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The Fact of the Matterby Sally Keith
Synopses & Reviews
Praise for The Fact of the Matter
Through contemporary voices and timeless contexts, these haunting poems fracture—then rebuild—lyric expectations. At times drawing from science and art, epic and elegy, The Fact of the Matter transcends, finally, descriptions easy borders. Its achievement is singular and stunning—and places Sally Keith at the forefront of younger American poets.” —Linda Bierds
Force, says Simone Weil, turns humans to things; but beauty is also a force, and both forms are here turned from their inexorable forward movement toward the making of the artist, who transforms their energy into pictures and sounds so crystalline and still we can apprehend the place motion itself begins.” —Eleni Sikelianos
These poems are the still moments between actions; time slowed to its instants, then silently reassembled, so that a thousand years ago is yesterday. Achilles removes his helmet in the next room while Dürer prepares a pigment. These are the unheard whispers of the Odyssey, the hidden corners of the masters studio. Poems and Paintings and History and Love and the space one leaves them for. Herein is purest magic.” —Martin Corless-Smith
In these poems stuck on the intricate work, Sally Keith proves herself not only among this generations most vital poets, she reveals herself as a profound thinker of arts complicated relation to the people and events that fill it. A poem seems to be that which deals with time by resisting its relentlessly mortal march; in doing so it reveals the flaw of our own mortality. One cannot occur without the other, Keith knows. And so these poems trace the ongoing existences of disparate forces: Achilles mourning his lovers death, Muybridges photos of a horse at full gallop, the act (and reenactment) of the golden spike connecting the nation by rail, Smithsons Spiral Jetty, dinner with her mother, and diseased oaks in the yard. They speak lovingly of loves complications—love as a force that depends on fault—and gives to its readers one of the few actual blessings I know: poems unsparing in their care.” —Dan Beachy-Quick
"'I'd obsessed over all the old systems,' asserts Keith in this third book, in which she creates systems — through leaps and variation — to subvert them. In 'Knots' she writes, 'The spine is a series where action begins,' later continuing, 'The spine is a series of knots under skin,' and builds up to: 'On a ship full of species the rhinoceros arrives in Portugal, a gift for the king.// It had been over one thousand years since anyone in Europe had seen one.' At their best, these acrobatic movements from one fact or phrase to a disparate other are not whimsical non sequiturs but revelations bridging history and the inner life. For Keith, discoveries in any discipline — from physics to painting — push humanity forward ('In 1621/ Johannes Kepler/ switches out Ã¢Â€Â˜soul'/ for Ã¢Â€Â˜force''), and myth is used not as a crutch for meaning, but as an anchor for new discourse on selfhood in our moment: 'Achilles refusing and refusing to eat/ Moment you already know: Achilles and the ambrosia/ so again fate might be complete — look steadily — / Moment before the action takes place.' Keith admits 'Our history was not at all unusual' and still 'One travels to the edge/ to see what always is.' (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Moving from the mundane to the profound, first through observation of fact and matter, then shifting perspective, engaging a deeper sense of self, these poems re-imagine things great and small, making us care deeply about the world around us. In this cultivated and intricately crafted collection, Sally Keith shows the self as a crucible of force—that which compels us to exert ourselves upon the world, and meanwhile renders us vulnerable to it. Force by which a line unfurls—as in Robert Smithsons colossal Spiral Jetty—or leads with forward motion—a train hurdling along the west-reaching railroad; Edweard Muybridges photographic reels charting animal and human locomotion. With poems remarkable in their clarity, captivating in their matter-of-factness, Keith examines the impossible and inevitable privacy of being a person in the world, meanwhile negotiating an inexorable pull toward the places we call home—one we alternately try and fail to resist.
The pale undersides of sycamore leaves, knocking
at seed pods hanging in brown bunches
so that they helicopter down.
Slag heap, mad slack, taut song:
Which morning am I making up now?
Somewhere wild animals are seeking cool hollows
in which to lay themselves down.
A wall of cotton disperses in the wind.
Sally Keith is the author of two previous collections of poems, Design and Dwelling Song. She teaches at George Mason University and lives in Washington, DC.
About the Author
Sally Keith is the author of two previous collections of poetry: Design, winner of the 2000 Colorado Prize for Poetry, and Dwelling Song, winner of the University of Georgias Contemporary Poetry Series competition. Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, A Public Space, Gulf Coast, New England Review, and elsewhere. Keith teaches at George Mason University and lives in Washington, DC.
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