Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Rough Honey

Rate this book
Selected by Mark Doty from over one thousand manuscripts for the APR/Honickman First Book Prize, Melissa Stein's Rough Honey is a startling, sensuous collection. These poems speak of fragility and power, the contradictions of pleasure, the bruises we bear. With remarkable range, they carry us from a whitewater rafting calamity to the "torrents of wheat" on a family farm; from a peepshow's "manageable storm of boredom and sex" to a passionate fall from grace in an orchard. By turns buoyant and forlorn, Rough Honey's characters both long for and abandon the hope of true connection, of home, in a world where “everything is rented.” But their struggles are rendered in language so radiant, so mellifluous, it can’t help but hint at the possibility of transcendence, the sheer sweetness in being alive.

From "Want Me":

Lemons crystallized in sugar, glistening
on a blue-glazed plate. The rarest volume
bound in blood leather. A silk carpet
woven so finely you can't push a needle through,
that from one edge is the silver of a leaf
underwater, and from the other bleu lumiere,
first frost on the cornflowers. A duet for cello
and woodsmoke, violin and icicle. Tangle of
black hair steeped in sandalwood, jasmine,
bergamot and vetiver and jewelled
with pomegranate seeds . . .

96 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 2010

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Melissa Stein

109 books27 followers
Melissa Stein's poetry collection Rough Honey won the APR/Honickman First Book Prize, selected by Mark Doty. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, Yale Review, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Best New Poets, the Southern Review, and many other journals and anthologies. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and her work has won awards from Redivider, Spoon River Poetry Review, Literal Latte, and the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation, among others. She is a freelance editor in San Francisco.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
40 (41%)
4 stars
39 (40%)
3 stars
14 (14%)
2 stars
3 (3%)
1 star
1 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 18 of 18 reviews
Profile Image for Molly.
Author 42 books110 followers
December 5, 2016
Rough Honey is a miracle of a first collection. Melissa Stein’s sensuous articulation of the world from the inside out puts her poems into a kind of freefall—back into a pulsing, primal language. Her electric apprehensions throb with this nearly preverbal knowing. They are rough as a hound’s tongue; they are honey itself. Above all they define and re-define the lyric poem, giving it myriad protean identities. Stein is a new poet of the first order.
Profile Image for Erin.
886 reviews
October 26, 2020
I loved this. Especially sections ii and v. Serious business, girlfriend can turn a line.
Profile Image for Nina.
Author 11 books73 followers
March 18, 2012
The oxymoron within the title, Rough Honey, is woven throughout this collection. Stein’s poems show us danger and sweetness, contradiction in desire and action. There is a precision to her word choices and images that elevates even the weaker poems. Stein is a master at using tension within her poetry. Her images fascinate and disturb, often simultaneously.
The body kept bobbing
to the surface so I slid her under
the ice, such a thin layer,
(After she told me she was pregnant)

he turns to her and grips her upper arms, hard,
and backs her up against the barn wall,
(Noon shadow)

Stein is able to switch voices with ease.
Say what you like-even when he’s gone
He holds me where he’s bruised me like a plum.
( Rough)

Bees are a common theme in this collection, and an obvious extension of the title.
The lanes are littered with the bodies of bees.
A torrent took them, swarming in branches
just as the white buds loosened their hearts
of pale yellow powder.
(Olive, Bread, Honey, and Salt)

Several of the poems warn of danger. Stein’s metaphors and images are powerful and evocative. She makes each word work hard. In the poem Our Campaign for Her World, a college girl is riding a bike when a man in a car approaches her. The poem opens with lines that at first read merely reflect a strenuous bike ride, yet after finishing the poem, revisit ‘aching” and “kills.”
I’m aching my way up the back road, the long steep
low-gear bit that kills me every time.

My favorite poem in the collection is the closing poem, (How to Fall From) Grace.
It’s as easy as whistling
to a man in a pickup truck, letting him
put his hands on your hips,
letting him touch your face
with his whiskey lips
Profile Image for Bert Edens.
280 reviews25 followers
September 16, 2010
Won this as part of a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

I am typically not a fan of poetry, but that's usually because it can be too abstract and vague for me. I like poetry that is emotional and has an edge to it. The poems that Stein provides in Rough Honey certainly meet that criteria.

