We Step into the Sea collects over three decades of work by one of the most singular voices in contemporary American poetry. It tells the story of a lyric poet who both probes and sheds the self in search of a “we,” not to belong to, but rather, to care for, to serve: “I will hold us safely together,/ we will consider the falling whole.” In these poems of passive resistance and active celebration, we are given a panoramic view of a poet who insists that experimentation is an ethical imperative, one that will help us forge a kingdom of compassion that runs counter to empire. From her home in the desert, Keelan sees an alternative beauty that resists “the beauty of human enterprise, its folly, from above/ Greening a desert.” She sees instead “the glory of the red rocks,” and in this gift of a book, she shows us this glory at the very moment when we most need to see it for ourselves.
Reading Claudia Keelan’s poems, my soul breathes like an ember (embodying the title of one of her poems), swelling brighter with a sense of wonder at one moment, then fading into solitary reflection at another, only to flare again with admiration. This broad selection of her poems reminds us what a revelation it can be to read a long sweep of work by a poet as gifted and brave as Keelan. From her earliest lyrics and on through many stages of subtle inquiry, the reader encounters the profound gift of Keelan’s empathy, and its generative twin, a transfiguring modesty. On nearly every page, one is consoled but also provoked by her startling intelligence and the rapidity of her attention as it darts through these lines. The emergence of faith, and its continuance, in her life and work cannot be isolated from Keelan’s distinctive mode of experimentation—two modes of knowledge which remain in Keelan’s evanescent approach as modes of questioning, as practical mysteries. The reader, too, will want to linger in this house, this half-life of memory and suffering and music, a dwelling of perpetual discovery.