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year by year
I Want to Tell You

Published in 2023 by the University of Pittsburgh Press (ISBN 9780822967071).

“Ecstatic, bounding, electric, I Want to Tell You plumbs the elegy while still sizzling with life—a contradiction made right in Jesse Lee Kercheval’s deft hands. Wading through the pools of grief, Kercheval wrestles with God to find meaning in the wake of loss, but not without her characteristic wit, wisdom, and candor. In the tradition of our earliest poets, carving their poems into the clay with a reed, Kercheval’s work declares, ‛My name is Jesse. I write this to remember.’”
—Jacques J. Rancourt

“We readers love Jesse Lee Kercheval’s many books in many genres, her precise and brilliant translations, her memoir/novels/nonfiction, her visual art, her connection to early silent film and her public life as a maker who serves writers through decades. But here, in her sixth collection of poems, she has cut open her heart to call out our human grief and love. And yes, she gives words to death. Please read this magnificent book. There can be no other for our times.”
—Hilda Raz


Pez dorado
La Crisis es el Cuerpo
Un pez dorado no te sirve para nada

(bilingual, Spanish/English)

Selected poems published in 2020 by Bajo la Luna in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with Spanish translations by Ezequiel Zaidenwerg (ISBN 9789874785718). A Uruguayan edition was published by Editorial Yaugurú in 2023 as Un pez dorado no te sirve para nada with an introduction by Silvia Guerra.

Some people avoid life’s horror. Jesse Lee does not. She faces the intolerable. She considers it thoroughly and well. In all her words, using various languages and enumerations, questions and answers, she invents structures and a personal poetic music, which show that life is uncontrollable, in both love and suffering. (Amazingly, the translator understands her music!) Is there a reward for this suffering? I believe so. For the author, it is perceiving the wonder of life with the same intensity as its pain. For us, her readers, it is these poems which tear us apart and then heal us. Then tear us apart again.
—Laura Wittner

year by year
Year by Year: a life

A chapbook published in 2019 by Dancing Girl Press with 17 illustrations by Piotr Szyhalski.

It contains poems for each year from 1956 (Kercheval’s birth) to 1970 (Jim Morrison’s death). Purchase it here.


(Slovak only)

A chapbook translated into Slovak by Lucia Duero. Published by FACE press, Bratislava, Slovakia, in 2019  (ISBN 9788089763474).

America that island
America that island off the coast of France

Winner of the Dorsett Prize, published in 2019 by Tupelo Press, (ISBN 9781946482242).

America that island off the coast of France speaks to the impossibility of emigration, of ever being the citizen of only one country. The poems hurtle across literary and linguistic borders toward a lyricism that slows down experience to create a new form of elegiac memoir. Against the backdrops of Paris, Montevideo, and Florida, the poems explore citizenship and homelessness, motherhood and self, family and freedom, turning over and over again the very meaning of the word home, as the poems, like the poet, make the fraught journey back and forth between America and France.

“These poems are alive. What does that mean? They live on the page, yes, but also in memory, long after the book is closed. The voice is so strong; it refuses to leave the body of the reader. These poems do many things: they are worldly and local, funny and tragic, off-beat and dead-serious. Are they French poems in Brooklyn or South Dakota? No. Are they American poems that play ping-pong with the French? No. They are simply very good poems. Lots and lots of very good poems. This book has something new to offer on every single page.”
—Ilya Kaminsky

Extranjera / Stranger

(bilingual, Spanish/English)

Published in 2015 by Editorial Yaugurú, Montevideo, Uruguay (ISBN 9789974719170).

This poetry collection is about learning a new language and finding a new life in Uruguay, the smallest of Spanish-speaking South American countries. The twenty-eight poems were written in Spanish and then translated into English for this bilingual publication. In the United States, poems from the collection have appeared in Bosque, the Los Angeles Review, Mantis, and Prairie Schooner, among other magazines.

“Jesse Lee Kercheval has ‛traveled’ from her original French to the English of the United States and from there to the Spanish of Uruguay, which she has turned into poetry.… Like a fruit—like a tangerine peeling itself—she strips away the layers of language and gains access to a Spanish with an enormous vitality, sincerity and transparency.”
—Circe Maia

By the end, what remains is the idea that a voice is constructed. It reminds us that we are all, in Uruguay, foreigners. Our language is not ours, but that of our ancestors who came and invented a new homeland. Kercheval has found a new way of writing poetry in our country. This is not a small thing.
—Francisco Álvez Francese, La Diaria

Four of the poems from Extranjera / Stranger can be found online at Hinchas de Poesía: a Digital Codex of Contemporary Pan-American Poetry.

torres towers

Towers letterpress
Torres / Towers

(bilingual, Spanish/English)

Published by Editorial Yaugurú, Montevideo, Uruguay, in 2014 (ISBN 9789974719019).

