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Other titles in the American Poets Continuum series:
American Poets Continuum #142: The Keys to the Jailby Keetje Kuipers
Synopses & Reviews
The Keys to the Jail continues Elizabeth Bishop's tradition of the art of losing, but delves deeper into the self-accusatory nature of loss and blame. The bereft female speakers in these poems blame themselves for everything—the harsh words of failed love, the aging of a once-beautiful body, even their own voracious desires—and come face-to-face with many things our culture loathes: an unsanitized death, a sagging breast, the sense of isolation in a crowded world. Making use of such obsessive forms as the villanelle and pantoum, Keetje Kuipers ultimately brings us to a contemporary landscape of acquiescence, one without redemption or forgiveness.
In Medias Res:
The ocean is a fist, inside of which I
am allowed to be heartbroken. From here,
the collarless dogs on the beach don't look so unloved.
Or, if they are, they don't seem to mind.
I can't hear the church bells or train whistle—
they might not be sounding at all.
And the little caps on the waves beat against me
In flickers like wings of cabbage whites.
I can love any part of myself: arms
with salmon belly undersides, ears full of sand, fish-ladder tongue.
Of course I'm drowning. I meant it that way.
Keetje Kuipers's debut collection, Beautiful in the Mouth, won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. She holds a BA at Swarthmore College and an MFA from the University of Oregon. A former Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University, she is currently an assistant professor at Auburn University.
"Love lost, love almost lost, landscapes explored (especially those of the mountain West), sex imagined, and sex enjoyed all play their parts in this strongly felt, if sometimes talky, second effort from Kuipers (Beautiful in the Mouth). Never coy about her symbols, she decides 'The ocean is a fist, inside of which I/ am allowed to be heartbroken,' while elsewhere (in a persona poem called 'The Femme') 'I want to transgress the halls of sex,/ eat the filter on the cigarette.' Her poems about love between women can be her strongest, and her identities complex: 'I'll keep wanting it all: every man/ and woman I meet,' a not-quite-sonnet promises. Short sentences alternate with longer self-explanations, never abstruse, sometimes obvious, but sometimes wise. Kuiper divides her time between Alabama and Montana, and both the warm South and the cold forests enter her work: more than in her debut, though, her sense of place serves her sense of how people behave. Fans of Mark Doty, or of Eavan Boland will find a lot here to like, especially once they get past the predictable breakup poems, into the verse about self-discovery, lust pursued or affection found, where the poet exclaims, 'hope is the saddest/ secret of all: Please, be wild for me.'" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
This highly anticipated second collection boldly addresses female anger, reaching beyond traditional roles for a new place in the world.
The Keys to the Jail asks the question of who is to blame for all weve lost, calling us to reexamine the harsh words of failed love, the aging of a once-beautiful body, even our own voracious desires. Keetje Kuipers is a poet of daring leaps and unflinching observations, whose richly textured lyrics travel from Montanas great wildernesses to the ocean-fogged streets of San Francisco as they search out the heart thats lost its way.
In the flattening California dusk,
women gather under palms with their bags
of bottles and cans. The grass is feathered
with the trash of the day, paper napkins
blowing across the legs of those who still
drown on a patchwork of blankets. Shirtless
in the phosphorescent gloom of streetlamps,
they lie suspended. This is my one good
life—watching the exchange of embraces,
counting the faces assembled outside
the ice-cream shop, sweet tinge of urine by
the bridge above the tracks, broken bike lock
of the gay couples hands, desperate clapping
of dark pigeons—who will take it from me?
A former Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry, Keetje Kuipers's debut collection, Beautiful in the Mouth, won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. She has been the Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Resident, and is currently an assistant professor at Auburn University.
About the Author
Keetje Kuipers is a native of the Northwest. She earned her B.A. at Swarthmore College and her M.F.A. at the University of Oregon. She has been the recipient of a number of fellowships, including those from the Vermont Studio Center, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and Oregon Literary Arts.
In 2007 Keetje completed her tenure as the Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Resident, which provided her with seven months of solitude in Oregon's Rogue River Valley. She used her time there to complete work on her book, Beautiful in the Mouth, which was awarded the 2009 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and was published in 2010 by BOA Editions. It contains poems previously published in Prairie Schooner, West Branch, Willow Springs, and AGNI, among others. You can also listen to her read her work—which has been nominated seven years in a row for the Pushcart Prize—at the online audio archive From the Fishouse. Keetjes second book, The Keys to the Jail, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in the spring of 2014, and contains poems previously published in American Poetry Review, Jubilat, and the Indiana Review.
Keetje was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University from 2009-2011, and she was the Emerging Writing Lecturer at Gettysburg College from 2011-2012. Currently she is an Assistant Professor at Auburn University where she lives with her family and their dog, Bishop (named after Elizabeth, of course).
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