I believe my favorite poem was about the wasp, where the speaker swims away from a wasp, hiding, even though she had wanted to commit suicide before. Once presented with an opportunity to be stung, hurt, die, etc., she fled. That really spoke to me, not just because of the emotion but because of my own allergies to wasp stings. Plus, it really is a metaphor for what we choose to do or not do every day, not just with life-threatening situations, but everyday life.

Great book. Definitely recommended!
Profile Image for Kasey Jueds.
Author 4 books61 followers
December 28, 2011
So fascinating to read a poetry book that's so varied, but still, somehow, very much one whole piece. There's a big range of forms here, including poems not in forms at all; some are narrative, some lyrical and mystical and abstract; they seem to be narrated by many different voices, and there's no logical progression in terms of the way one poem moves into the next... but still, the book feels woven so carefully out of disparate threads, and unified in spite of all its variety and surprises. Great introduction by Mark Doty in which he discusses this idea of organic unity (which he feels this book has) vs. imposed unity. Certain of the poems I just loved, but mostly loved the book as a whole for the excitement and strangeness and newness of reading so many smart and different poems braided together by themes and ideas moving under and across the surfaces of them.
Profile Image for Kelsey.
9 reviews4 followers
February 21, 2012
Okay, so I was so close to giving this book 3 stars instead of four. There are parts (mostly isolated in sections ii and iii) that are erratic and confused at best. They are reaching and pretentious at their worst. I almost called it quits at that point, but I am glad that I didn't.

I didn't quit because of the promise of section i. Particularly "Voltage", "Galileo", and "So deeply that it is not heard at all, but" which constituted all kinds of verse and spots on the abstract spectrum.

While this first section was great, the last section was nothing short of magnificent. You should read all section of this book (including the ones I deem questionable) because it truly brings everything to a head and to a purpose. The final poem "(How to fall from) Grace" is a thing of beauty, and is stirring and universal, even for those averse to poetry.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 1 book197 followers
October 28, 2018
Melissa Stein’s virtuosic yet inviting debut poetry collection begins with an over-abundance of liquid:
“The lanes are littered with the bodies of bees.
A torrent took them…” (5)
Torrents—of rain, honey, oil, sub-surface riptides— create the hydrous landscape of Rough Honey. Stein’s characters are often suspended in a liquid state of some sort—a world that offers the euphoria of weightlessness and yet is full of jagged rocks and stinging insects.
Profile Image for Gordon Hilgers.
60 reviews71 followers
April 21, 2013
Stein's rich, lyric poetry is amazingly accessible despite its seeming complexity. Amazingly word-rich and concise, these poems focus on both the paradox of desire and the longing for wholeness. Even keel, rarely lopsided or out-of-focus, the poetry here is a smack of utter freedom to be found in the complication and eventual defeat of language. I highly recommend this book
Profile Image for Samantha.
36 reviews12 followers
December 12, 2014
Incredibly beautiful writing. Her word choice is often surprising, but always rings as authentic. She's a master at taking the mundane and making it extraordinary, or taking an ugly truth and making it beautiful. And, on a less literary note, I once did a reading with Melissa Stein, and she was incredibly humble and kind. So a winner as both a poet and a human being!
Profile Image for Maggie.
Author 2 books19 followers
November 18, 2012
Best book of contemporary poetry I've read in a while. They bring the world into the poem and turn it inside out. These poems are thoughtful, carefully crafted, and stronger on each subsequent reading.
Profile Image for Yona McDonough.
Author 56 books202 followers
Currently reading
August 22, 2011
I am loving this collection of poetry, a first for this author. Her voice is original, fresh and engaging. I want to see more from her. One poem begins, "Cherries hemorrhage in a bowl..." Love that, and many more too.
Profile Image for Valerie.
Author 14 books46 followers
February 3, 2013
There are definitely some weaker poems in this collection, but there were also some of the best poems I've read in a long time, the kinds of poems that make me jealous as hell that I didn't write them myself. I will be re-reading this book for awhile.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 8 books54 followers
October 13, 2012
Quality of poems is really uneven, not to be unexpected in a debut collection. But the promise is there.
Profile Image for Molly.
Author 6 books85 followers
April 7, 2013
I dream a sonnet made of buttons. (35)

(on quail): noting that for all the terror of their collective flight / it sounds like nothing so much as umbrellas opening. (42)

kerosene sister (75)
Displaying 1 - 18 of 18 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.