NEXT DOOR TO THE DEAD: POEMS

From Next Door to the Dead, 
University Press of Kentucky, 2015.

When Kathleen Driskell tells her husband that she's gone to visit the neighbors, she means something different than most. The noted poet―whose last book, Seed across Snow, was twice listed as a national bestseller by the Poetry Foundation―lives in an old country church just outside Louisville, Kentucky. Next door is an old graveyard that she was told had fallen out of use. In this marvelous new collection, this turns out not to be the case as the poet's fascination with the "neighbors" brings the burial ground back to life.

Editorial Reviews

"An astonishing collection, thoughtfully crafted and admirably honest, that makes us think about all the modes of knowing another person (and of not really knowing them)."―Lisa Williams, author of Gazelle in the House

"Each poem in this collection is very carefully composed and fully realized―line by line and poem by poem, this is a satisfying book. One of the impressive features is how it works not simply as a collection of poems, but also as a whole book that deepens and expands with each page."―Maurice Manning, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist The Common Man

"I've always loved Keats's phrase "the mighty dead," but I never understood it fully until I read Kathleen Driskell's quietly explosive meditations on life and death. There's a somber beauty to these poems; in them, the dead and living visit each other easily, singing of the rich mysteries on both sides of the divide."―David Kirby

"Lorca said all art must be suffused with duende or the shadow of death, and for Kathleen Driskell her life is filled with the duende of living next to a graveyard and being reminded every time she looks out her window of that looming end. Children taken too soon, wives, soldiers, and those that are left behind―their stories are at the heart of living. These stark and moving poems give voice to our deepest mystery."―Barbara Hamby

"With Next Door to the Dead, Kathleen Driskell has written her path to the Kentuckian sublime. And she has found her own access to the many ghosts of the south there, and has bodied those ghosts forth in poems that are heartbreaking, wary, and local in the best sense―she sees the world in the local, and communicates the world faithfully, one life at a time, giving a voice to everyone from a Egyptologist who has been abandoned in death by their soul, to Wanda, "who, were she still / living, might have said, / 'if I hadn't answered the call, / would I still be dead?'"―Shane McCrae, Spalding University and Oberlin College

ARS POETICA ~ Kathleen Driskell

Most headstones are covered with green and purple
lichen, ruffled frill as humble as cabbage,
so ancient they can only be read with fingers,

but, besides those, there are the more recent graves dug
by men with long hair and cigarettes, shovels, and yellow boots
while I have watched from my laundry-room window. How is it

I have come to take carrion comfort looking out over all resting
in the little churchyard next door? No matter. With this
dark nourishment, imagination, my only god, lifts, takes wing.

IN PRAISE  ~  Kathleen Driskell

For the doe hit a week ago, knocked dead
to the cemetery culvert, I praise the buzzards
for coming out into the sleet and darkening day,
when the roadman would not. Praise
the greasy black prayer-circle, forgive
their unctuous attention. And the dark congregation,
a dozen or more who roost in the bare branches
of surrounding trees and praise to those at the outer
limbs who keep wait like feudal sentries
in worn-shine coats. All ready pallbearers
who will lift high the deer into the grave
weeping sky. But I’m also grateful for the one
in particular who has come to squat atop
the humble lichen-covered monument
of Sarah Blakemore, who had birthed six children, all
dead and lain before she. My highest praise is sent
to this dark angel of brief ornament.


NEXT DOOR TO THE DEAD ~ Kathleen Driskell

I say it as if I might run over
with an empty cup
to ask Mrs. Luck for some sugar,

for surely long-lived Mrs. Luck
(1818-1898), was fortunate enough
to grab something sweet to take with her

into the grave. I say “next door” as if
it’s a place I might call upon for a needed egg 
or a length of green thread.

I’m going to walk next door, I call,
and my husband understands
I’ve gone to visit our nearest neighbors,

to walk among the one
hundred and twelve headstones,
planted thus far. Granted,
I never plan to knock, wouldn’t want to
intrude, don’t have time to
come through any door—

though, I suppose, that’s what each
lying here said, when he or she
dropped in to visit the dead.


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