Bad Hobby

From Kingsley Tufts Award finalist Kathy Fagan comes Bad Hobby, a perceptive collection focused on memory, class, and might-have-beens.

In a working-class family that considers sensitivity a "fatal diagnosis," how does a child grow up to be a poet? What happens when a body "meant to bend & breed" opts not to, then finds itself performing the labor of care regardless? Why do we think our "common griefs" so singular? Bad Hobby is a hard-earned meditation on questions like these—a dreamscape speckled with swans, ghosts, and weather updates.

Fagan writes with a kind of practical empathy, lamenting pain and brutality while knowing, also, their inevitability. A dementing father, a squirrel limp in the talons of a hawk, a "child who won't ever get born": with age, Fagan posits, the impact of ordeals like these changes. Loss becomes instructive. Solitude becomes a shared experience. "You think your one life precious—"

And Bad Hobby thinks—hard. About lineage, about caregiving. About time. It paces "inside its head, gazing skyward for a noun or phrase to / shatter the glass of our locked cars & save us." And it does want to save us, or at least lift us, even in the face of immense bleakness, or loneliness, or the body changing, failing. "Don't worry, baby," Fagan tells us, the sparrow at her window. "We're okay."


Meditative and richly written, this collection of poems by Kathy Fagan takes the sycamore as its inspiration—and delivers precise, luminous insights on lost love, nature, and the process of recovery.

"It is the season of separation & falling / Away," Fagan writes. And so—like the abundance of summer diminishing to winter, and like the bark of the sycamore, which sheds to allow the tree's expansion—the speaker of these poems documents a painful loss and tenuous rebirth, which take shape against a forested landscape. Black walnuts fall where no one can eat or smell them. Cottonwood sends out feverish signals of pollen. And everywhere are sycamores, informed by Fagan's scientific and mythological research—shedding, growing tall, pale, and hollow enough to accommodate a person. Fluidly metaphorical; filled with references to film, sculpture, and architecture; and linguistically playful—"Word games reveal a lot," says Fagan's speaker—these poems unflinchingly lay bare both the poetic process and an emotional one.

Spellbinding and ambitious—finding catharsis in wordplay and the humanity in nature—Sycamore is an important new work from a writer whose poems "gleam like pearls or slowly burning stones" (Philip Levine).

Named one of 30 to look for in 2017 at Literary Hub.


In this stunning fourth collection, Kathy Fagan expands her ongoing engagement of voice and persona across the borders of both traditional and experimental poetic lines. A book of monologues, portraits, and arias. Lip directs our attention to the sometimes literal ropes and pulleys of the human stage, those operating just out of sight and earshot: the undersructure and the undervoice. Fagan's speakers—historical, anonymous, and often subversively female—hold forth, hold back, enfold, and unleash in forms as multiply textured as their experience. Always, hovering at the mouth of the vessel, in the margin of speech, is lip: anatomical and botanical, sexual and slang, servile and insolent.

In addition to being dazzling examples of one woman's art, the poems in Lip, by moving from mythology to hagiology to evolution (and sometimes back), trace the human mind in its efforts to make sense out of the world and to find a place in it; they bring us up to date, so to speak, and if they have lost faith in many things, they have not lost the courage to speak. They will not back down, they hold to that essential thing, and the voice within them becomes a beloved instrument of breath among the shrieks. - Mary Ruefle

Lip is truly a standout collection of poems. Fagan uses historical figures, quotations, and events as jumping-off points, but these elements also serve to enlarge our awareness of how history stays with us, how public history enters and persists in the private psyche. - Nance Van Winckel

The Charm

Kathy Fagan's The Charm works the true spells of childhood, the superstitions of romance, the bewitching alchmies of words themselves and casts us sun-struck in our lives--doomed, yes, but `dovewinged.' Fact, speculation, nostalgia and mystery are wielded with equal power and stunning craft. Fagan's poetry is stealthy, inventive, and wonderful.... She is writing some of the wisest and alluring poems of our day. - Beckian Fritz Goldberg

There is something both very old and very new—archaic and postmodern—in Kathy Fagan's wise-cracking charms to assuage rage and despair, to ward off misfortune and heartbreak. The Charm dissolves the leaden circles in the air and charms with fresh carols. - Edward Hirsch

Kathy Fagan's rage is subtle, her love draws you in....Strange, entertaining, and touching by turns.... - Bob Hicok


Kathy Fagan's long awaited second collection keeps revealing new strengths, new powers. Its words are of unsparing rigor; its intelligence and vision continually spring forward in changed ways. These are poems both revealing and resistant: deeply felt, deeply communicative, yet avoiding any easy lyricism. Again and again the reader pauses, astonished by some fresh turn of language of insight, of terrain. MOVING & ST RAGE offers extraordinary pleasures, clarities, and depth. - Jane Hirshfield

From the first emblems of language—the angular letters of A and K—a child steps toward the preservation of consciousness, and, in turn, the paradox of preserving that which is lost. These beautifully crafted poems trace a journey to adulthood and grief with a lyrical mastery that is breathtaking. What can language do with loss? Fagan asks. This splendid book is her answer. - Linda Bierds

The Raft

Even before she began writing, [Kathy Fagan] seems to have decided that she would prefer to fail in some gigantic venture rather than succeed in a modest one. . . . In her poetry there are final answers; they are not, perhaps, the final answers we went in search of . . . but they will tell us that we are alive, and that the road ahead is the road behind, that remembrance is foreknowledge. . . . The elements of her vision are common, shoddy . . . but in her poems they gleam like pearls or slowly burning stones. - Philip Levine in Midwest Poetry Review, Vol. 1, No. 3

Kathy Fagan's first book of poems is remarkable for the range of intensity of its vision. None of these poems demands our attention because of the poet's personality or circumstances because the poet has been able to transform experience into art. It is commonplace to say that this is what all poetry should do, but it is quite difficult to accomplish it, and it is still a rare thing when it occurs, as it does here, with such passion and intelligence. - Larry Levis


  • Coming Close : Forty Essays on Philip Levine
    Edited by Mari L'Esperance and Tomas Q. Morin, University of Iowa Press, May 2013

    A BILINGUAL (English/Spanish) collection of poems : Sally Ball * Emily Fragos * Amy Lemmon * Erin Belieu * Vievee Francis * Idra Novey * Catherine Bowman * Cynthia Hogue * Lee Robinson * Jennifer Clarvoe * Patricia Spears Jones * Patty Seyburn * Kathy Fagan
    (212) 529-1330 TELEPHONE ORDERS WELCOMED $12
    Exclusively at SHAKESPEARE & COMPANY BOOKSELLERS 716 Broadway * New York, NY 10003

  • A Face to Meet the Faces : An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry
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  • A Broken Thing : Poets on the Line
    Edited by Emily Rosko and Anton Vander Zee, University of Iowa Press, 2011

  • Poet's Choice
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  • The Extraordinary Tide : New Poetry by American Women
    Edited by Susan Aizenberg and Erin Belieu, Columbia University Press, 2001