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Tropic of Squalor: Poems

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  301 ratings  ·  52 reviews
A new volume of poetry from the New York Times bestselling and esteemed author of The Liar’s Club and Lit.

Long before she earned accolades for her genre-defining memoirs, Mary Karr was winning poetry prizes. Now the beloved author returns with a collection of bracing poems as visceral and deeply felt and hilarious as her memoirs. In Tropic of Squalor, Karr dares to address
ebook, 96 pages
Published May 8th 2018 by Harper
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Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
I read and loved Mary Karr’s memoirs: “Lit” and “The Liar’s Club,” but I had not previously read any of her poetry. In her new collection “Tropic of Squalor,” I felt as though I was reading a different author - both in character and tone. There were some poems and lines within poems that were thought-provoking and really resonated with me. However, on the whole this collection was too dark and bleak for this reader. Maybe I would have liked the poems more if I were in a different frame of mind. ...more
Jon Nakapalau
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, favorites
Palpable and concentric - the poems in this book are sequestered parts of the pageantry and pace of life.
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mary Karr is mostly known as a memoirist, but this is actually her fifth poetry collection. Death is a major theme, with David Foster Wallace’s suicide (“Among genii, whoever dies first wins. / Or so he thought.”) and 9/11 getting multiple mentions. Karr also writes self-deprecatingly about her Texas childhood (“my kidhood (whose torments / Did fill many profitable volumes)”; “Whole years I lost in the kingdom / Of mine own skull”).

Best of all is the multi-part “The Less Holy Bible”: a sort of D
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
I’m so-so on this collection overall. The second half of the collection was a clever group of poems relating her biography via books of the Bible, but she dipped into cliche a few too many times for my tastes.
Jill Mackin
Nov 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, poet
Dark poems. Well written.
Jan 13, 2019 rated it liked it
A lot of these poems are informed by Karr's religious fervor, though they are no didactic or proselytizing. Part One gives us 16 stand-alone poems, some hitting the high notes of some of Karr's earlier poems. Part Two is called "The Less Holy Bible" and harbors 20 (plus a coda) poems, all with themes related to the Bible. Under the onus of this cross, the poems struggle a bit more.

From Part One, an example of one that I enjoyed:


In the predawn murk when the porch lights hang
on suburban p
Feb 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
4.5 stars. Wow. I can truthfully say I have never before read poetry like Mary Karr's. I like it. A lot. Her command of language, her imagination and sense of poetic structure, are breathtaking. Coincidentally, I tried a craft/artisan bourbon yesterday offered to me by one of my law partners. (We were off the clock by then.) "Barrel strength" the label said - that is 112 proof. Smooth, amazing and slapped me upside the head. That's Mary Karr's poetry - barrel strength. I'm not bothered at all by ...more
Diane S ☔
May 22, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 review soon.
Julie Ehlers
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, free-library
So great.
Joshua Rigsby
Dec 14, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Best were the irreverent and reimagined books of the Bible toward the end.
Marne Wilson
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway, and I am definitely not the right reader for it. Karr deals with some dark subject matter here, and her coping strategy is a thick layer of cynicism. For example, take these lines from "The Age of Criticism," where she describes the suicide of a fellow poet: "I believed there might be no one more alluring alive./ But she killed herself. Last April, widowed at sixty,/ she jumped off the high stadium of some snotty college/ where she taught, and whether she ...more
L.K. Simonds
May 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
What can I say? This is classic Mary Karr: No holds barred poems about life in the Tropic of Squalor, that is, under the curse. Ms. Karr's observations are poignant and almost always have a comic element, even if it's dark. The poems are full of familiar themes for those who've read her memoirs. I don't read a lot of poetry, and my taste runs toward poets like Frost and Yeats and Dickinson, but I keep trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to expand my horizons. My favorite poetry of Karr's are the lyri ...more
Kris - My Novelesque Life
2018; Harper/Harper Collins Canada
(Review Not on Blog)

This collection of poetry by Mary Karr was not for me. I just didn't get the humour and found myself skimming through some of the poetry. I have not read anything else by Karr so you may want to check out other reviews of people who have read her previous works.

***I received an eARC from EDELWEISS***
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“Tropic of Squalor” ranges in subject from the personal to the political. Many of the poems have an autobiographical voice, and an early poem, “Illiterate Progenitor,” speaks to life with a father “undiluted by the written word.” This poem inspired me to write about my own family.

And although Karr never mentions political figures by name, astute readers will understand the subtext. As with her memoir “The Liar’s Club,” Karr infuses some poems with a fair amount of “crazy.”

