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Literature & Fiction - Poetry

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ISBN: 9781736483527
Binding: Paperback
Author: Kelly Hoffer
Pages: 100
Trim: 8 x 9 inches
Published: 05/01/2023

Undershore examines the speaker's ongoing grief following the loss of her mother to breast cancer against the backdrop of a sustained engagement with the natural world. The manuscript is structured around a series of "visitations"—imagined encounters with the poet's mother after her death. The title "Undershore" is meant to describe the location of these visitations—littoral, submerged, oneiric—a space that is interior to the self while also at the edge of the self—intimate and peripheral—like the voice. Grief, in the speaker's experience, comes in waves, and so the title that conveys the tidal nature of the mother's returning to her, her constant glimmering in and out of daily existence. To mimic this movement, the visitations occur at loosely regular intervals throughout the manuscript, the book turning with each of the mother's returns. In between each poem titled "Visitation" are nestled other poems, some tightly-wound lyrics, some diffuse, floaty poems—all fascinated by the botanical world, by the shoreline, by desire, by intimacy and grief, and by the unexpected and inevitable way these concerns bleed into one another. The collection finds the ephemerality of the flower as it moves through its cycle of bloom and decay (and finally, sometimes, fruit) compounds and enriches the tidal movement of the work. Gardens and oceans hide things; both have depths, shades, shallows. The book finds an appeal and fascination in their shared habit of containing secrets. These poems invite the reader into hidden spaces, into an undershore, without fully disclosing its secrets.


Kelly Hoffer is a poet and book artist. Her poetry was recognized as a finalist for the National Poetry Series in both 2020 and 2021. She holds an MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and a PhD in Literatures in English from Cornell University. She currently teaches in the MFA program at the University of Michigan as the Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Poetry.


"One of Anna Atkins's cyanotypes wraps around the cover of Kelly Hoffer's UNDERSHORE. Amongst Hoffer's poems are QR codes—looking themselves like dappled shadows—leading to images of cyanotype squares, also made by the poet. Hoffer's cyanotypes contain botanical prints of her own, alongside scraps of language, and squares and triangles of shadow. Viewed as a group, each square suggests traditional quilt block patterns—fittingly, these cyanotypes were sewn into a paper quilt that Hoffer brought along on many stops of her book tour. UNDERSHORE, as you can perhaps already imagine, is rich in media and rich with resonance. The lines between material and ineffable things—between shadow and object, light and paper, breath and fabric, digital and material, needle and paper—slip and hitch throughout the collection, and I am left with the lingering impression of, well, impressions. The acts of pressing, imprinting, shadowing, and piercing recur across the poems, mirrored in their visual supplements. In UNDERSHORE, many threads are available for pulling. Here, the one I've picked up is the sequence of poems each entitled 'Visitation,' which are scattered throughout the expansive collection. The 'Visitation' poems narrate appearances, across dreams and half-memories, of the speaker's mother, who is dead. It is as if these poems, too, are attempting to record a shadow." - Lindsey Webb

"'That's the intimacy I'm interested in,' Kelly Hoffer told me on the phone, a few months before the release of her debut poetry collection. I hadn't seen her in over decade, but from the get-go our conversation was breezy and deep. She told me the proximity of sex and grief in her work made some of her peer readers uncomfortable. 'For me,' she said, 'it's actually kind of the thing.' Hoffer's mother died a few years before the earliest poems were written and the collection is punctuated by eight poems called 'Visitation,' each a dream about a ghost. As it goes with dreams, earthly reason spirals into a stranger logic: 'We lie on the bed and talk of the luxury of clean sheets. she starts stripping the mattress. I jostle to avoid the small birds of her hands. When she finishes she folds up and tucks herself into a ceramic basin smaller than a loaf of bread.' In between visitations are poems that reckon with life, ruled by seemingly contradictory forces. It's this tension—between grief and joy, sex and death, hope and haunting—that holds the book together. Undershore came out this past May with Lightscatter Press, a publisher that incorporates technology into text. Each poem features a tiny QR code that leads to a website explaining the project. On the website, each poem also corresponds with a piece of a cyanotype quilt, forty-nine paper squares on a blue-white spectrum sitting at the bottom of the web page, and a recording of the author reading the poem." - Olivia Durif

"Shades of blue and species of flowers accumulate throughout Undershore. The poem 'Newly, rendered, truly' launches with the description of 'newly, truly, bluely ever madly, sadly, / blue blue blue, raw and bluely / piece of meat, awfully raw and / tender.' The poem concludes in 'my singly, madly, deepening / blue.' The blue shows up in the sky, the water, and the darkness in this collection, as we see 'the bending of true / cyan.' The ache of this blue aligns with other poems, sometimes the same poems, that examine the growth of flowers. In 'Peony,' there is 'no / you to witness the unfolding.' Instead, the poet perceives 'the very sepal / tired of holding / all the petals that must be inside.' Throughout Undershore are multiple poems entitled 'Visitation' where the poet meets her mother:my mother tells meshe has read my poems.she liked the one about peonies because she likespoems about the end of the world, she says.These poems of the same title feel dreamlike, and they don't necessarily mean a visitation in a funereal sense but rather that of encounters with her mother's ghost. They process the absence. In the last 'Visitation,' Hoffer writes, 'We emerge from a drowned place, just she and I.' This connection to the loved one also brings the 'Grief for the grief I must give up.' Even grief cannot last forever, and it evolves, as 'She continues / pulling seeds from a stitched / rose, disintegrating to become / a nest.'" - Martha Stuit

"Undershore is incandescent, like an electric light housing a filament which glows when a current passes through it. A filament as tender and tenacious as spider silk weathering the elements. Its lyrical adroitness is immediately felt and heard...  The objective correlative of this collection encompasses much of the floral and natural world, yielding sites of transcendent linguistic turns. After a death comes a 'disrupted texture,' but in mapping the body with the natural world, the speaker finds a way to move forward, as clouds are never not moving, as plants continue to grow toward the sun, until the day that they don't. Never will I forget this speaker: 'try to shape my mouth a poppy / ringed with dew, my neck a greening nape. I come / off inelegant–-something borrowed, something / burrowed. unseemly, lustering.' Yet in these vulnerable admissions of self, and statements of sheer longing, the poet's sightline is unerringly honest, seeking, and true." - Diana Khoi Nguyễn

"The edges in Kelly Hoffer's vibrant poems are sharpened with delight: the 'neon crocus / knocks your skirt up'! This stunning debut collection brims with the physicality of desire and loss as it tracks the complex imprints and entanglements of embodied experience. Attending to both the disorientation and anchoring of conscious life, these poems reverberate with emergent realities: the felt properties of the bloom, the apparition, the lush shores and ledges of evolutionary knowledge, even the shifting cusps of denotative meaning that rise and fall through the pages of the dictionary. The afterlife of each felt space opens up a vivid inner elsewhere that locates us right here, in the fiery light of 'the un- /dead side of the river.'" - Elizabeth Willis