We Step into the Sea: New and Selected Poems, Claudia Keelan


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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.
—Sasha Steensen



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.
—Daniel Tiffany

From Claudia Keelan's ?? ???? ???? ??? ???: I miss the mark draw bow & try again/ Am not conscious of hating God or Us right or love/ I have swum all my days a little cold/ There is none but honey sweetness such little things/… Click To Tweet


Oppen’s Sailboat

Was not Mallarmé’s
Though made of words
A chance glint
Of some mineral
Element however
American the space it took
To be there really

Not signing his name
He made it with his own hand

The sailboat is mine
If I write it

The planet is ours
People really say that

Ours sails inside hours

The word needed was Niedecker
Lorine       her knowing

When water makes a movement
The sailboat turns and there is meaning
A life and stars étoiles
As Mallarmé sets forth



Bright Eulogy (Ferguson)

No mistakes in the mistake
Buddha inviolate in a leaf
Crosses of all material
Links beam to beam
A just addition

She’s a friend in Jesus
Crucifixion all around
Here’s real mission creep
Another’s son dead for hours
Unburied on the ground

Pontius Policeman a stick figure
A clerk a weasel a pawn-filled god
Petals spill from our girl’s mouth
In bright eulogy
Uplifting the dawn


Claudia Keelan was born in Southern California when it was still covered with orange groves, and NATO began the embargo, still in place, against lovely Cuba. Her teaching career has spanned all corners of the US, as she’s taught in many writing programs, including the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the University of Alabama, where she held the Coal Royalty Chair in Poetry, Boston College, Rhodes College and the University of Nevada, where she is a Barrick Distinguished Scholar. Her honors include the Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books and the Jerome Shestack prize from the American Poetry Review. The author of eight additional books, Keelan is a poet, literary scholar, and translator, who lives in the Mojave Desert with the poet Donald Revell, son Ben, daughter Lucie, standard poodle Miss Margaret Jarvis, and a worried schnauzer named Dugan.

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