Karr has structured t
Autumn Kovach
Jul 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I don't read poetry often but I first encountered Mary on an On Being podcast, which I've listened to multiple times. I've read her memoir and then saw her live at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn. She read poetry aloud from this book and spoke about her inspirations. She is hilarious and so real. I especially love the ones of NY and her experience in the city -- articulated so well. ...more
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
a wit with words to be reckoned
Michael Morris
Aug 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
It has been a long time since I read a volume of poems which made me say "Wow!" more than a couple times. Karr's poems rarely disappoint, and this collection is an absolute joy, despite the suffering (probably because of it) the artist pulls us through like a cranky firefighter.
A number of pieces had me stopping at the end to catch my breath or pray, not for anyone in particular, but about a universe in chaos. Some poems address the dead (the poet's father, a friend who had taken his life, the l
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I like Karr’s prose much better than her poetry, but there are some gems in the second half of this book, including a couple of searing 9/11 poems.
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
This collection is dark and thought provoking in the way only amazing poetry can be.
David Jordan
Jul 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Goodreads wants to know “what did you think of this book?” I’m not even sure how to put it- there was like a buzz, a thrill that I experienced reading these poems, a familiarity with the landscape and an excitement of discovery as I read descriptions of that land that had not occurred to me. The section of biblical reimagining(s) is pure brilliance. I couldn’t wait to flip back to the first page and read these all over again.
And again.
I love these poems
I love this book
I love this poet
Melissa Fondakowski
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Viper Rum was the first of Mary Karr's work that I read and I was hooked. she's a great poet, and this volume is fantastic. As a poet Karr remains a tried and true storyteller and uses all the things I love about poetry to make these moments stick, sound, rhythm, white space, double meanings...a great volume. ...more
Sara Habein
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc
So much good stuff in here. Sad, thoughtful, reverent, maybe sometimes a little too on the nose, but that's ok too. ...more
Maughn Gregory
All spiritual writing should be this grungy, this clear-eyed, this smart.
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Karr is getting better with age. This is so good.
Corey Wozniak
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
👻👻👻(haunted) by Mary Karr. After loving _Sinner’s Welcome_ I bought the rest of her poetry connections. TROPIC was perfect. I won’t fail to read the rest of her stuff before year’s end.
Mar 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Unique to this book is a series of poems connected to books of the Bible. I liked the one based on the Lord's Prayer best, although like that Polish film director movies about the Ten Commandments, the poem's connection to the books is not particularly obvious. But in writing poetry, and possibly in film making also, another work of literature or art may just be the inspiration for or the starting point of a new work of art that may not necessarily be about the source. In any case this is a fine ...more
Mark Robison
Mar 16, 2019 rated it liked it
I like spending time with Mary Karr's mind and writing -- no matter what she's writing about, she comes across as smart, fun, charming, sexual (as opposed to sexy) and a bit rebellious, like someone you’d want to get tipsy with over wine and swap stories. This poetry collection is pretty good, with some lovely or interesting moments captured (like the one of piano movers going down the middle of a city street when a downpour hits or another with a neighbor who is revealed as creepy late one nigh ...more
Oct 30, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Honestly, I am not sure what I thought of this book. Do I really know how to judge poetry good or bad? To me, it all is a bit off, why do you have to beat around the bush? Jist say what you mean, I don’t catch on to symbalism well nor do I catch on to your poetic form and lingering pauses.

Aside from that, I felt like trying something new and that was a bit of poetry. I thought a lot of the poems were a bit dark, doomed, and morbid. I did enjoy the poems that touched on our carnivorism. Altogeth
Christine Fay
Sep 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
This collection of poems brings forth the current problems we are having in our society. My favorite poem is called “Discomfort Food for the Unwhole.” It’s a commentary on how close we are in proximity in a grocery store, yet how far away we are from each other due to our obsession with technology. She also wrote one called “The Like Button” which is a commentary on how obsessed we are with achieving so many likes on Facebook and other social media platforms. A great book of verse overall.
Ramona Mead
Oct 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm a big fan of Karr's memoirs, and this is my first of her poetry collections. It certainly did not disappoint. As with her prose, the writing here is sharp and concise, descriptions are vivid, and her concepts are unique. The poems are all relatively short and powerful. Having read her other works and knowing her voice, it comes through here loud and clear. Karr is a keen observer, and an expert and turning inner reflection into witty writing. ...more
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Mary Karr is an American poet, essayist and memoirist. She rose to fame in 1995 with the publication of her bestselling memoir The Liars' Club. She is the Peck Professor of English Literature at Syracuse University.

Karr was born January 16, 1955, in Groves, a small town in East Texas located in the Port Arthur region, known for its oil refineries and chemical plants, to J. P. and Charlie Marie (Mo

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