The twin chapbooks designed by Gustavo Wojciechowski to resemble the towers of the World Trade Center in New York are illustrated at the top left. Torres is the original Spanish poem. Towers is its English translation. Both contain a single long poem written on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Below them is the letterpress limited edition of the English version designed and illustrated with woodcuts by Barbara Henry. It was published by the Harsimus Press in 2019.

“Towers is a book of poems but also it is a single poem that speaks of towers. Not only the twin towers that fell, but the idea of falling and rising. The zeppelin, dirigible, and balloon turn in circles and finally fall, but not before revealing relationships with all that passed below them. In English and Spanish, Jesse Lee Kercheval writes with the same delicacy, the same brevity, the same ease flying from association to association. Words come and go, simulating life’s instability, but also its urge to endure just by the act of speaking, developing the idea in as few words as possible. The fragments that comprise Towers repeat like images in a song—a tango, since the Rio de la Plata is where the fall happened and the poetry was inspired. This is the poetry of Kercheval—poetry which captures an instant encompassing the past and projects it forward and upward.”
—Roberto Appratto

cinema muto Cinema Muto

2009 Crab Orchard Open Selection Award winner selected by David Wojahn (ISBN 080932895X).

Cinema Muto examines the enduring themes of time, mortality, and love as revealed through the power of silent film. Following the ten days of the annual film festival Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Italy, these ekphrastic poems are love letters to the evocative power of silent cinema. Kercheval’s poems elegantly capture the allure of these rare films, which compel hundreds of pilgrims from around the world—from scholars and archivists, to artists and connoisseurs—to flock to Italy each autumn. Cinema Muto celebrates the flickering tales of madness and adventure, drama and love, which are all too often left to decay within forgotten vaults. As reels of Mosjoukine and D. W. Griffith float throughout the collection, a portrait also emerges of the simple beauty of Italy in October and of two lovers who are drawn together by their mutual passion for an extinct art. Together they revel in recapturing “the black and white gestures of a lost world.”
“Jesse Lee Kercheval’s Cinema Muto is a richly complex and marvelously inventive sequence—proudly sui generis in its ability to combine a quirky and individual lyric voice with a novelistic narrative. We can’t help but delight in the book’s surprises and genre-hopping, but Kercheval’s ultimate intent is elegiac: the book is not merely a lament for a lost art form, but a bittersweet reckoning with all things transient, including ourselves. If justice were poetic, a movie adaptation of Cinema Muto would be soon to follow.”
— David Wojahn

More reviews can be found here, and the book can be purchased here.

Here are three poems from the collection.

train wreck
Film History as Train Wreck

Winner of the 2006 Center for Book Arts Chapbook Prize, selected by Albert Goldbarth.

Film History as Train Wreck was published as a letterpress chapbook designed, printed, and bound by Barbara Henry in a signed and numbered edition of 100.

The book can be purchased here.

chartreuse Chartreuse

Published in 2005 by Hollyridge Press (ISBN 0-9752573).

The chapbook can be purchased here.

Here are three poems from the collection.

Dog Angel cover Dog Angel

Published in 2004 by the University of Pittsburgh Press (ISBN 0-822958406).

Full of wit, vivid language, and devastating honesty, these autobiographical poems trace the timelines of life forward and backward. In them Kercheval offers a moving examination of the role of family and the possible/probable/hoped for existence of God—and how our perceptions of the divine can be transformed from a kindergartner’s dyslexically scrawled “doG loves U” to the ever-present but oft-ignored Dog Angel of the title.

Ranging from a cross-country drive to bury her mother’s ashes at Arlington National Cemetery, to a family vacation in Spain, to an imagined final exam given by her children, Kercheval explores the vagaries of love, loss, faith, grief, and joy with a calm, convincing wisdom that permeates this resonant and wonderful collection.

Reviews can be found here, and the book can be purchased here.

Here are a few poems from the collection.

World as Dictionary
              cover World as Dictionary

Published in 1999 by Carnegie Mellon University Press (ISBN 0887482856).

From the powerful and unforgettable opening sequence which recounts, with passionate intensity and uncompromising honesty, the death of a dear friend from cancer; through the wonderful middle poems on the complex pleasures of marriage, motherhood, and family life; to the final meditations on the poets own intractable childhood; World as Dictionary explores the vagaries of love, loss, desire, and will. At times heartbreaking and elegiac, mourning a ‘universe that is racing from us / at the speed of light / and … is never coming back,’ Kercheval is also unswervingly affirmative, celebrating with her infant daughter (whose word for ‘open’ expands her world), ‘Ope, ope, ope … we live in hope. / My daughter claps her hands. Fierce, intimate, lyrical, profound, and true, World as Dictionary is a beautiful, beautiful book. A book that lives in hope. A book that claps its hands.
—Ron Wallace

Reviews can be found here, and the book can be purchased here.