later to discover: dead is still dead.’ Fagan’s sleights of hand reveal yet withhold, out of mercy, hard-won beauty and pain: ‘Sycamore. Sick amour. Seek no more.’ Sycamore is one of the most inventive, vulnerable, and moving collections I have read in years.”
“Kathy Fagan’s poems burn like halos, and if sycamores could bow, they would bend to kiss her hands for rendering them in such haunting light, in such daring reach. Don’t miss this beautiful, knowing book.”