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Opening the Mouth of the Dead by Catherine Woodard
“In this beautiful, haunted book, the author’s granddaddy asks her as a child, 'But what could I do?' The grown child says 'He asks as if I referee.' The child that survives catastrophic family history inevitably feels that she is a referee. The combatants are gone and were, always, not only powerful but unreadable. This child’s mind, facing a harrowing present and harrowing past, turns to a paradigm that she was given in the third grade: the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The ancient paradigm gives dignity and density to the tragedy of her parents’ lives. Litany, the insistent search for truth amid bewildering fragments, is what the survivor can perform to release, if not to save, the past. This is a superb book.”
—Frank Bidart, author of the forthcoming Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2017and five previous collections, and winner of the Bollingen Prize for American Poetry and the Wallace Stevens Award
“Yes! This is news. In depth and energy, Catherine Woodard’s poetry penetrates the whole intense story. She has achieved a dazzling work.”
—Marie Ponsot, winner of the Poetry Society of America’s Frost Medal and Poetry magazine’s Ruth Lilly Prize for lifetime achievement and author of Collected Poems and six previous collections
“Like a yearning, incantatory prayer, these extraordinary poems build to an exquisite and devastating story of loss. With a child’s precision of observation made especially poignant through her third grade reading of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Woodard’s narrator renders a brilliant portrait of a troubled family—a poem cycle truly remarkable for its economy, surprising humor, and sharp truths.”
—Kate Walbert, author of A Short History of Women, Our Kind, and other novels
The central character of Woodard’s first full-length poetry collection, Opening the Mouth of the Dead (September 7, 2017) is a third-grade girl growing up in 1960s North Carolina who uses the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead to navigate her complicated relationship with her father. She struggles to reconcile her heart with her brain in a family where her father grapples with alcoholism and depression.
Catherine Woodard is the author of Opening the Mouth of the Dead, a story in poems published by lone goose press in two editions: paperback and limited-edition book art. She helped return Poetry in Motion to the New York City subways and is a vice president of the Poetry Society of America. Her poems have appeared in literary journals, anthologies, and CNN online. A former journalist, Woodard chairs an advisory committee for the News Literacy Project.