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Bestiary: Poems

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  704 ratings  ·  98 reviews
Across this remarkable first book are encounters with animals, legendary beasts, and mythological monsters--half human and half something else. Donika Kelly's Bestiary is a catalogue of creatures--from the whale and ostrich to the pegasus and chimera to the centaur and griffin. Among them too are poems of love, self-discovery, and travel, from "Out West" to "Back East." Lu ...more
Paperback, 80 pages
Published October 11th 2016 by Graywolf Press
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4.16  · 
Rating details
 ·  704 ratings  ·  98 reviews

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Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a gorgeous book of poems. The love poems, in particular, are striking with unexpected ideas and imagery coalescing into poetry about this thing called love. Also threads of fathers who mistake daughters for lovers and mothers who disappear and black girlhood. This one, I savored.
Sep 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, 2019, i-own-it
A beautiful meditation on personhood, nature, the body, love, and mythology. She is playful but always with a layer of sincerity and admiration for her subjects, whether it’s a mythical creature, a bird, or herself. Gorgeously written, these poems are best read aloud to feel the words in your mouth, to hear them spoken.
Dec 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“But who will listen to the song of a nutbrown hen?” Me. I will listen. This collection was a journey, a kind of odyssey and we are lucky to be allowed to follow. I’ll be coming back to these poems forever.
S. Zainab Williams
Aug 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Bestiary is a swift and gorgeous collection of poems. It's magical and painfully intimate. I'm still lingering in its atmosphere. This is a perfect autumn read--something to take into the woods.
Tyler Goodson
Jun 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arcs
BESTIARY is a catalog of what's inside us, of what breaks us, and what puts us back together. In the process, the book breaks you, then fixes you. Kelly is not afraid of the dark, or of loneliness, and the magic of this book is she somehow makes you less afraid, too.
Nov 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved the poet's use of animals, real and imaginary, to plumb her emotions, explore identity, and make sense of her experiences.
Gail Marie
Oct 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in two sitting over one day -- basically the perfect Saturday. First, I read each poem straight through and dog-eared the pages of poems I wanted to revisit. Then, I went back and reread (usually more than once) those I'd marked. It's how I usually read shorter books of poetry. Sometimes longer ones, too.

Kelly's voice is so strong. As you read, you piece together a part of her own story, and it's increasingly shocking. Some of the poems I initially found too abstract, but I am
May 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbtqia, poetry
I loved everything about this. Donika Kelly knows her craft. These poems are so skillful and beautiful and chimerical. There are poems about nature, about her own (often painful) childhood, and about mythological beings, and somehow it all works perfectly together. There aren't enough stars.

TW for sexual abuse
South Buncombe Library
Recommended for readers wanting to freshen their morning routines with emotional poetry. -Sarah
Apr 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is everything I love about poetry. Beautiful use of language, lovely turns and repetitions, deeply conveyed, layered meanings... Wonderful.
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer-lit, poetry
Kelly's first poetry collection is a triumph. Her language is sensuous, raw, and honest - simultaneously spare and lyrical. Bursting with animal imagery the collection takes wing and glides. Her poems resonate with longing and vulnerability, and never shy away from dark truths. Unapologetically black, queer, and feminine this volume packs a hell of a punch.
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: women, 2018, poetry
"we recognize each other only in echoes."

favorite poems:
- fourth grade autobiography
- hermit thrush
- self-portrait as a door
- whale
- love letter
- little box
- red bird
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"You bear a sword and a shield, remind me
of her labor, her stoning gaze. What beast

will your blade free next? What call will you loose
from another woman's throat?"

"This is a spring of shambles.
Of meadows slow to flower,
of fire sooting the underbrush,
and, love, I am lonely as a bear."

"The bowerbird had lost
his sense of blue, his sense
of eye, but the string tangles,
beautifully, on his dark, clean grounds."
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Bower by Donika Kelly

Consider the bowerbird and his obsession
of blue, and then the island light, the acacia,
the grounded beasts. Here, the iron smell of blood,
the sweet marrow, fields of grass and bone.

And there, the bowerbird.
Watch as he manicures his lawn, puts in all places
a bit of blue, a turning leaf. And then,
how the female finds him,
lacking. All that blue for nothing.

May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Superb. And sad. And beautiful. (...Still not reading that introduction, though.)
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a spring of shambles.
Of meadows slow to flower,
of fire sooting the underbrush,
and, love, I am lonely as a bear.

I am no good at bearish things.
Fish or forage, my hands
are too small and slow to clip
the salmon thick in the heat
of spawn.

I do not know where
berries are or honey or campers
or the greening branch.
I am tired of mounting
this hill alone.

Love, how do I gain
what was lost in winter?

—"Love Poem: Donika" by Donika Kelly.
Andy Lagerstrom
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beautiful poems about trauma and love, finding equal parts escape from and entrapment in humanity in mythical creatures.
Dec 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
I love everything about this.
Nov 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: goodreads-win
Goodreads win.

