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If You Have to Go

Katie Ford
I am content because before me looms the hope of love.
I do not have it; I do not yet have it.
It is a bird strong enough to lead me by the rope it bites;
unless I pull, it is strong enough for me.
I do worry the end of my days might come
and I will not yet have it. But even then I will be brave
upon my deathbed, and why shouldn’t I be?
I held things here, and I felt them.
—From “Psalm 40”
The poems in Katie Ford’s fourth collection implore their audience—the divine and the human—for attention, for revelation, and, perhaps above all, for companionship. The extraordinary sequence at the heart of this book taps into the radical power of the sonnet form, bending it into a kind of metaphysical and psychological outcry. Beginning in the cramped space of selfhood—in the bedroom, cluttered with doubts, and in the throes of marital loss—these poems edge toward the clarity of “what I can know and admit to knowing.” In song and in silence, Ford inhabits the rooms of anguish and redemption with scouring exactness. This is poetry that “can break open, // it can break your life, it will break you // until you remain.” If You Have to Go is Ford’s most luminous and moving collection.

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The transformative new book from “one of the most important American poets at work today” (Dunya Mikhail)

About the Author

Katie  Ford
Credit: Helge Brekke
Katie Ford is the author of If You Have to Go and three previous poetry collections: Blood Lyrics, named a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Colosseum, recognized as a “Best Book of the Year” by Publishers Weekly and the Virginia Quarterly Review; and Deposition. The recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Larry Levis Reading Prize, she teaches at the University of California, Riverside.
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Upcoming Events

Katie Ford reading at The Booksmith

Booksmith in San Francisco, CAview map
Reading and in conversation with Katie Peterson.

Katie Ford and Susan Stewart reading at Politics & Prose

Politics & Prose in Washington, DCview map
Reading and in conversation with Susan Stewart.

Katie Ford and Paul Lisicky reading at Philadelphia Free Library as part of the Monday Poetry Series

Free Library of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PAview map

Katie Ford reading at Book Culture

Book Culture in New York, NYview map
Reading and in conversation with Shane McCrae.

Katie Ford reading at Hugo House

Hugo House in Seattle, WAview map
Reading and in conversation with Rae Armantrout.


  • “To convey her overwhelming sense of loss about the dissolution of her marriage, Katie Ford presents a strange, almost fairy tale realm. . . . As the narrative unfolds, in 39 sonnets, readers are led through a kingdom that includes a cold, distant lord, beasts of burden and multiple rooms for those who are stuck there. This landscape allows the speaker to slowly work through her feelings — from despondency . . . to equanimity. The journey also serves as a quest of sorts, as her shattered sense of self slowly begins to mend.”The Washington Post
  • “There’s a shadow looming over If You Have To Go—the poignantly-titled and brilliant collection of poetry from Katie Ford—and it’s the dissolution of Ford’s marriage. . . . She grasps for meaning in small objects, flickering moments of peace amidst the pain, and communion with the divine. That none of these seem to provide solace only makes her journey that much more devastating and beautiful.”The Portland Mercury
  • “Part threnody, part longing, all song. [If You Have to Go] is anchored by an extended crown of sonnets, which feel like pained and punctuated addresses to God, herself. . . . Ford’s lines are impassioned, full of the terrible desire of doubt. . . . This book is a journey.”The Millions
  • “[If You Have to Go] is nothing less than a full dramatic monologue with innuendo, philosophy, interior soliloquy. The spectrum of emotions ranges from dispassion, to passion, to acceptance, to inquiry, and disbelief, and more. A lesser poet would have descended into pity but Ford will have none of that when, instead, she can build a home from a kingdom of words to live in and rule magnificently.”Washington Independent Review of Books
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