Bough Down

Karen Green

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hardback 5.75 × 7.75 in.
188 pages, full color
published in 2013
third printing

PDF Press Release

The Believer Poetry Award 2013

Best Books of 2013 at NPR, Slate, and more

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.


read excerpts at BOMB and Design Observer

about the author

KAREN GREEN is an artist and writer whose inventive, hybrid image-text works narrate the intimate spaces of human experience. Her most recent title is Frail Sister, and her books have earned numerous accolades and a devoted readership. She lives in New Mexico and New York City.


“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.”
—Maggie Nelson, Los Angeles Review of Books

“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.”
—Meghan O’Rourke, Slate

“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.”
—Martin Riker, Wall Street Journal

“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.”
—J. Mae Barizo, Hyperallergic

More reviews at Lemonhound, The Millions, N+1, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Rumpus.

see also


Bough Down, a Best Book of 2013On so many lists


The Grief MemoirOn Karen Green’s Bough Down

Suzanne Scanlon, The Millions


Frail SisterKaren Green

✼ elsewhere:

“How do you know where the boundaries of a life are? How do you know where to stop? Or when something doesn’t apply?” —Nicole Rudick in conversation with Sam Stephenson at AIR/LIGHT


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