The Celery Forest
October 3, 2017
74 Pages | ISBN 978-1-928088-41-7
*shortlisted for the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry*
Like Wonderland or Oz, Neverland or Narnia, The Celery Forest is an extraordinary world filled with strange creatures and disorienting sights. But the doorway to the Celery Forest is not a rabbit hole or an old wardrobe. The doorway is an MRI. For poet and novelist Catherine Graham, this is the topsy-turvy world she found herself in after learning she had breast cancer.
More than a survivor’s tale, these poems are a map through unknowable terrain, infused with awareness and forgetting, written by a poet with the visionary ability to distill our sense of wonder into something we can hold.
Advance Praise | Reviews | Interviews | Articles | Excerpt
“We might also call cancer an occasion for remembrance, for fear and bewilderment, and for exultation in birds. It’s a level of experience almost too intense to bear, both the immediacy of still-available delight and of one’s own fragility, when everything seen or felt is coloured and textured by it. That’s what Catherine Graham is after: when ‘Leaves dry out, become castanets,’ when ‘Your pale feet / grow rubies,’ when ‘You dream of trees.’ The Celery Forest is a book of enacted grace, poetic resourcefulness, and imaginative courage. It is also, regarding its subject and its author’s experience, a genuine and intensely compelling work of art.”
– Robert Wrigley, author of Anatomy of Melancholy and Other Poems
“Such a beautiful book, where every bird, cell and syllable counts. After a few reads I found myself approaching it like one long poem rather than a collection of shorter pieces. Catherine lets the weight of her subject matter bend, break and expand her lines wonderfully. The craft of her poetry is far, far stronger than the cancer she survived.”
– Patrick Woodcock, author of You Can’t Bury Them All
Poems New and Old (David Johnstone, Canadian Literature, 18/09/2018)
"She speaks to an owl and tells him to 'pluck the tumour out of [her] breast / with your sharp, curved talons— / let the only thing that spreads be your wings.' It's images like these that are so affective and so carefully and delicately conjured that they stick to the walls of the reader's mind and slowly drip down. Their haunting beauty can feel exactly like 'a Zeppelin record playing / backwards.'"
Two Marrow Reviews on Buckrider titles: Graham’s The Celery Forest and Lubrin’s Voodo Hypothesis (Catherine Owen, Marrow Reviews, 09/11/2017)
"Poems are spells, charms and like Plath’s evocations of tulips or Roethke’s hothouse world, Graham’s collection elaborates a tangle of vegetation, a whir of wings that rarely addresses the disease itself directly, but like a magician refusing negotiation with what is, she weaves around the tumour and away from it."
“An impressive new collection, The Celery Forest is both powerful and beautiful, a work of great fortitude and invention, full of jewel-like moments and dark gnomic utterances. It faces into the dark and finds a way through.” – Michael Longley, author of The Stairwell
Under the Cover: Narnia for Ghost Animals: the Story Behind My Poem “Winterhill” (All Lit Up, 22/02/2018)
"A poem's truest form is in the air, I think, as breath, as life. To my delight this was how the poems from my fourth collection Winterkill were being experienced by a little girl. Her mother read them to her at night before bed."
Catherine Graham's Path Through the Celery Forest: "A Great Book Alters You Physically" (Open Book, 23/11/2017)
"I was grappling with the shift in perspective and perception that happens after you’ve been given an unexpected health diagnosis. It’s a time when you realize how thin the veil really is between life and death."
Onwards, to poetic noir (Lisa de Nikolits, Open Book, 14/11/2017)
"One day I started playing with the phrase ‘the celery forest’. What would that place be? Who is the girl in the red dress holding the owl in her open hand? Or is the owl holding her? What kind of owl is it? (Turns out it’s a saw-whet owl.) Out of this playing came my first poem, “Cancer in the Celery Forest”. This kicked off the journey of the manuscript."
Canadian Poets Rocking Worlds (Rayanne Haines, Edmonton Public Library Blog, 11/08/2018)
Catherine's book is on the Canadian Poets Rocking Worlds list of general recommended poetry curated by author Rayanne Haines.
Poetry lovers: the latest volumes to entertain and make you think (Barb Carey, The Toronto Star, 22/12/2017)
"She tracks her perilous journey through [cancer] treatment metaphorically, in taut, lyrically distilled poems that evoke a nightmarish fantasy world. Her figurative language is vivid, rooted in sensation […] Like the fairy tales and myths that these poems often echo, The Celery Forest is spellbinding, unsettling but powerful."
The best Canadian poetry of 2017 (CBC Books, 22/12/2017)
"The novelist and poet uses sensual language and style that peers into the duality of beauty and horror."
Catherine Graham is the author of five acclaimed poetry collections, including Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects, which was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award and the CAA Award for Poetry. Winner of the International Festival of Authors' Poetry NOW competition, she teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto where she won an Excellence in Teaching Award and at Humber College's Creative Book Publishing Program. Published internationally, she lives in Toronto.
Visit her website at www.catherinegraham.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @catgrahampoet.