poems by Jen McClanaghan
2013 First Book winner, selected by Nikky Finney
"River Legs is a powerful and haunting debut"---David Wojahn
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Jen McClanaghan’s poems roam across the most intimate of terrains: love, loss, and memory. They pause over the poet’s personal tragedies before turning back to the world’s larger calamities, never for long letting the one escape the shadow of the other. River Legs is nostalgic for the prelapsarian world of two-parent households, of dogs half-asleep on the front lawn, of youth and first love. But its wistfulness is tainted by the knowledge that the world is not only fallen but even now falling. Fathers die, mothers drink themselves sick, relationships fray. Meanwhile, these poems turn to the careful order of language, not to keep the world at bay but to finally allow it in.
Jen McClanaghan was educated at Antioch College, Columbia University, and Florida State University. After earning her PhD, she completed a two-year postdoc as resident scholar at The Southern Review, where she edited a special issue on Americana. Her work has appeared in numerous places including The New Yorker, Best American Poetry 2013), The Iowa Review, The Southern Review, and New England Review. Her poetry manuscript, a finalist for the Dorset Prize and the National Poetry Series, was selected by Nikky Finney for Kore's first-book prize. She is at work on her second collection.
I own up to my own crime
against myself, which isn’t my simple lie
but not letting the world in,
my words swallowed in a private wind,
my thinking too small to deliver me
to the edge of a greater valley,
offering a hand, a sip of water and something of faith
in language, which brings you to me.
from "My Lie," River Legs
Nikky Finney says of River Legs: "The mark of a truly imaginative poet is to say what we human beings all feel in a way that's never been said before. That's what happens in River Legs. Beautiful work! Tender. Gutsy. Full of treasured phrases and wonderings. The poet never gives up until all the pieces of the poem come together. She builds such a strong path with the surprise of language until we leave our predictable worlds behind---completely trusting each and every step."
"Jen McClanaghan's poems are quietly astonishing, and few first collections display such a self-assured control of tone. Her writing is reflective but tough-minded, filled with self-reckonings but shorn of self-pity, and fearless in its ability to mix the lyric sublime with a solid measure of the absurd. River Legs is a powerful and haunting debut."---David Wojahn
"How generous these poems are! And how we need them—at a time in history when hearts are often weighed and sold like lobsters, Jennifer McClanaghan offers beauty where there was ugliness but a moment before, music within discord, a caress instead of a blow, the warmth of a hearth in a cold world, tenderness in a stony one. Let beauty in, she says, have faith in words, and offer your hand—the right person will take it."---David Kirby
"For the past several years, Jen McClanaghan has been, among her generation of young poets, one of my must-read favorites and now, with the publication of her debut collection, River Legs, her full-voiced arrival on the national scene feels like a triumph for those of us who swear allegiance to the vitality of American poetry.