The Fact of the Matter
In this highly cultivated and intricately crafted collection, Sally Keith shows the self as a crucible of force—that which compels us to exert ourselves upon the world, and meanwhile renders us vulnerable to it.
Moving from the mundane to the profound, first through observation of fact and matter, then shifting perspective, engaging a deeper sense of self, these poems reimagine things great and small. Force by which a line unfurls—as in Robert Smithson’s colossal earthwork Spiral Jetty—or leads with forward motion—a train hurdling along the west-reaching railroad, or Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic reels charting animal and human locomotion. With poems remarkable in their clarity and captivating in their matter-of-factness, Keith examines the impossible and inevitable privacy of being a person in the world, meanwhile negotiating an inexorable pull—one we alternately try and fail to resist—toward the places we call home.
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Praise and Prizes
“Through contemporary voices and timeless contexts, these haunting poems fracture—then rebuild—lyric expectations. At times drawing from science and art, epic and elegy, The Fact of the Matter transcends, finally, description’s easy borders. Its achievement is singular and stunning—and places Sally Keith at the forefront of younger American poets.”
“In these poems ‘stuck on the intricate work,’ Sally Keith proves herself not only among this generation’s most vital poets, she reveals herself as a profound thinker of art’s complicated relation to the people and events that fill it. The Fact of the Matter speaks lovingly of love’s complications—love as a force that depends on fault—and gives to its readers one of the few actual blessings I know: poems unsparing in their care.”
“Part-epic, part-elegy, Sally Keith’s collection presents ‘one world spun into another’: a wonderfully involuted tableau where ancient Greek myth, German painting, strip malls, and natural history swirl together with the speaker’s mourning.”
“The elegance of Sally Keith’s craft and grounding, pastoral moments contain what might otherwise be rhapsodic verse. What is unsaid is often as loud or louder than what is not withheld.”
“At their best, these acrobatic movements from one fact or phrase to a disparate other are not whimsical non sequiturs but revelations bridging history and the inner life. For Sally Keith, discoveries in any discipline—from physics to painting—push humanity forward, and myth is used not as a crutch for meaning, but as an anchor for new discourse on selfhood in our moment.”
“Force, says Simone Weil, turns humans to things; but beauty is also a force, and both forms are here turned from their inexorable forward movement toward the making of the artist, who transforms their energy into pictures and sounds so crystalline and still we can apprehend the place motion itself begins.”
“These poems are the still moments between actions; time slowed to its instants, then silently reassembled, so that a thousand years ago is yesterday. Achilles removes his helmet in the next room while Dürer prepares a pigment. These are the unheard whispers of the Odyssey, the hidden corners of the master’s studio. Poems and Paintings and History and Love and the space one leaves them for. Herein is purest magic.”