An extraordinary collection of endurance and transformation by the award-winning author of Bestiary
The Renunciations is a book of resilience, survival, and the journey to radically shift one’s sense of self in the face of trauma. Moving between a childhood marked by love and abuse and the breaking marriage of that adult child, Donika Kelly charts memory and the body as landscapes to be traversed and tended. These poems construct life rafts and sanctuaries even in their most devastating confrontations with what a person can bear, with how families harm themselves. With the companionship of “the oracle”—an observer of memory who knows how each close call with oblivion ends—the act of remembrance becomes curative, and personal mythologies give way to a future defined less by wounds than by possibility.
In this gorgeous and heartrending second collection, we find the home one builds inside oneself after reckoning with a legacy of trauma—a home whose construction starts “with a razing.”
About the Author
Donika Kelly is the author of Bestiary, winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for poetry, and the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. She teaches at the University of Iowa.
“[The Renunciations] is a lionhearted odyssey through the self, a casting aside of old mythologies and traumas in search of new stories fashioned from love and joy. . . . Like some sort of oracle, Kelly offers us the words to create our own destinies.”—Oprah.com
“These poems map the overlapping geographies of trauma and desire, combining Ovidian imagery with an emphasis on omission, redaction, and revision.”—The New Yorker
“These walloping lyrics land like a punch to the gut, but just as powerful is what Kelly elides and omits. . . . A harrowing work of courageous lyricism.”—Booklist
“[The Renunciations] is impeccably structured. . . . Kelly’s second effort feels scraped raw, seeking to understand humanity in primal terms in the same way as her debut, but here building to even grander emotional and linguistic crescendo.”—Library Journal, starred review
“Kelly (Bestiary) explores in her powerful latest the tenuous line between desire and trauma in poems that ache with memory and revelation. . . . While many of the poems delve into difficult personal and familial ground, they also move toward a kind of catharsis where the truth is ‘every body makes its own ash,/ manages its own diminishing.’ This devastating collection makes a startling and memorable elegy of those ashes.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“[The Renunciations] is a powerful ode to resilience and drawing boundaries of the self while recovering from trauma.”—Book Riot
“With an expansive voice that is always tethered to the craft of material of stanzas and lines, Kelly creates a powerful second book [in The Renunciations].”—The Millions
“The journey we take in The Renunciations is nothing short of rescue mission. And who else but Donika Kelly could offer such a lucid guide to the central figure of this book, as she navigates her most difficult years. . . . The poems are startling, disturbing, and relentlessly bold. I can’t imagine a time before having The Renunciations as a part of my emotional ecosystem and poetic landscape. Thank you, Donika, is what I really want to say.”—francine j. harris
“With Donika Kelly’s signature stinging beauty, The Renunciations names acts of wounding and making, refuses to separate elemental memory from the language of human remembrance. . . . Kelly’s poems gather us from cliff edge to river fold, from terror to more terror, from what cannot be known to what intuition and mirrors can divine.”—Khadijah Queen
“In The Renunciations, her vital new poetry collection, Donika Kelly harnesses ‘the air, the earth, and flame’ to renounce the old gods: child abuse, violence, racial injustice, generational trauma. . . . The Renunciations is a work of stunning power, alive with haunting images, complex metaphor. And while Kelly looks unsparingly at pain and suffering—her own and others’—with transformation comes joy.”—Ellen Bass
“In stunning poems such as these it requires not only excavation but thinking about how to present what is excavated, artfully. Kelly does that incredibly well. . . . [The Renunciations] is, overall, intelligent and deeply affecting."—Roxane Gay