Winner of the 2019 UNT Rilke Prize
Judges’ full citation:
“But death is not the subject of our portrait,” writes David Keplinger in the opening poem of Another City, as if to suggest the book’s meditations on mortality and wounded dissatisfaction are equally haunted by metaphysical longing and the vast otherworld in the near at hand. To arrive in a body, through the body of another, is to feel its suffering as the echo, however distant, of our own. The cough of a dying mother could travel miles and yet arrive with a sharpened sense of its smallness, and hers, poised on the brink of the invisible. In poems of such keen attentions and imaginative wit, the intimation of always another city registers both an awareness of our inevitable diminishment and the possibility of some vaster sphere, some landscape of domes and illuminations, to mitigate our loneliness and loss. “Nothing was itself alone,” he writes. “In this way, it all grew larger.”
Another City (2018)
"The exquisite poems in David Keplinger’s Another City possess the weight and certitude of stone, yet break within one as geodes: their depths prismatic yet dreamlike, enigmatic yet also deeply familiar. From familial histories to Lincoln’s imperfect embalming, Marie Curie’s radioactive notebook to an examination of the ache of quotidian objects, there is a wholly radiant center to this collection, a dazzling multiplicity of cities and citizens, losses and revelations. The domes of these pages—both funerary and celestial—are those in which the great poets sing."
Another City is my fifth collection of poetry. Poems from the volume have won the Cavafy Prize from Poetry International and the Erskine Poetry Prize from Smartish Pace, with other work having appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, AGNI, and elsewhere.
In the padlocked trunk before they dropped him
in the river, Houdini was said to foresee
his mother’s death. Stuck in his box, at the end
of a chain, he felt the death, its approach,
her worry growing smaller at the eyes as she
removed herself from herself, her body shrunken
to the size of a keyhole. I believe that grief
can travel distances like that. My mother’s
cough would wake me up at night, two hundred
miles away. That was a year ago, before she
got too small. She drowned in a cloud
of bright white baby hair. She lay on the bed
as if on a board, the last I saw her, still and calm.
Then truly as if a lever were pulled, she tipped
backward, out of view.
We had the Latin of the waves at night.
We had the vernacular of tears.
We had the alternate ending, plan B,
in which we stayed together. We had
plan A, in which we would part.
We had the letters I have burned,
in which you spoke of our past life
as married, in a forest, on bicycles,
the trees angry seraphim, and darkness
coming. We had this now, not that.
We had that once, now this.
The sun was neither rising nor setting.
Our kisses plosives. The sex, the one time,
is sibilant: shh, before you cross the room
in a nightgown, the knock at the door.
Because it has fed
on the bottoms of rivers, and got fat,
we buy the carp at Christmastime.
It bends in its U in the porcelain tub.
With rolled-up sleeves my father
lifts the carp, winds a white rag
round its eyes. He uses the hammer
to quiet the suck of its mouth,
the tail’s denials, its thumping.
The carp was introduced in Western water
seven hundred years ago. But it came
from farther east: its body continually
revising itself. He opens it with one slice
down the side, his awful Bible.
In the city I’m traveling to,
awnings billow up in wind and light.
Winter is early. We are surprised
we are surprised. The waiters
in their tiny jackets pull their jackets
close against the sudden cold.
In the city I’m traveling to, I arrive
on the train, its only passenger.
A man in black clothes helps me down.
A constable is twirling his baton.
A servant bears my latched-up trunk,
but ruefully, ruefully. He is gone.
A certain old woman is waiting to sell me
my carnation: to offer it with one hand,
to cover her teeth with the other.
American Poetry Review
Endorsements from the back matter of Another City:
"Like Joseph Cornell's elegant and bewitching boxes, David Keplinger's poems are miniatures which reveal a universe. Although the poems begin in the quotidian, they are apt to end in revelation. And these arrivals are made all the more resonant thanks to Keplinger's exacting metaphors and unerring command of free verse craft. Yet Keplinger also reminds us, again and again, that revelation is by no means easy to come by. As he writes in one of the poems, "Now for the rest of your life/you are trying to be born/through a wound," a passage of Rilkean intensity which suggests that for Keplinger the stakes are very high indeed. I admire his poems immensely, and Another City is his finest collection yet."
“There is a lonely ride in every story,” David Keplinger writes, and in each and every quietly stunning lyric in his new collection, Another City, Keplinger locates that journey—however small, however iconic—and undertakes it. Sometimes the sojourn comes from his own experience, at others from the annals of his family, or from historical and literary figures as various as Walt Whitman, Simone Weil, Abraham Lincoln, Marie Curie, and Houdini. Within the places (somatic, textual, geographical) that house us and those that we house within us, Keplinger—frank, compressed, darkly witty, and never far from a sense of mythic wonder—makes clear that the purpose of a pilgrimage is to locate in any “city” the profoundly humane citizenry of the isolato. “[D]eath is not the subject of our portrait. / It is,” he writes in “The City of Birth,” “the knowing you are seen, / it is the lighting of one’s light, it is to take/ a body, knowing you are not the body. / That’s loneliness.” In what Keplinger calls, in another poem, “our days of faithless translation,” we are beyond lucky to have Keplinger interpreting our steps with ardent, articulate compassion.”
—Lisa Russ Spaar
“Another City is thoughtful, funny, and transgressive. I’d say that David Keplinger has a voice we need to hear—except that’s not quite right because, like Whitman, his “voice” contains multitudes..All these voices accumulate to a rich texture, inflected by literature and travel. I’ve rarely stood back in such awe at a collection’s ordering principles, its bone structure. These cities open their mouths and sing.”
“I cherish and am grateful for these poems for the way the sweep of them disturbs me out of my complacency, and although I'm not certain as to who it is who tells me these poems, who sometimes even sings these poems out loud so I can hear them rise above the noisy hubbub of our lives, I know that he is capable of a powerful wrenching of the past into the painfully clear light of knowing, and I know that he, this speaker, presents or illustrates really, a frighteningly familiar record of someone confronting the essence of who he is in the world in the middle of his life without any reaching for self-praise or even salvation.”
Read my interview with AU MFA candidate Melody Tootoonchi at Cafe MFA here