Keegan Lester

Keegan Lester (Poetry) | New York, NY

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Keegan Lester is an American poet splitting time between New York City and Morgantown, West Virginia. The winner of the 2016 Slope Editions Book Prize, selected by Mary Ruefle, for his collection this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it was all i had, so i drew it. His work is published in or forthcoming from the Boston Review, The Atlas Review, Powder Keg, BOAAT Journal, The Journal, Phantom Books, Tinderbox, CutBank, and Sixth Finch, among others, and has been featured on NPR, The New School Writing Blog, and Coldfront Magazine. He is the co-founder and poetry editor for the journal Souvenir Lit.


this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was and it was all i had so i drew it (Slope Editions, 2017). Slope Editions Book Prize. Poetry.

Blurbs, Press, & Reviews

Unapologetically cosmic in its scope yet always attentive to the tiniest particles of earthling experience, Keegan Lester’s all-stops-out debut induces the most meaningful kind of vertigo—one that breaks the spell of habit, sends you reeling, then leaves you radically re-attuned to the world we live in. That world, as Lester presents it, is governed by invisible forces—”we don’t choose as much as we think we do in this life,” he writes—from the pull of the moon, wind, and molecular biology to the pressures of history, personal memory, actual ghosts, angels, and the will of other people. The sensibility at play in this shouldn’t be beautiful… perceives all of the above, and with uncommon acuity. It is akin to that of “the tinkers / & carnie sideshows” who alone can tell “the world’s melting”; it feels “the tectonics of things”; it intuits how “unicorns & cowboys are much alive in our DNA” and that “humans are divinity plus movement.” Heart-rooted in West Virginia but itinerant in its limbs, this shouldn’t be beautiful… is riddled with insight, full of America, made of dazzling cadences, and graced by a “perpetual openness” like that which Emerson ascribes to the Transcendentalist, along with a belief “in inspiration, and in ecstasy.” Keegan Lester is just the kind of poet we need right now—and this is inspired, ecstatic poetry.
—Timothy Donnelly

“Falling in love while losing a loved one and watching the war news on TV? Life is difficult, and the poems in this marvelous collection ask a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human? Each poem supplies part of the answer–to go looking, to make mistakes, to be confused, to be wounded, to keep moving toward a new life. “The expression of our faces when we almost get to where we are going”—that is the expression we have while reading this book, which has the pace of an intense, anticipated journey, one that acknowledges that language is a problem, that art, science, and history are problems, but nonetheless many disparate lives, both past and present, somehow meld into one small life lived, and when that life speaks—”mouth deliver us to the present”—we sit up and listen, for the experience of reading has handed us a strange joy.”
—Mary Ruefle

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