Begin with a Failed Body

Poems by Natalie J. Graham
Selected by Kwame Dawes

Poems that consider the body as a site for revelation


“Graham’s intellectual tentacles are long, and her imagination is generous. She is constantly searching for something to pull into the body, to feed the body. Her verse is terse, marked by technical compaction, and yet it is simultaneously grandly encompassing and voracious in its interests. In her we have a poet acutely sensitive to the ways of the body, its betrayals, its pleasures, and its unknowable selves. She is an exciting new voice.”
—Kwame Dawes, poet, professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and editor-in-chief of Prairie Schooner magazine

"Poems that speak both to the richness and ruin of history and teem with all that is earthy and corporeal."
—Julia Bouwsma, Poetry Northwest

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This collection of poems begins rooted in the landscape of the U.S. South as it voices singular lives carved out of immediate and historical trauma. While these poems dwell in the body, often meditating on its frailty and desire, they also question the weight that literary, historical, and religious icons are expected to bear. Within the vast scope of this volume, the poems arc from a pig farmer’s funeral to Georges de la Tour’s paintings and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. With an ear tuned to the lift and lilt of speech, they wring song from sorrow and plant in every dirge a seed of jubilation. Rich in clarity and decisive in her attention to image, Natalie J. Graham writes resonant, lush poetry.

Excerpt from “Ophelia by Water” in Begin with a Failed Body

Even with the buzz and prick of summer,
what thumped in her brain
was not the pulse of a dark thicket,
the frenetic crescendo of cicadas,
but snippets of verse that sounded sacred.
She turned away from noise,
cooling her hem in the current,
washing a hand over her face.

Lit from within,
she was a candle to the cerulean shadows,
perched on the edge
of a black tangle of climbing vines.
She waited, a doll half wooden and half glass.

Cave Canem Poetry Prize

Page count: 88
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


List price: $19.95

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Natalie J. Graham is an associate professor of African American studies at California State University, Fullerton.