Shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry by The Poetry Society
"In Imagined Sons Carrie Etter reflects on the experience of a birthmother who gave up her son when she was seventeen. In a series of haunting, psalm-like prose poems of enormous courage and insight, she describes possible encounters with this son now in his late teens, expressing how ‘sometimes the melancholy arrives before the remembering’. The series of ‘Birthmother’s Catechisms’ return to repeated, harrowing questions that yield different answers at different moments. This quite extraordinary book by a writer of great imagistic power and skill leaves a mark on the reader which is ineradicable. These are poems of the utmost importance."
Purchase Imagined Sons directly from the publisher here. (If you join Seren Book Club first--free--you'll receive 20% off.)
From reviews of Imagined Sons
The poems in Carrie Etter’s poignant collection, Imagined Sons, coalesce around a haunting: though the poems are spoken by the birth-mother, it is the son who takes centre stage, his absence experienced as a real and pervasive presence throughout. The sequence is a montage of fictional fragments, each fragment representing one of an infinite number of possible versions of the mother/son relationship. We loved this book’s innovative arrangement: the ten regularly occurring ‘catechisms’ interleaved among thirty-eight prose poems, and contained within an over-arching circularity of structure – beginning, as it does, with the refrain How did you let him go? and ending with the unsettling When will you let him go? But above all, we were delighted by the variety of tone – from heart-breaking to funny to frightening – and by the mix of the fantastic and the mundane, of fairy tale and contemporary detail. This is a book to be read and reread.
Ted Hughes Award judges, 2015
"...she does not shy away from acknowledging, even embracing, a sense of unimaginably impressive self-awareness. Etter's remarkable achievement in Imagined Sons is that she is able to exhibit such a balance; she is pragmatic without seeming unattached, and both emotive and emotional without appearing too overtly sentimental."
"Etter uses more vibrant though obscure imagery to explore the relationship between people, as reflected in aspects of their environment. [...] Etter's unusual choices for these book-long tropes are perhaps what gives them their potency. [...] There is an unrelenting brutality to Imagined Sons which gives the volume cohesiveness and distinction."
Sophie Cook, The Warwick Review
"Imagined Sons is an important and beautiful collection."
Beth McDonough, Dundee University Review of the Arts
"But Imagined Sons is also important for showing how craft allows for the effective portrayal of a loss so expansive it could easily wriggle out of control into poetic “laxness” (for lack of a better word; I have read a lot of poems by those touched by orphanhood and/or adoption and many simply sag under the weight of the topic). In this sense, too, Etter was wise in choosing the prose poem whose form allows the suppleness required for such a fraught topic.
Here’s another example from a book that deserves to be read in its entirety—this example reveals the utter fearlessness of Carrie Etter (whose lack of timidity here honors Poetry), and how, sadly, the downside of not knowing is that one can imagine anything [...]."
Eileen Tabios, Galatea Resurrects
"Etter’s fundamental gift throughout Imagined Sons is her deft handling of tone; throughout, she employs the no-nonsense, matter-of-fact darkness that so often permeates bad dreams and their anxious attempts at normality. [...] It is a testament to the poet’s delicacy, restraint and invention that as readers we don’t run straight away from what, when stripped down, is so painful. Far from setting these wonderings firmly out of our experience, Etter’s writing compels and moves us: we too imagine the sons, and find there the immutable and worthwhile fact of being alive."
Patricia Debney, Shearsman Review
"The Imagined Sons poems allow Etter’s brilliant imagination to take the reader on unexpected meetings between birthmother and son....Here, her lyric talents shine; and time is cleverly manipulated as the lost son is recreated in different guises."
Lisa Kelly, Magma
In 1999, living in southern California, Carrie Etter began a series of poems focusing on our cultural obsession with creating beginnings and origins—a new day, a new chapter, a fresh start—called Divining for Starters. Twelve years and a move to England later, here are the best poems from that work in progress. They join poems exploring the environment, the erotic, politics, and selfhood. Employing a poetics of consciousness in an array of forms, Divining for Starters ranges widely with poems at once rigorous and delicate.
Purchase Divining for Starters directly from the publisher here.
From reviews of Divining for Starters
"Carrie Etter's second collection demonstrates a remarkable ear and intelligence. Combining lyricism and experimentation, Divining for Starters is confident, poised, and at times quite startling."
"...these poems are also finely wrought and immensely sensual--the poet 'fingering my small store of words / held on the tongue' ('Divining for Starters (53)'). Even as closure is endlessly deferred, the poems are gathered together by a careful patterning of sound and sense."
"This is of course not simply the hypnotic dream of a train moving through the night, but the drift of language from any fixed reference point. And it is this carefully controlled and haunting slipperiness that makes Carrie Etter's second collection so extraordinary."
Sarah Jackson, New Walk
"...these lean, fleeting poems operate outside linear time, and outside traditional literary concepts of the start, of progress, and of climax. In this sense, Etter not only subverts our "obsession with beginnings" but gains intimacy with the reader, allowing us to keep pace with her thoughts, and to slip in and out of the atmospheres and sensations she has created."
Anna Lewis, Magma
"This is a poetry of elegance and grace, of things spoken and unspoken, the known and almost known and the intuited, and it's quite stunning."
Winner of the London New Poetry Award 2010 for the best first collection of poetry published in the UK and Ireland in the last year.
