Synopses & Reviews
Donika Kelly's fierce debut collection, longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award and winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize.
I thought myself lion and serpent. Thought
myself body enough for two, for we.
Found comfort in never being lonely.
What burst from my back, from my bones, what lived
along the ridge from crown to crown, from mane
to forked tongue beneath the skin. What clamor
we made in the birthing. What hiss and rumble
at the splitting, at the horns and beard,
at the glottal bleat. What bridges our back.
What strong neck, what bright eye. What menagerie
are we. What we've made of ourselves.
— from "Love Poem: Chimera"
Across this remarkable first book are encounters with animals, legendary beasts, and mythological monsters — half human and half something else. Donika Kelly's Bestiary is a catalogue of creatures — from the whale and ostrich to the pegasus and chimera to the centaur and griffin. Among them too are poems of love, self-discovery, and travel, from "Out West" to "Back East." Lurking in the middle of this powerful and multifaceted collection is a wrenching sequence that wonders just who or what is the real monster inside this life of survival and reflection. Selected and with an introduction by the National Book Award winner Nikky Finney, Bestiary questions what makes us human, what makes us whole.
“Spend only a minute or two in Donika Kelly’s poetry, and you’ll almost begin to feel your body moving along with the rhythm of her writing. Her lines pound, and declare, and expose and challenge...” Bustle
“[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.” Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“Striking....Kelly is a descendant of Sylvia Plath by way of the wintry Louise Glück — her poems are animated by roiling, mostly dark emotion, but they’re spare, composed and often quite short...” The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Donika Kelly is a poet and a scholar, and is currently a lecturer in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Program at the University of California, Davis. Her poems have appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, Indiana Review, and West Branch.