Spotlight on “The Ledger of Mistakes” by Kathy Nelson

by LitStack Editor

Why remember the dead?

the ledger of mistakes by kathy nelson

About The Ledger of Mistakes

“Why remember the dead?” poet Kathy Nelson begins this sobering meditation, a descent and rise through what’s lost and sometimes found again, her keen eye on the natural world, her mother in the Bardo and in life, both trouble and love restored, unshakable grief, regret, triumph, mystery… And why exactly? Because we need these poems as lens, as touchstone. And such lovely, startling interventions of language and image! Vivid detail, layer upon layer-say, a “landscape stitched with fencerows,” or to hold a breath “until someone unlocks the door.” That someone is this most remarkable poet. “Last night,” Nelson writes, “I found a hidden stairway leading down/into a maze of rooms …” And what a rewarding gift for all of us, to follow her there. Marianne Boruch, Bestiary Dark

Praise for The Ledger of Mistakes with Excerpt

A superb example of a poetic sequence that unfolds non-linearly, Kathy Nelson’s collection brings several narrative lines into a pleasing cohesiveness, the strongest tether being the emotional narrative of a complicated relationship between the collection’s speaker and her mother. While there is evidence of maternal tenderness withheld, there is also evidence of love displayed which makes evident Nelson’s deft handling of her subjects. Her observant eye offers us vivid and stirring scenesMartha Rhodes, The Thin Wall

I awoke from numb forgetting, remembered—
oh, the longing—a daughter I’d never known,
lost in the night. On the horizon, beacons shone,
but I stumbled in a canyon of talus slopes and boulders.
I never had the dream again and it’s just as well.
A person could be destroyed by such hopelessness.
I have been my mother and I have been my daughter.

Kathy Nelson’s The Ledger of Mistakes presses loss and regret into beautiful shapes, into poems that can talk and sing and unexpectedly succumb, all at once. A poet writing a ledger is a poet given to accounting, a poet who doesn’t want to forget. Dimensioned as the contours of Precambrian rock, these detailed poems feel simultaneously wise and true; they are both formally accomplished and emotionally rife. Nelson has written a masterful book, a treatise on the complication of loss. Like the speaker at the end of “Easter, 1956,” these poems allow the reader to marvel “at the possibilities of flight” an experience I cherish and shall repeat.—Sally Keith, River House

About Kathy Nelson, author of The Ledger of Mistakes

the ledger of mistakes kathy nelson

Kathy Nelson grew up near the southern Appalachian Mountains and has lived in Austin, Salt Lake City, central New Jersey, western North Carolina and (currently) northern Nevada. She has worked as an engineer, a teacher, and a chaplain. While poetry had been a thread through all her previous life, Kathy began to study and to write poetry seriously during her experience as a hospice chaplain and has felt both fed and ignited by the poetry of Larry Levis, Kathleen Graber, Natalie Diaz, Elizabeth Bishop and Ellen Bryant Voigt.

In 2019, Kathy was awarded the James Dickey Prize (Five Points: A Journal of Literature and Art). She is the author of the full-length collection, The Ledger of Mistakes (Terrapin Books, 2023), as well as two chapbooks: Cattails (Main Street Rag, 2013) and Whose Names Have Slipped Away (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Her poems have appeared in Asheville Poetry Review, Southern Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, Valparaiso Poetry Review, New Ohio Review, Rogue Agent Journal and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers.

the ledger of mistakes article with picture of james dickey prize kathy nelson

Kathy is honored to be the recipient of the 2019 JAMES DICKEY PRIZE FOR POETRY. This award is bestowed by the literary magazine Five Points published by Georgia State University. The annual award is for an outstanding group of poems by one poet. Kathy’s poems are published in the Vol. 20, no. 1 issue of Five Points. Previous winners include Kim Addonizio, Robert Wrigley, A.E. Stallings, Michael McFee, Anne Marie Macari, and Ann Townsend.

Kathy is also honored to have been nominated for the 2020 & 2022 PUSHCART PRIZE. Kathy’s poetry was recognized with an Honorable Mention in the 2018 KAKALAK POETRY CONTEST.

Other LitStack Resources

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