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Toxicon & Arachne

On sale

4th February 2021

Price: £10.99

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Selected: Paperback / ISBN-13: 9781472156051

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‘The power of McSweeney’s work cannot be separated from its association with forms of oracle and soothsaying, and so it is uncanny that it should arrive in the middle of a global pandemic… Frightening and brilliant’ Dan Chiasson, New Yorker

How does the body gestate grief? How does toxicity birth catastrophe?

In the months leading up to her daughter Arachne’s birth, US poet Joyelle McSweeney set out to write a quiver of poems like a quiver of poison arrows: formally and sonically virtuosic, laced with the poet’s obsessive concerns with contamination, decay and the sublime, featuring a crown of ‘toxic sonnets’ for the tuberculosis bacterium that killed Keats. But when Arachne was born with an unexpected birth defect, lived briefly and died, the poet was visited by a second welter of poems, odes of love, grief, perplexity and rage. These two books, Toxicon & Arachne, form a double collection of poems weighing love, grief, art and survival in increasingly toxic days.

Toxicon & Arachne is the culmination of eight years of engagement with lyric under a regime of global and personal catastrophes.


Prageeta Sharma
I am in deep awe of the resilience found in these pages, and the enduring strength and clarity these poems expel forth
Nick Ropatrazone, The Millions
McSweeney is one of our most dynamic poets of theme, mood, and syntax, and this new paired collection unifies those ranges in a most powerful fashion
Claudia Rankine
This necessary, inventive lassoing-in of reality as we are presently experiencing it leaves no one "clean" or in the clear
Allen Grossman
Joyelle McSweeney is a poet with a vocation - a calling to the world. What is given her (the vocation) is to make others see what is given her to see
Dennis Cooper
I've never read anything by Joyelle McSweeney that wasn't totally exciting. She's one of the most interesting people working now in terms of the forms she uses and she's extremely deft, and playful, and yet the stuff that's going on, content-wise, is really super-smart. Thrilling
Carmen Giménez Smith
Biological, morbid, fanatic, surreal, McSweeney's impulses are to go to the rhetoric of the maternity mythos by evoking the spooky, sinuous syntaxes of the gothic and the cleverly constructed political allegory
Jorie Graham
This is a must read in poetry
Elisa Gabbert, New York Times
[Toxicon] was written while McSweeney was expecting a daughter...Arachne is an elegy, an ode to this daughter's very brief existence. Here, what overflows the collection is of course grief, as well as love [...] anger and disgust. [The] book contains a crown of sonnets and two sestinas, perhaps the only good sestinas I've ever read... One of McSweeney's tricks is the faux typo, the little "mistake" that is so much more apparent in a poem than it would be in prose... It suggests that order, correctness, is fake. At their most disorderly, McSweeney's poems highlight errors of history, genetics and luck - and that contemporary feeling of being in the wrong timeline
Publishers Weekly Starred Review
Formally brilliant, emotionally heartbreaking, and considerably terrifying, this is a stunning work from one of poetry's most versatile experimentalists
Dan Chiasson, New Yorker
The power of McSweeney's work cannot be separated from its association with forms of oracle and soothsaying, and so it is uncanny that it should arrive in the middle of a global pandemic... Frightening and brilliant