Synopses & Reviews
Selected by Sally Keith as a winner of the 2020 National Poetry Series, this debut collection is a ruminative catalogue of overgrowth and the places that haunt us.
With Devon Walker-Figueroa as our guide, we begin in the collection's eponymous town of Philomath, Oregon. We drift through the general store, into the Nazarene Church, past people plucking at the brambles of a place that won't let them go. We move beyond the town into fields and farmland — and further still, along highways, into a cursed Californian town, a museum in Florence. We wander with a kind of animal logic, like a beast with "a mindto get loose / from a valley fallowing / towards foul," through the tense, overlapping space between movement and stillness.
Like an explorer at the edge of the sublime, Walker-Figueroa writes in quiet awe of nature, of memory, and of a beauty that is "merelyexistence carrying on and carrying on." In her wanderings, she coaches readers toward a kind of witness that doesn't flinch from the bleak or bizarre: A vineyard engulfed in flames is reclaimed by the fields. A sow smothers its young, then bears more. A neighbor chews locusts in his yard.
For in Philomath, it is the poet's (sometimes reluctant) obligation "to keep an eye / on what is left" of the people and places that have impacted us. And there is always something left, whether it is the smell of burnt grapes, a twelfth-century bronze, or even a lock of hair.
"Devon Walker-Figueroa is that rare being — a poet who is both a brilliantly heartrending lyricist and a scathingly precise portraitist; a poet who experiments with the forms of verse, and a natural-born storyteller whose sympathy for the vividly rendered residents of Philomath recalls the Tilbury Town of Edwin Arlington Robinson and the Winesburg, Ohio of Sherwood Anderson. This is poetry throwing off sparks with the élan of Ai, Raymond Carver, and Sharon Olds — though Walker-Figueroa is a totally original voice." Joyce Carol Oates
"I couldn't be more delighted than to have found Devon Walker-Figueroa's Philomath. Philomath is a place, a small town in Kings Valley, Oregon. Here, the neighbor eats locusts and every daughter is blonde. If one of the book's motives is 'Find[ing] a way out of this valley named for a family so dead / everyone calls them Kings, ' the means is music. There is a harp, a violin, Gregorian chants, and hymns, but what drew me in was the music of the sentence, of the poetic line. One truly senses a poet trying to hear the world around her, in all of its trouble, complexity and joy. If whatever it means 'to become' has a sound, Devon Walker-Figueroa can hear it, 'the way a blood's fever can outlast the mind's.'" Sally Keith
"Humming, whirring, and burning with ghosts, prayer, and grief, Devon Walker-Figueroa's incandescent Philomath--lit by loss and longing, and radiant with intelligence--is ablaze." Robyn Schiff
About the Author
Devon Walker-Figueroa is the author of Philomath, selected for the 2020 National Poetry Series by Sally Keith. She is a writer, editor, and erstwhile professional ballet dancer who grew up in Kings Valley, a ghost town in the Oregon Coast Range. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the 2018 recipient of the New England Review's Emerging Writer Award, Walker-Figueroa has published poems in such journals as the American Poetry Review, The Nation, POETRY, Lana Turner, the Harvard Advocate, Ploughshares, and the New England Review. She is currently enrolled in NYU's fiction MFA program, teaches writing courses at Saint Joseph's College in Brooklyn, and serves as the co-founding editor of Horsethief Books.