A luminous new collection from Keetje Kuipers, All Its Charms is a fearless and transformative reckoning of identity. By turns tender and raw, these poems chronicle Kuipers’ decision to become a single mother by choice, her marriage to the woman she first fell in love with more than a decade before giving birth to her daughter, and her family’s struggle to bring another child into their lives. All Its Charms is about much more than the reinvention of the American familyit’s about transformation, desire, and who we can become when we move past who we thought we would be.
About the Author
Keetje Kuipers is the author of three books of poems, all from BOA Editions: Beautiful in the Mouth (2010), winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize; The Keys to the Jail (2014); and All Its Charms (2019). Kuipers’ poems, essays, and short stories have appeared in Best American Poetry, Narrative, American Poetry Review, Orion, Prairie Schooner, The Writer’s Almanac, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series. She has been a Wallace Stegner Fellow, Bread Loaf’s Katharine Bakeless Nason Fellow, the Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College, and the recipient of fellowships from the Lucas Artist Residency, the Jentel Artist Residency Foundation, Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, and PEN Northwest’s Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency. Kuipers lives with her wife and daughter on an island in the Salish Sea, where she is a faculty member at Seattle’s Hugo House and Senior Editor at Poetry Northwest.
Read an Excerpt
Landscape with Sage and the Names of My Children
I picked all the flowers, I palmed all the stones.
I dropped the nameless insects onto my tongue
and felt their black wings unfurl. I held the dead
buck by his antlers and dragged him through the sage,
brought my teeth to the tender bridge of ribs and fed
until the glossy maggots overtook me.
I climbed the red rocks robed in their red dust.
I put the earthall its charmswithin me,
into each waiting pocket. Lip and ear.
What will happen when my body can no longer
hold this fragrant salt, its hardened tears,
inside? Let mine into the dirt. The names
I’ve chosen for my children are already fast
across the sky like the ochre feathers that frame
the blackbird’s shrug. There is no such thing
as a scar, no matter how much I want
to be one. Every birtheven the wings
• f the caddis lifting from the river
in a shrouda momentary hunger.
Glassblower’s Glossary of Flaws and Defects
Small parison, slack and heavy bauble,
I breathed you into being with my want,
my belief in your fragile form I’d thought
to coax to life with pinpricks and prayers.
From my belly’s furnace, I imagined
pulling you wholebeveled, and thinly
gilded with meconium’s sharp-scented glaze.
Within my body’s medicated light,
your molten form grew rivets and grooves, frit
coloring and clinging to your lucent bones,
lengths along which you might someday be touched.
When you refused conjuring, I carried
for months a dullness in my mouth, still not
knowing I had burnt my tongue on desire.
Self-Care at the Playground
The sidewalk grows a golden fur
• f fallen leaves, and on the swings
in the park, a woman sounds
an off-key minor chord, her body
participating in a kind of joy
uncomfortable for the rest of us.
In my pocket, the small screen
waits for me, each page queued
to show me everything I make myself
know, including a man in his car,
his girlfriend in the passenger seat,
the child in the back. Later, I will watch
the bullets empty his body again and again.
I am not important, I repeat
to myself as I pump my legs,
looking up to watch through the sky
itself a glowing screentwenty-seven
undulating shades of whitethe colors
• f crushed and strewn shells
as the leaves fall through it
with their messages of red.
The Great Lakes
My wife, the one I thought I’d never have
because does any of us believe we deserve
to be happy in this life?lets my daughter paint
her toenails a sloppy silver as my aunt smokes
a second cigarette and pages through photos
• n her phone so I can see how the car looked
after my cousin wrecked it last month
in a past-midnight field near the poultry
processing plant just a half mile from grandma’s
unsold househigh on meth or heroin
• r maybe not high at all but fighting
her hungerwhile I pick through this dead
girl’s jewelry just as starved for something
to hold onto as those feckless gulls pecking
the sand a few feet away. The sun is shining
brighter than the gold-plated necklace
I fasten around my neck and swear to wear
forever, and even though scientists are finding
nicotine in the water and oxy in the mussels,
my cousin’s kids are down there at the edge
• f the beach screaming their heads off
with the pure joy of plunging below the surface.
