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Book Title

The Renunciations

Author 1
Donika Kelly
Poem Excerpt
Then I rested, a cycle fallow. Said winter. Said the ground
is too cold to break, pony. Said I almost set fire
to it all, lit a match, watched it ghost in the wind.

Came the thaw, came the melting snowpack, the flooded river,
new groundwater, the well risen. I stood in the mud field
and called it a pasture. Stood with a needle in my mouth

and called it a song. Everything rushed past my small ears:
whir in the leaves, whir in the wing and the wood. About time
to get a hammer, I thought. About time to get a nail and saw.
—from “The moon rose over the bay. I had a lot of feelings.”
The Renunciations is a book of resilience, survival, and the journey to radically shift one’s sense of self in the face of trauma. Moving between a childhood marked by love and abuse and the breaking marriage of that adult child, Donika Kelly charts memory and the body as landscapes to be traversed and tended. These poems construct life rafts and sanctuaries even in their most devastating confrontations with what a person can bear, with how families harm themselves. With the companionship of “the oracle”—an observer of memory who knows how each close call with oblivion ends—the act of remembrance becomes curative, and personal mythologies give way to a future defined less by wounds than by possibility.

In this gorgeous and heartrending second collection, we find the home one builds inside oneself after reckoning with a legacy of trauma—a home whose construction starts “with a razing.”

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An extraordinary collection of endurance and transformation by the award-winning author of Bestiary

About the Author

Donika  Kelly
Credit: Ladan Osman
Donika Kelly is the author of The Renunciations and Bestiary, winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for poetry, and the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. She teaches at the University of Iowa.
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  • “These poems map the overlapping geographies of trauma and desire, combining Ovidian imagery with an emphasis on omission, redaction, and revision.”The New Yorker
  • “[The Renunciations] is a lionhearted odyssey through the self, a casting aside of old mythologies and traumas in search of new stories fashioned from love and joy. . . . Like some sort of oracle, Kelly offers us the words to create our own destinies.”—
  • “These walloping lyrics land like a punch to the gut, but just as powerful is what Kelly elides and omits. . . . A harrowing work of courageous lyricism.”Booklist
  • “[The Renunciations] is impeccably structured. . . . Kelly’s second effort feels scraped raw, seeking to understand humanity in primal terms in the same way as her debut, but here building to even grander emotional and linguistic crescendo.”Library Journal, starred review
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