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Leaving the Skin on the Bear

From C&R Press

Published March 2022




Part soft underbelly, part scabrous self-reflection, Leaving the Skin on the Bear is a collection that takes readers on a sojourn through the richly imagined weaving of a world that is both our own and not. The poems collected here celebrate otherness and contradiction, demand understanding and the acceptance of not-knowing simultaneously. These poems stay the crooked path and reimagine what it is, and has always been, to learn that no loss is complete. The untamed imageries summoned here leap from one form to another in their need to meet the demands of what becomes a steady inquiry. This is not a collection of answers, but a testimony of what a life lived in questions might look like. In these pages we are, perhaps above all else, brought nearer to knowing the vanity of containing, and of what we bury. Living is a cycle of unearthings. This collection’s recurring potsherd cuts despair into our certainty, and its cost, towards the world. These pieces suggest that turning away from what wounds is the forgetting that strips a crucial magic: the capacity to marvel at feeling.



It’s apt that Kelli Allen’s sumptuous new collection Leaving the Skin on the Bear begins with an epigraph from W.S. Merwin. Because like Merwin, her poetry navigates sensuality and memory in ways that always surprise with its musicality and the new mythologies it creates. These sonorous poems ask all the right questions about humanness and our unusual relationships, about what we are bequeathed by family and animal. The same animals that often appear in these poems as reminders of the carnality driving all we do even as our desires resist us to the point of regret. Whether happening in some stretch of America, China, or a forest at the edge of a village, the truisms of need are as ubiquitous as the music these elegant poems are making.”
—Adrian Matejka, author of Somebody Else Sold the World 


“Candle burner, mother’s milk seller, what have you written/tonight?” asks the speaker in one of Kelli Allen’s fine poems from her new collection Leaving the Skin on the Bear. This line, like so many others in the text, hints of an imaginative world where myth and reality merge. The poems in this collection move to each cardinal direction and delve into the dreams they find there. “This is where those myths have gone,” she proclaims. Leaving the Skin on the Bear is a place to explore human hunger and fullness, to remember to “Listen to each other suffer. Hold/a hand to fresh wounds, not to push/hard, not to stop what flows.”
—Dion O’Reilly, author of Ghost Dogs


“These poems crackle with feral intensity, with “want and seawater,” with the desire to know the world in all its rowdy glamour and to praise that world. I love how these poems include the caterpillar, the tongue and the bamboo prayer beads, how they weep and cackle over goat-carts and tossed coins. This is a luminous and spicy collection of poems with the power to inspire us to live more deeply than we thought possible.”
—Jay Leeming poet, performance storyteller and author of Dynamite on a China Plate


“Kelli Allen’s latest collection, LEAVING THE SKIN ON THE BEAR, is a hybrid work of poetry and prose that explores the interior and exterior worlds of the imagination, with myth braided into lived experience. We are given poems that recognize the pathos and ruins (“What a tragedy remembering/ the stars are not gods”), as well as the tender sweetness of this life (“The smallest hands still reach for ties/ that keep safe what we bind to this earth”). These are physical, earthy poems that hold us in a dream-like state, poems that pull us back into their wild landscapes even after the last poem has been read, the way “The corpse of our longing gets fed after shutting the door.”
—Brian Turner

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