Judge Daljit Nagra commented, "It’s rare to find a poet having quite so much fun with language and life as Carrie Etter. The poems perform acrobatics with forms as they are driven by the possibilities of words so each piece seems to arrive at its own unexpected and surprised ending. What’s most impressive is Etter’s restless mind that fetches odd allusions or steers off into tangents in a way that always compels us to make the journey. It’s also rare to find a poet who can persistently find joy through suffering with such an assured lightness of touch which defies its lucid surface. A persistently witty and beautifully moving book that is carefully themed and linguistically patterned so that it feels more like the collection of an experienced poet."
Purchase The Tethers directly from the publisher here.
From reviews of The Tethers
"The Tethers marks the arrival of an original talent and is surely one of the most ambitious and accomplished first collections in recent years."
Ben Wilkinson, The Times Literary Supplement
"Carrie Etter is an American expatriate, and her poetry is rootless in the best sense: it moves over wide-ranging territory and seems able to make itself at home anywhere. Although The Tethers is her first collection, Etter fully possesses her material," evincing "intelligence and authority."
Carrie Etter's "marvellously pithy and eloquent collection bursts with repressed urges and shudders [...]. There is electricity in these poems, and a tactile, nervous energy. [...] The writing is keen and intimate, tainted with incipient regret, and more than a hint of the terrible power of recollection to distract and distort."
Richard Gwyn, Poetry Wales
"Etter's neat, tight free verse holds back from expressing explicit emotion, letting the reader feel it instead. [...] The best poems try to pinpoint consciousness changing moment by moment, and have their own integrity, as in 'Crowd of One':
For minutes, sometimes hours, a single tap
deftly splits the egg, yolk and white slide out,
the shell closes on air and arcs
in its flight to the bin. Synapses fire palpably.
Regret is elsewhere.
Light suffuses the room,
without any discrete source.
Meditating on this, the reader summons images of fertility, of Annunciation. You have to listen very hard to Etter's subtleties, and then your own answering imagination repays you."
Michele Roberts, The Warwick Review
"There is much to admire in Carrie Etter's The Tethers too. [...] hers is an assured, confident voice. There is a wide variety here in both form and subject matter and I particularly enjoyed the many pieces with a literary flavour; the prose poems, those which put a new spin on relationships and the ones which display flashes of wit. I also admired the range of shapes on the page and the spareness and economy."
Carole Bromley, The North
"In remarking the constancy of water, Etter overturns Catullus' cliché: that the words of women should be written on water, because both are untethered and trustless. Like "Millais' Ophelia" (another fine observational poem), Etter knows the weight of water, its bound composition. In "The Bonds", where the poem's title resonates through multiple discourses from chemistry to "the -ologies of more elusive chemistries", water reflects back history's constancy in mutability, coded through language's adaptable clarity, words like water's surface revealing hidden treasures in their depths. Findings rich and strange arrive with each re-reading."
Readings from The Tethers
Tuesday, 9 June 2009, 7 p.m. London launch! Fyvie Hall, University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW. Come to enjoy some wine and a short reading.
Thursday, 11 June 2009, 8 p.m. Bath launch! Bath Spa University Reading Series, Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute,Queen Square, Bath. Reading with Lee Harwood.
Saturday, 20 June 2009. The University of Warwick, Coventry. Day event featuring The Warwick Review in conjunction with the university's alumni day. Claire Crowther and Tiffany Atkinson will also read and talk about their work.
Sunday, 23 August 2009, 7 p.m. Myopic Books Poetry Reading Series, Chicago. Reading with James Shea, author of Star in the Eye (Fence Books, 2008).
Wednesday, 9 September 2009, 4:20 p.m.. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Student Union, Terre Haute, Indiana.
Thursday, 10 September 2009, 6 p.m.. Rachael's Cafe, 300 E. Third St., Bloomington, Indiana.
Tuesday, 15 September 2009. Illinois Wesleyan University,Bloomington, Illinois.
Friday, 9 and Saturday, 10 October 2009. St Helier, Jersey. A reading on Friday night followed by a workshop on Saturday afternoon.
Monday, 2 November 2009. Alchemy Reading and Performance Series, The Globe Cafe, Prague. I'll also run some writing workshops at The English College in Prague earlier in the day.
Tuesday, 24 November 2009. Marlborough College, Marlborough. A workshop with students, a reading, and a dinner.
Thursday, 3 December 2009, 7:30 p.m. Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff. Reading with Vuyelwa Carlin, followed by an open mic.
Thursday, 4 February 2010, 8 p.m. Fire River Poets, Brewhouse Theatre, Taunton. Includes an open mic. £5.
Monday, 8 February 2010, 7 p.m. The University of Plymouth's Peninsula Arts literature series. Reading with Jane Griffiths. £5, concessions £3, students, friends and faculty free.
Monday, 22 February 2010, 8 p.m. The Coffee House Poetry Series at The Troubadour, London. "Escarmouches II: War of Independence" with Alan Jenkins, Roddy Lumsden, and Molly Peacock. Reading and discussion of the poetries of the US and UK, how they interact and differ. £7, concessions £6.
Saturday, 27 February 2010, 4:30 p.m. "New Narratives," Annual Academi Literary Conference, Pontfaen, Wales. Reading with Gillian Clarke, Joe Dunthorne, and Kathryn Gray, followed by question and answer session.
Thursday, 11 March 2010, 8 p.m. International Women's Poetry,Lauderdale House, London. Reading with Annie Freud and Shanta Acharya. £5, £3 concessions.
Thursday, 25 March 2010, 8 p.m. E.g. poetry, The Red Roaster Cafe, Brighton. North American poetry night with Naomi Foyle and Todd Swift, with open mic. £5, concs £4.
Saturday, 3 April 2010, 2-3:30 p.m. The Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, New York City. Reading with Molly Peacock. $8.
More readings are listed under Readings & Events