It’s hard not to feel good watching the waves.
But my aunt needs me to believe in the glass
and the blood, and her daughter’s body
a thing unidentifiable, a thing none of us
had really seen in years. She needs me to understand
that her pain is water as far as the eye can see.
What People are Saying About This
“Keetje Kuipers’s poems are daring, formally beautiful, and driven by rich imagery and startling ideas.” Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate, author of Wade in the Water
“Keetje Kuipers’s All Its Charms is one of the finest books of poetry I know. It springs from the land of the American West like a cottonwood tree or a pronghorn calf and shimmers before us. Her exquisite ear makes each poem strike notes of delight that surprise, and her voice beguiles whether speaking to an invisible unbegotten girl, or seeing ‘the nasturtiums sweating on the vine,’ or hearing a father’s ‘tin pan trembling heart.’ Over and over again the poet sings and causes some bristling elegant new thing to appear before us. It is that ancient impossible magic that charms water from stones and makes art endure. Here is a perfect book of poems.” Steve Scafidi, author of To the Bramble and the Briar
“In All Its Charms , the third volume from this remarkable poet, we enter with serious pleasure into an unfolding tapestry of resourceful and intelligent figuration, her gorgeous language tying together elements of the natural world with the glorious ether of the metaphysical. Connecting body to landscape, seaspawn and seawrack to striations of the uterus, baby to the blossom of milk from her breast, Kuipers is a Lucretius of motherhood and sexuality, seeking consolation not for the limit of death, but from the trials of incarnation, tasting their splendor on skin and tangles of hair emanating from love’s body. Her poetry is a garland of milk petalled down her shirtfront, the page of life she’s written on the body. She makes me feel... She makes me feel like a natural woman.” Garrett Hongo, author of Coral Road
“I exited All Its Charms begrudgingly, so charmed was I by the world inside its pages. Keetje Kuipers delights in the usually overlooked moments in nature and human naturethe small town drag show, the clear cut landscape with ‘yellow Cat dozers popping up on distant hillsides / like morels to be collected after the first warm days,’ the daughter's spilled juice the speaker wipes with ‘the old plaid boxers of the man I thought I'd marry.’ In these small moments, she locates our big truths. Her vision is original, and her voiceprecise, questioning, sensual, wryis one I'd follow anywhere. This book is a delicious accomplishment.” Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs
“Keetje Kuipers’s luminous new collection more than fulfills its title’s promise. Kuipers works powerful lyric magic, transforming bodies human and animal, living and dead into rivers, trees, molten glass, angels, ‘a cup of coldening cider.’ Landscapes too undergo metamorphoses, ‘the sidewalk grows a golden fur’; ‘magnolias collapse their heavy bosoms.’ Time itself comes alive, ‘the last fleshy hours of another day ripening…’ In voluptuous detail, Kuipers describes her own pregnancy and motherhood. Her breastmilk is ‘ a sticky flower blooming,’ a nursing bra ‘flapping and fearless, one wing taking flight…’ Even when she’s describing death, her images delight, maggots are ‘glossy’ a sparrow’s heart ‘a jewel hidden in haste.’ An awareness of life’s fragility, of the passage of time, runs through these poems, yet the reader feels the pulse of life’s robust insistence. All Its Charms is a book of ‘plentitude, mass, sweetness contained.’” Ellen Bass, author of Like a Beggar
“Keetje Kuipers’s collection charms not with flattery, but more like a good friend who cares enough to tell the hand-to-God truth to your face. This flint-eyed but tender honesty comes across in Kuipers’s minute observations of the American landscape as well as of the pleasures and disappointments of the body. The poems in All Its Charms are also bracingly candid about the polarities of parenthood: the movement between joy at new life and fear at the army of small, lurking dangers that threaten it. The language and images may be startling in these pages, but the insights are austere and lay bare a necessary corner of the human world.” Iain Haley Pollock, author of Ghost, like a Place