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.
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"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
I am Made More Uneven Above the Heart (P.W. Bridgman, Glasgow Review of Books, 05/10/2019)
"Graham has transmuted the terrors of an encounter with cancer … into pure art that is fierce, true and unsullied by platitudes and truisms … a rare and extraordinary creation … The Celery Forest is a volume of poems wrought mainly in language that (like the language of Wallace Stevens, for example) is brilliantly and intriguingly circuitous."
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.'"
Poetry Lovers: The Latest Volumes to Entertain and Make You Think (Barb Carey, 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."
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."
“Here are poems that speak with originality, a point which is not from earth or heaven, not real or surreal. I call it in abeyance. It’s a smart distance, very intriguing and elegant. It’s like being inside a paleontological museum. Not because of the age of the species exposed there but the mystery reflected in an isolated space. Graham mystifies the ordinary and demystifies the rare. The Celery Forest is a wild book with all its physical and metaphysical fears and tastes of absurdity. Lines like 'anonymity is no worry', 'harmony is only a hair’s breadth away from real life', 'her missing foot – it shows me where the rain fits', 'an animal – somewhere – inside another animal’s throat' are striking and I am not going to forget them. Undefined, ambiguous as in a dream, difficult to understand who, where and what, the elements seem to be projected from a source outside. It’s a special psychological position, more than a stylistic choice, bringing a new order and re-dimensioning of things.”
– Luljeta Lleshanaku, author of the Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted book Negative Space (Bloodaxe Books), translated by Ani Gjika
“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
“This book succeeds in creating its own world, using magic realism, fairy tales and a skilled and sure ear. We are led and follow the path of images both frightening and fabulous, until, surrounded, we’re lost. Exploring a subject that’s hard to make new, The Celery Forest is a rare and compelling achievement.”
– Miranda Pearson, judge of the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry
Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Catherine Graham (Alana Farrell, The Wombell Rainbow, 30/08/2019)
"One day I began playing with words—images, memories of my parents and the limestone quarry we lived beside. Time disappeared. When the engagement with words ended, I knew something out of the ordinary had happened."
Why Catherine Graham loves the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop (Shelagh Rogers, The Next Chapter, 04/05/2019)
"I've been influenced by her from the beginning as a poet. I love what she does and the way that she actually has so much happening that is so subtle. She compresses things and also is able to have an essence to what's hidden beneath. That hiddenness has a presence and a force."
STORYLINES - Catherine Graham DEC 1 2018 (Christine Cowley, Hunters Bay Radio, 01/12/2018)
Listen to Catherine read from and discuss her collection.
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."
Six Poems by Catherine Graham (Robert Frede Kenter, IceFloe Press, 20/04/2020)
Catherine shares six poems.
6 Contemporary Poets Mining The Depths of Language (Ezvid Wiki, 08/04/2020)
Catherine is one of "6 Contemporary Poets Mining The Depths of Language."
Catherine Graham's Ten Reasons to Join the TIFA Book Club (Catherine Graham, Toronto International Festival of Auhtors, 09/07/2019)
Catherine shares reasons to join the TIFA Book Club.
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.
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."
Click here to read an excerpt from The Celery Forest
Click here to read the poem "Undergrowth"
Click here to read the poem "Siren"
About the Author
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.
Other Titles by this Author
Put Flowers Around Us and Pretend We're Dead: New and Selected Poems (2023)
Æther: An Out-of-Body Lyric (2021)