American Wake: Poems

American Wake slows things down that are speeding past and wakes us up to the past and present tense. I love its worried wakefulness.” —Edward Hirsch 

New from a poet whose astonishing images, emotional honesty, and storytelling power hold a singular clarity of vision.

An “American wake” is what the Irish call a farewell to those emigrating to the United States. A New England poet equally at home in Ireland, Kerrin McCadden explores family, death and grief, apologies, and all manner of departures. In the poem “In the Harbor,” McCadden writes:

When we are out to sea, we look back to see faces
ringing the shore like a fence, those we love in up
to their hips in waves, waving goodbye like mad.

Included in American Wake are the poems, “My Broken Family,” “Weeks After My Brother Overdoses,” “One Way to Apologize to a Daughter for Careless Words,” “Portrait of the Family as a Definition,” and “My Mother Talks to Her Son about Her Heart.”

This collection by a writer of extraordinary gifts will appeal to readers who believe in the potential of carefully hewn words to unveil our world and our deepest feelings to ourselves. As the acclaimed memoirist Nick Flynn (Another Bullshit Night in Suck City) puts it: “Kerrin McCadden transforms tragedy into myth.”

CRITICAL PRAISE

“Must-read poetry.”
The Millions

“The poems, plainspoken distillations of origins and loss, explore histories, teasing at what we know without knowing, and know without remembering we know. A book of quiet, watchful radiance.”
The Boston Globe

“McCadden’s sparse yet vibrant poetry spans those two geographies she finds home in, New England and Ireland. The vastness of loss, grief and family parallel only mountainous terrains and the waving sea.”
WBUR (Boston’s NPR affiliate) 

“The book’s stylistic variety is striking . . . McCadden loves fables and etymologies, genre jumping and digital imaging, and we can hear her at play in long lines, searching for a hue, texture or rhythm.”
Seven Days

ADVANCE PRAISE

American Wake navigates loss, no doubt, but with such unparalleled sensitivity and inventiveness that language becomes its own jubilant force of survival.”
—Major Jackson, author of The Absurd Man

American Wake doesn’t warn as much as warm—it keeps company and shares the complexity of loving one another. There’s a paper-thin ridge between the sea-land of the dead and the land-sea of the living, and it’s on that ridge that Kerrin McCadden rides, writes, shouts into the wind.”
—Brenda Shaughnessy, author of The Octopus Museum

“Contrasting the luscious femininities of a Tess Gallagher in her peregrinations from Washington to Sligo, with the stern abrasions of a Seamus Heaney translating himself from Station Island to Harvard, Kerrin McCadden’s American Wake explores in depth the repercussions of emigration from generation to tragic generation, at one point receding as far back as Cuchulain.”
—Medbh McGuckian
, author of Marine Cloud Brightening

 “In American Wake, a husband is given an aubade featuring a paving company; a brother dies again and again; and the rivers, lakes and seas seamlessly connect us to other worlds: rural life, Ireland, our younger selves, the underworld. These are sustaining poems, a gift in our times.”
—Connie Voisine, author of The Bower

“The poems in this powerful, haunted book won’t let go of the grief they carry. American Wake passes through the valley of the shadow of death to arrive at wisdom and love, and implies there is no other way to go.”
—Maurice Manning, author of Railsplitter

“Kerrin McCadden is a poet who knows things, and American Wake is her American sublime: poems for our elegiac now, built for all time. This is a stunning work.”
—Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, author of Island People

Kerrin McCadden is the author most recently of American Wake. Her debut, Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes, won the inaugural Vermont Book Award in 2015, and her chapbook Keep This To Yourself was awarded the 2018 Button Poetry Prize.

A recent National Endowment for the Arts fellowship awardee, McCadden’s poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, and recently in American Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Los Angeles Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, and Prairie Schooner.

McCadden teaches at Montpelier High School, serves as the Associate Director of the Conference on Poetry and Teaching at The Frost Place, and is associate poetry editor at Persea Books. She lives with her family in Vermont.