Geometry of the Restless Herd

Geometry of the Restless Herd

by Sophie Cabot Black
Geometry of the Restless Herd

Geometry of the Restless Herd

by Sophie Cabot Black


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Inverting the pastoral, Sophie Cabot Black uses the keeping of animals and tending of land to interrogate the self and in turn reveal new truths about the social, economic, and political realities of contemporary America.

In Geometry of the Restless Herd, Sophie Cabot Black stages a powerful allegory for the social and political realities of our human world. Through hauntingly metaphysical poems set within a sheepherder’s domain, Black conjures fields of harvest and resurrection, of wagers and outcomes—animals to keep, and those destined for slaughter. Here, both singular voices and polyvocal choruses argue through discourse, asking who has the real power, and how are we to survive the violence we do to each other?

Black’s scenes are at once oneiric and raw: a squeaking gate wails against neglect; a field receives a runt body; a raccoon flees with egg dripping from its mouth—all while lush rains and long winters quiet the dead. Navigating both confining pens and wide-open spaces, these poems ask startlingly immediate questions about captivity and freedom, protection and exploitation, confronting the predicaments of late capitalism: industries of infinite regress, technologies that exceed us, and a soul stranded somewhere between expectation and redemption. Ultimately, these stark pastorals paint a moving portrait of life: as utterly inseparable from the world it inhabits.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781619322998
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
Publication date: 05/07/2024
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Sophie Cabot Black (she/her) is the author of four collections of poetry Geometry of the Restless Herd, The Exchange, The Descent, the Connecticut Book Award winner, and The Misunderstanding of Nature, the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award winner. Black has been awarded fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Provincetown's Fine Arts Center, and the Radcliffe Institute as well as prizes including the Grolier Poetry Prize, John Masefield Award from the Poetry Society of America, and Emerging Poets Award from Judith's Room. She was also recognized as a Lambda Literary finalist. Her work can be found in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. Black has taught at the New School, Rutgers, and Columbia University, and she currently teaches creative writing at the 92nd St Y and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She divides her time between New York, Connecticut, and Colorado.

Read an Excerpt


To reduce the one being gone for, go 

Unremarkable. To be mistaken 

For another might be to survive: 

Fold in, swerve, better close by, 

Better dense with others to turn the needed 

Margin in fields outspread 

With enterprise. All domains end 

In a state of danger and whoever falls

Becomes obstacle; options 

Overstated, exits obscured, and the gap 

Repairs and in that convergence 

We do not finish, ever; we figure 

Ourselves as circled circling, the rules begin 

Simple as we steer, pass each other 

Or not, and into vortex or arrow or even as new 

We form the form as we form, 

Move to the nearest 

Neighbor in a brace of what might come,

Use his or her angle without asking 

Where we head; it is too much to remain 

In the clear of anywhere without 

Your own kind. We do not move 

For freedom, we who fill in, ceaseless. Rather 

To be where nowhere is left to choose.


that you are unloved

but that you love

and must decide which 

to remember; tracks left  

in the field, a language 

of going away or coming back--

and to look up 

from the single mind,   

to let untangle  

the far-off snow 

from sky

until no longer

held as proof 

is also where birds

find agreement

strung along branches

each with their own song

for the other:

to sing even so-- 

how to hold the already 

as the not yet 


We believed we knew what made us look up

From the fire. And had been trying 

To remember, gathering. Some of us 

Could no longer breathe, some of us 

Talked too much or too fast, asked 

Too many questions, some not enough. 

We stood and our shadows grew in common

Carrying nothing more to owe. How long 

Had we listened to the agent. Stake 

By stake, plot by plot; the sum 

Was to never run out. My animals, your animals;

My barn, your barn; we were never ready 

To know our herd. Each of us coming from somewhere else

Assembles as if one or two, easily missing,

Will not fit back in. And so the field

Only becomes the shape the market requires

And to set fire just before leaving

For those who want to watch is also to say 

It does not matter what part is played 

But that it gets played. We move faster 

At the end understanding we cannot survive 

Our own boundary. Tired of being told we are

How we chose, now too much to own; tired

Of the neighbor behind each door unsure 

Of what is said. Cannot bear the far

Now close: to inherit what we did not make

And now must pay; done with how to do this,

Do that. Blade by blade the grass returns, 

Under rut or drought, cut or torn, under light 

That cannot help itself, and the wheel 

Notches again to the top. We watch any one of us    

Climb down. And whoever checks the axle 

And the bolt, only tightens what will also loosen.

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