Bough Down

Karen Green

One of the most beautiful expressions of love and loss you will ever read. Bough Down put me in mind somehow of the Portuguese fado: a lament rendered so precisely it becomes luminous and affirmative. This is a profound, lovely, bitterly funny book that fulfills the first requirement of great art: it is magical.


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With fearlessness and grace, Karen Green has created a profoundly beautiful and intensely moving lament. In this unusual narrative constructed of crystalline fragments of prose interspersed with miniature collages, Green conjures the urgency and inscrutability of a world shaped by love and loss.

In charting her passage through grief, she summons memories and the machinations of the interior mind with poetic precision, a startling sense of humor, and an acute awareness of contradictory truths and of the volatility of language. Like the snippets of Billie Holiday lyrics scattered throughout, Green distills each moment, locating the sweet and the bitter, with the emotional gravity of music.

In counterpoint, tiny visual collages punctuate the text, made of salvaged language and scraps of the material world. Made not to illustrate the words but as a parallel process of invocation and erasure, pilfering and remaking, each collage—and the creative act of making it—evinces the reassembling of life.

Bough Down is a book of dualities, probing the small spaces between lucidity and madness, desire and ambivalence, the living and the absent. Both an evocation of her love for her husband and an act of defiance in the face of devastating loss, Bough Down is a lapidary, keenly observed and composed work, awash with the honesty of an open heart.

KAREN GREEN is an artist and writer living and working in Northern California.


Critics on Bough Down by Karen Green


Los Angeles Review of Books  Maggie Nelson

Karen Green’s new — and incredibly, her first — book Bough Down, from Siglio Press, is an astonishment. It is one of the most moving, strange, original, harrowing, and beautiful documents of grief and reckoning I’ve read. The book consists of a series of prose poems, or individuated chunks of poetic prose, interspersed with postage-stamp-sized collages made by Green, who is also a visual artist. Collectively the text bears witness to the 2008 suicide of her husband . . . and its harrowing aftermath for Green. The book feels like an instant classic, but without any of the aggrandizement that can attend such a thing. Instead it is suffused throughout with the dissonant, private richness of the minor, while also managing to be a major achievement.


Slate  Meghan O’Rourke

One of the most singular books I read this year—a book that left an indelible impression on me—is Karen Green’s Bough Down, a lyric elegy for a husband who took his own life. Comprising both visual collages and elliptical prose entries, Bough Down is a lament for a lost love, by turns yearning, acerbic, resigned, and alive with protest. Green’s husband was the writer David Foster Wallace, though he is never mentioned by name; the book is a triumph on its own terms..


Wall Street Journal  Martin Riker

Ms. Green turns out to be a profoundly good writer: Bough Down is lovely, smart and funny, in addition to being brutally clear and sad. . . . [Bough Down] does not resolve into pure despondency, on the one hand, or redemptive hope, on the other. Instead, Ms. Green registers the complexity of grief and in the process makes something beautiful out of the saddest stuff in the world.


Hyperallergic  J. Mae Borizo

Bough Down is a beautiful anomaly in itself. It is many things: art book, collage, lyric, prose poetry and ultimately, a dizzying and wondrous incantation of grief. . . . The work enthralls because it exposes artistic creation as an act of necessity, this feat of laying it all down. Perhaps this is what the title alludes to — the concurrent processes of forgetting and remembering as they are set on the page. Bough Down continually challenges the reader to submit to memory while at the same time recognize its ongoingness. In Bough Down, we view the life of Green’s mind as it searches, flails, and discovers the world’s fierce truths, its luminosity.




In Bough Down Karen Green has created beautiful missives, both textual and visual, around an invisible core of grief that we all, one way or another, share.  Like those great poets before her, Ann Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and Emily Dickinson, Green’s poetic ear, her honed images, and her paradoxically confessional yet non-confessional voice challenge the reader to rise up to meet the demands of a wonderfully humane artistic vision. This is a stunning book.



Bough Down is a breathtaking lyric elegy. A fusion of poetry, prose, and visual images, it is a work of emotional acuity, quiet ferocity, and riven bravery. Its use of silence, compression, detail, and the fragmentary is powerful and rich. I can’t call to mind a book that centers on loss which better sustains its summoning, grief, anger, probing, intelligence, and dignity. Wow! I am still in its grip.