"What menagerie we are:" BESTIARY is published today!

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Bestiary by Donika Kelly, is published today, October 11. Winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and nominated for the National Book Award in Poetry, it’s a startlingly powerful, forceful debut drawn equally from life and myth. The poems circle around the question of what, really, is realand the question of if that distinction even matters. Kelly forces her readers to feel the shapes of the things they don't, or won't, believe in, and then shows them a way out of that confusion: "I think / myself a rising, feather and hoof, neigh / and caw, and you, always, on my back," Kelly sings in "Pegasus," this week's Poem of the Week. Bestiary is fashioned from love and from grief by a speaker who, in backing away from the terrible, manages to see it more clearly. And against that sadness, the joy and love she eventually finds look even more beautiful.

 

National Book Award Winner Nikky Finney, who selected Bestiary as the winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize in 2015, supplied a gorgeous introduction, which is included in the book. In it, she writes, “Bestiary is a first book of poems by an all Black girl who teaches us nothing is all black, or all female, or all male, or all belonging to humans, or all tidy. . . . A new song has been measured out from the ancient rubble of Los Angeles and the poet's own four-chambered muscle. Bestiary's lesson is complicated and also simple. Love can be hunted down.” You can read Finney’s introduction in full over on LitHub.

 

It’s already been praised in a variety of publications. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, writing “[An] astounding debut. . . . The poems employ language that sinks its teeth in at vulnerable moments. . . . Kelly’s creatures howl and whimper as she imparts emotional truths.” Bustle included Bestiary on a list of “12 New Must-Read Poetry Collections by Poets of Color” saying, “Donika Kelly’s poetry is rhythmic, bold, and declarative, often exploring the gendered experiences of the world.” BookRiot also loved it, writing, "These poems are gut-punches, heart-shredders, eaters-of-soul-stuff. Love, abuse, loneliness, dogs: it’s all here, everything that matters."

 

Poet Shane McCrae wrote of it, “Bestiary is an act of transformation. . . . But it is a true act, also, because it acknowledges that a human will hide to be seen, and look back. These poems—among the best being written by any young poet in America—look back.”

 

This searing, unforgettable collection is not to be missed.

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Donika Kelly is a poet and a scholar. Her poems have appeared in Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, and theVirginia Quarterly Review. She lives in western New York, where she teaches at St. Bonaventure University. Bestiary is her debut collection and is the winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize.