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Distributed for Autumn House Press

Voice Message

Distributed for Autumn House Press

Voice Message

Through the poems of Voice Message, Katherine Barrett Swett reflects on her personal tragedy and the fragility of human lives and bodies with a tender care. Her debut collection explores the powers of art and poetry to participate in the processing of catastrophic grief, speaking through both the consolation and devastation these creative works can offer. Swett’s formal verse provides a lens through which sadness, destruction, and loss appear as aberrant and inevitable. In tragic lyric, the poet searches poetry, art, mythology, and her own memory for the fleeting image of her lost daughter “in music, painting, or a carved stone name.” Frequently looking to visual arts for inspiration, she finds that Vermeer’s paintings of distant rooms guide and contextualize pain, offering motivation, comfort, and release. Through villanelles, sonnets, quatrains, and free verse, Swett invokes the voices, narratives, and images, both personal and cultural, that haunt her speakers. Suspended in the aftermath of the unexpected and unspeakable death of her college-age daughter, the poet’s language is held together in a somber and necessary restraint. But this restraint does not signal the peace of closure. Rather, these poems quietly and steadily remind readers it is still “the open wound / not the scar,” that “all we have are words and flesh,” and that we are forever vulnerable. The rhythm of and echoes of sonnets and songs lead us to the sticky intersections of tragedy, recovery, and strange forms of beauty.

72 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2



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"Swett’s first full-length collection, Voice Message is a tour de force in which formal mastery is wedded to emotional power. The book is centered around the death of the poet narrator’s daughter, but if you’re thinking we’re in confessional territory here, think again. Swett is a formalist in the best sense, using her skill — particularly with sonnet form, the predominant form used in the book — not to distance the reader from experience, but to distill it for us. . . . Swett navigates these challenges with breathtaking ease. No rhyme feels forced, and every image shimmers."

Washington Independent Review of Books

Table of Contents

Part I: Songs and Sonnets
Two Woodcuts: Red Fuji & Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Two Villanelles: Flute Song & Winter Light
Three Songs
Never Disappear
Song in Flood Time
What Can’t Be
Bright Hair
Seven Sonnets
Yet Another View
Voice Message
Summer Sonnet
City of Refuge
Part II: Vermeer’s Daughters
The Girl with the Wineglass
Woman in Blue Reading a Letter
Officer and Laughing Girl
Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window
A Woman Asleep
Woman with a Pearl Necklace
Woman with a Lute
A Lady Standing at a Virginal
Woman Holding a Balance
The Music Lesson
The Lacemaker
The Milkmaid
Young Woman with a Water Pitcher
Girl Interrupted at Her Music
Vermeer’s Daughters
Part III: Marginalia
The Poe Cottage, 1992
The Sun Rising
Artificial Nightingale
Mrs. Van Winkle
Don Giovanni
Gertrude Stein
Helen at the Distaff
Penelope and the Suitors
Fairy Tale
Late This Summer Night

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