The third collection from Katie Ford finds the poet in a state of panic, and alchemizes her terror into taut, considered language. The book opens with the trauma of a premature birth (“our daughter weighs seven hundred dimes, / paperclips, teaspoons of sugar”) and, throughout its first section, charts the desperation and uncertainty of loving a newborn who may not live. “After a while, I stopped asking whether my child would survive, / although everything I asked in its stead / could be heard as this question,” Ford writes—and this is indeed the relentless, stricken question of her book, as she turns her attention to wars in the Middle East in the second section, and the idea of bringing a vulnerable child into a world of turmoil. The poems’ high stakes and sense of scale undergird Ford’s tendency toward the high lyric register, which in turn suits her religiosity and interest in transcendence. The luminous “Snow at Night” (“I prefer it even to love”) follows in the tradition of poems riffing on Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo”: “...the snow I love covers / my beasts and seas, / my ferns and spines / worn through and through. / I will change your life, it says, / to which I say please.” If there is terror on one side of Ford’s tribulation, there is awe and gratitude on the other. Witnessing the miracle of her daughter’s growth, she marvels: “Such are the wonders I saw.”
This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2014.