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The Fact of the Matter by Sally Keith

The Fact of the Matter by Sally Keith, published by Milkweed Editions on 100 percent post-consumer waste paper and who will be at the 2013 Gaithersburg Book Festival) allows nature to run rampant through the poems, lifting up the reader and at the same time opening the door to reality.  While we strive to compartmentalize our lives to the before, during, and after of pivotal moments, the reality is that these moments are not separate and cannot be separated.  This analytical approach to our very journeys runs contrary to the emotional and experiential ways in which we live.  The struggle between the logical part of the brain and the emotional part can be seen in every poem, but it is particularly pronounced in the poems “Providence,” “Knot,” and “Crane.”

Keith’s use of nature elements, especially wind, provide readers with not only emotional cues to the state of things, but also paints vivid landscapes that evoke emotional responses.  In each poem, there is a longing for the past and what was, but it is not so overwhelming that the present moment nor the emotional memory of the past is lost.  While facts play a key role in grounding some of these poems, behind the scenes Keith weaves a narrative that haunts each poem with a depth of emotion and progression toward the realization of one’s own mortality and its nearness at all times.  “What is Nothing But a Picture,” is a prime example of this technique as the narrator paints a mural of seascapes and battles in the past, while examining the past, present, and end.  Like with many artists, there is a restless to the narrative, and this restlessness becomes overwhelming by the end of the poem when “The dogs’ hot breath hits in gusts./Clouds thicken.  Clouds splice/down far-off mountainsides no one sees./The surface of the ocean is heavy./The surface is a ruin that breathes./”  (pages 27-42)

For Example (page 52)

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.

Keith references the great battles and losses of Achilles and Hector on more than one occasion, and it would seem that these references point to a kinship between these heroes and the people of today, although the losses may not achieve the same legendary magnitude.  The Fact of the Matter by Sally Keith explores not only the facts of matter, but also the emotional ties that bind us and the art that is born out of those experiences, which can never truly capture those moments in the same way that they were lived — a kind of existential examination of grief and mortality.

About the Poet:

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 Georgia’s 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.

This is my 20th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

 

 

This is my 30th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

 

 

 

She’ll be at the May Gaithersburg Book Festival for “Poetry in the Afternoon” moderated by me!

  • Based on the poem you excerpted, I’m not sure this one is my cup of tea. I’m glad you liked it, though.

    • There are other poems that are better, but this was the shortest