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The Fact of the Matter: Poems


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About the Author

Sally Keith is the author of two previous collections of poetry: Design, winner of the 2000 Colorado Prize for Poetry, and Dwelling Song, winner of the University of Georgia's Contemporary Poetry Series competition. Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, A Public Space, Gulf Coast, New England Review, and elsewhere. Keith teaches at George Mason University and lives in Washington, DC.


Praise for The Fact of the Matter "Part-epic, part-elegy, her latest 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." --Ben Purkert, The Kenyon Review "The elegance of 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." --Amy Silbergeld, The Rumpus "'I'd obsessed over all the old systems,' asserts Keith in this third book, in which she creates systems--through leaps and variation--to subvert them. In 'Knots' she writes, 'The spine is a series where action begins,' later continuing, 'The spine is a series of knots under skin,' and builds up to: 'On a ship full of species the rhinoceros arrives in Portugal, a gift for the king.// It had been over one thousand years since anyone in Europe had seen one.' 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 Keith, discoveries in any discipline--from physics to painting--push humanity forward ('In 1621/ Johannes Kepler/ switches out "soul"/ for "force"'), and myth is used not as a crutch for meaning, but as an anchor for new discourse on selfhood in our moment: 'Achilles refusing and refusing to eat/ Moment you already know: Achilles and the ambrosia/ so again fate might be complete--look steadily--/ Moment before the action takes place.' Keith admits 'Our history was not at all unusual' and still 'One travels to the edge/ to see what always is.'" -- Publishers Weekly (STARRED) "Colorado Prize--winner Keith's new collection (after Design and Dwelling Song) carries a pulse reminiscent of Dylan Thomas's 'force that through the green fuse drives the flower.' In 'Providence,' for instance, one finds oneself looking for God--instead of navigating tables and the unspoken exchange between a mother and daughter at a sidewalk Rhode Island restaurant, an event as trivial as a smashed soda can or salt exploding over the ocean. Keith is refreshing in her resistance to lines saturated with the addled 'I' or sentimental narrative that isn't driven by a logical consequence. Here, the poet and reader share a straightforward detachment from the world in question; observing a simple landscape or the volley of prescriptive methods and facts responsible for a painter's masterpiece shows us that what we think we see and understand is often arguable. VERDICT Presenting a tone of balanced offhandedness, Keith's work is worth investigating by those who want a well-rounded sense of modern poetry. Recommended." --Annalisa Pesek, Library Journal "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." --Linda Bierds, author of First Hand "Between force and fault, Sally Keith's The Fact of the Matter does its necessary, beautiful work. In these poems 'stuck on the intricate work,' 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. 'I need some force to deal with time,' Keith says; she says, 'Mostly we are vulnerable.' A poem seems to be that which deals with time by resisting its relentlessly mortal march; in doing so it reveals the flaw of our own mortality. One cannot occur without the other, Keith knows. And so these poems trace the ongoing existences of disparate forces: Achilles mourning his lover's death, Muybridge's photos of a horse at full gallop, the act (and re-enactment) of the golden spike connecting the nation by rail, Smithson's spiral jetty, dinner with her mother, and diseased oaks in the yard. Keith sees in ways as deeply moral as they are beautiful that art not only records force, but is a force itself, shaping the world it describes. The result is a poetry that asks of itself questions a lesser art would flee, a poetry of radical doubt because it is a poetry of actual faith. They speak 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." --Dan Beachy-Quick, author of A Whaler's Dictionary and Wonderful Investigations "Stunning--haunting--quiet revelations, sometimes half withheld--words heard across a table, across continents, across centuries. These poems are the still moments between actions; time slowed to its instants (as in Muybridge's photo-sequences) then silently reassembled, so that a thousand years ago is yesterday. Achilles removes his helmet in the next room while Durer 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. Fall out of and into time. Herein is purest magic." --Martin Corless-Smith, author of English Fragments: A Brief History of the Soul "In these poems, Sally Keith finds that hinge between the world and its weaving into art (the eye of the observer meeting the force of the world). 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." --Eleni Sikelianos, author of The California Poem and Body Clock Praise for Dwelling Song: WINNER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA'S CONTEMPORARY POETRY SERIES COMPETITION "'I'm almost opened,' say the final lines of Dwelling Song, 'and / the color is about to come out.' Keith hides in broad daylight, and she becomes herself by changing constantly into something else. Smart, visceral, poised, reckless--these poems are content with discontent, at home when most at sea; their syntax turns wildly toward each new revelation. 'What I first said was not enough,' says Keith. Dwelling Song will leave you famished, hungry for more." --James Longenbach "Full of sharp, tight perceptions and even sharper, tighter sounds, Keith's second collection manages to embrace both the quotidian and the timeless at once. From their fusion, she fashions a vibrant immanence; this is poetry that takes place on the page right before your eyes. Lyrical yet mathematical, at times unnerving yet always compelling, these poems never stop opening up new territory. " --Cole Swensen "'How many ways am I missing?' asks the speaker of one of Keith's moving poems--poems that dwell on the problem of having inherited spiritual burdens without reliable spiritual means; poems that seek a dwelling place in the remnants of lyric address. Keith's work struggles on behalf of the reader, and on our behalf it roams across sites of pained encounter. And it refuses not to sing." --Mark Levine Praise for Design: WINNER OF THE COLORADO PRIZE FOR POETRY "The poetry of Design arcs between radiant acts of attention wherein Keith displays a brilliant, phenomenological turn of mind, as well as a capacity to sustain a lyrical interrogation of perception, faith, form, the architecture of flight, the fragility of matter. The vision is fractal, the language painterly. There is little of the contemporary poetic vernacular here, but rather a transcription of mind, as is found in the journals of Hopkins and Dickinson. She is that interesting, and this is an exemplary debut." --Carolyn Forche

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