This book had some strong and intense poems. A pretty good read. I would feel confident in recommending it.
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
The introduction states, "A first book is a migration story." That word "migration" is so fitting for this book, considering the arrangement of these poems, which begins with a poem called "Out West" and ends with one titled "Back East," and the multiple birds that appear throughout the volume! I particularly love "Bower (Consider the bowerbird...)" that closes with this stunner:

how the female finds him,
lacking. All that blue for nothing.

Kelly writes love poems in the voices of mythical beasts
Mar 27, 2018 rated it liked it
I've never reviewed an individual author's collection of poetry, and it's hard to get my mind around it. There were sharp and excellent poems, and poems that just didn't make an impression. I'm still learning to read and appreciate contemporary poetry, and Kelly's book will be one of the first that I've read all the way through. I feel a little foolish trying to evaluate it... but being foolish is necessary sometimes, so here's my best go!

This collection felt warm and methodical, with notes of b
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Bestiary is great - but difficult - poetry. These are the type of poems you need to read in a quiet space with not much else on your mind - so understandably it took me a while to read through them all.

While of course I had favorites, every work is stunning. The quarter-page poems are just as crammed with imagery and meaning and emotion and those with several pages.

The way Kelly creates emotion in these works is a mystery to me. First you have the "feeling" - the heaviness, the sadness, the mo
Feb 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is heartbreaking and so full of magic at the same time that there isn't one word to describe it. The closest I've come is "stunning", but even that doesn't seem quite right. The poems in this book are raw and quiet---they wound and soothe in equal measure. There is hurt. There is immense hurt and righteous anger in these poems. I want everything good for this author. I want her to have her revenge in any way she can attain it. I am rooting for her. Kelly is a master of words. The love ...more
Laurel L. Perez
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Kelly's collection does not skip on mythological allusions, and beautiful descriptions of the natural world; these poems are even more amazing from a technical perspective. What makes this particular set of poems standout is the necessity of survival, especially when it seems the most hopeless. In a comment to the National Book Foundation, Kelly states,

"I dedicated Bestiary to the women who helped save my life again and again: the five therapists I’ve seen since I was 18 years old. To put it blu
Jan 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2018
Gorgeous. What a lovely way to start my year of reading.

The author said, in an interview I read, "I’ve been interested for sometime not in a hierarchy of the animal and human, where humans sit at the top, but in something more like a constellation, where the connections between us and other animals exist in relation and proximity to one another. We can learn something about ourselves from that proximity if we are still enough, if we can loosen our gaze. I can’t know for certain that this is tru
Maggie Gordon
Aug 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I choose poetry books largely based on the cover, whether the first few stanzas draw me in, or whether someone I know has liked the book. I'm still working on what types of poetry I like, so I am reading broadly and widely. Knowing nothing about Bestiary, I had assumed it was a nature-themed book given the person who originally recommended it to me. Instead, it is a gut-punch of a volume dealing with the repercussions of childhood sexual abuse. Kelly shares some incredibly personal trauma throug ...more
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing

Kelly works mythology into her poetry in such a way that both the mythology and her ideas find greater meaning. Her animal imagery is heady, vibrant, earthen; the whole collection is raw and masterful. "Bestiary" is the best poetry book I have read this year.

Come morning we are fish.
We flop and gasp and rub our scales
against one another.

- Love Poem

You are a handle are a turn are a bit
of brass lovingly polished.

- Self-Portrait as a Door

This is a spring of shambles.
Of meadows slow to flowe
Diana  Marie Denza
Feb 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Bestiary is an exquisite collection of poetry. Readers embark on a journey, a migration, from a childhood of fear and sexual abuse to an adulthood in which the author is grappling with trauma and the formation of her identity. Donika Kelly expertly weaves mythology and nature into her poetry, connecting her body and experiences to the Earth, its history, and human imaginings. While my favorite poem in the collection is "Whale," which is both haunting and beautiful, I highly recommend reading thi ...more
Sarah Yeung
May 22, 2017 rated it liked it
This book of poems has a really interesting and imaginative theme and structure but I often struggled to really get engaged with most of the poems on their own terms. I'm not quite sure why yet. Its fixation on love and pain is raw and tender, yet often numbing. It does some really impressive and unusual verbal gymnastics which I found quite enjoyable to read, but overall I really found myself detaching from these pieces, despite their formal beauty and brooding heart. The introduction by Nikky ...more
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Donika Kelly is a poet and a scholar, and is currently a lecturer in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Program at the University of California, Davis. Her poems have appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, Indiana Review, and West Branch.
“Refuse the old means of measurement.
Rely instead on the thrumming wilderness of self. Listen.
-From "Out West”
“I have never known a field as wild
as your heart.
-From "Love Poem: Centaur”
More quotes…