“Sometimes,” Michael Kleber-Diggs writes in this winner of the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, “everything reduces to circles and lines.”
In these poems, Kleber-Diggs names delight in the same breath as loss. Moments suffused with love—teaching his daughter how to drive; watching his grandmother bake a cake; waking beside his beloved to ponder trumpet mechanics—couple with moments of wrenching grief—a father’s life ended by a gun; mourning children draped around their mother’s waist; Freddie Gray’s death in police custody. Even in the refuge-space of dreams, a man calls the police on his Black neighbor.
But Worldly Things refuses to “offer allegiance” to this centuries-old status quo. With uncompromising candor, Kleber-Diggs documents the many ways America systemically fails those who call it home while also calling upon our collective potential for something better. “Let’s create folklore side-by-side,” he urges, asking us to aspire to a form of nurturing defined by tenderness, to a kind of community devoted to mutual prosperity. “All of us want,” after all, “our share of light, and just enough rainfall.”
Sonorous and measured, the poems of Worldly Things offer needed guidance on ways forward—toward radical kindness and a socially responsible poetics.
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Praise and Prizes
"The full-throated poems in this debut collection see the world whole, allowing daily intimacies against a backdrop of social injustice."
“[An] astonishing debut . . . a collection of perfectly crafted and expertly paced lyrics, each as arresting as the last.”
“A remarkable book . . . Kleber-Diggs attempts to ‘hew hope from a mountain of despair,’ offering the world this plea: ‘Let me bloom . . . let me be lovely.’ A truly moving, and very midwestern, collection.”
“Though Michael Kleber-Diggs’ Worldly Things . . . is his debut poetry collection, his prowess as an essayist and literary critic isn’t new. His prose is especially honest, engaging and descriptive, and this collection is sure to offer similar meaning and pleasure, with the sound, voice and impact that only poetry can deliver.”
“I am captivated, consoled, and bowled over by these poems, which are knifelike in their concision and oracular at their core. Worldly Things is so full of an age-old knowing I'm shocked it is Kleber-Diggs's debut. It is like the conundrum of the human soul: new and eternal at once.”
“You should read Worldly Things. Because the work is so good and original, modest and quiet and piercing . . . More than anything, you should read this book because if a neighbor spends decades trying to find the right thing to say to you, you should listen.”
“In his debut poetry collection, Worldly Things, Kleber-Diggs takes his lived experience as a Black man in America, and with his pen, unpacks it . . . There are poems in the collection about Kleber-Diggs' father's death; his wife's miscarriage; about race and racism. Because these are the sorts of subjects he feels compelled to discuss . . . in ways that are candid, open-minded and openhearted. Through these hard conversations, he feels our most profound connections are made.”
“Loss laps at the edges of Worldly Things . . . The book as a whole, though, even as it decries the life cut short, relishes our being mortal, our having the chance to ‘bloom and recede.’ Which is, in the end, what I suspect these poems want for all of us . . . that somehow we will all find our way into becoming ‘lovely yet / temporal.’”
“This debut poetry collection shines with moments of unexpected brilliance in scenes of domesticity, rural life, and African American experiences . . . Kleber-Diggs revels in evocative simplicity . . . A stunning new poetic voice similar to John Murillo and Tommye Blount.”
“Worldly Things embraces the wondrousness of everyday existence . . . Poems of joy and celebration co-exist with elegies . . . [Kleber-Diggs] underscores that writing is itself an act of survival, a means of getting along in a universe that mixes joy with grief.”
“Michael Kleber-Diggs's Worldly Things shows how he is sustained by family and nature in poems giving shape to the Black middle-class experience amid continuing political tumult.”
“In his poem 'Ars Poetica' Michael Kleber-Diggs seems to write directly into the heart of this collection. He writes: 'my vision is common. / I dream about ordinary things—stuff that could actually happen.' And that is exactly what is so extraordinary about these poems. Plain spoken and insisting on the direct gaze, Worldly Things unveils the world that's right in front of us. The world that has been waiting, all this time, for someone to really see what is actually happening.”
“Michael Kleber-Diggs’s Worldly Things gives us beautifully clear-eyed yet warmhearted poems, lamentations, and ruminations that reflect the difficult truths of the nation we’ve been living. These poems of fathers, sons, husbands, wives, daughters, mothers, and strangers show us how we could create community if we take the time and make the effort to treat each other with dignity and care. In the poem ‘Worldly Things,’ Kleber-Diggs writes of his intent to ‘craft / images and devices / meant to survive’ him. He’s succeeded in not only that but also in writing poems for our survival. I’m grateful for this book I didn’t know I was waiting for.”
“Michael Kleber-Diggs’s poems quietly put pressure on us to live up to our nation’s ideals. He gives voice to the experiences and aspirations of middle-class Black America, and though the promised land is far away, he finds grace in the natural world, long marriage, and fathering. These supple, socially responsible poems seem to me a triumphant, paradoxical, luminous response to a violent time in our history.”
“These poems are heavy with a deep and powerful ache, both the pain of loss and the longing for other futures, other ways of being. Michael Kleber-Diggs’s skilled hand writes down the feelings of an open heart and the musing of the clear-minded—meditations on fatherhood and family, on America’s cruelty and racism, on death and on life. I earmarked many pages to return to and pass along to others, particularly the poems ‘Coniferous Fathers’ and ‘Gloria Mundi.’”
"From now on, if someone asks me why I'm never moving away from Saint Paul, Minnesota I'm just going to hand them a copy of Worldly Things. Michael captures the nuances of our black and brown community here with unfiltered authenticity."
“This is a beautiful tribute to the reality of blackness in America. Moving, full of loss and love.”