“Sometimes,” writes 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
“[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.”
“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.’”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”