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2016: Witch Wife

by Kiki Petrosino


The New York Times, “Best Poetry 2017”

Barnes & Noble, “25 Must-Reads for National Poetry Month”

Vol. 1 Brooklyn, “December 2017 Book Preview”

The Millions, “Must-Read Poetry: December 2017”

Memorious Mag, “Contributor Spotlight Bonzana”

The poems of Witch Wife are spells, obsessive incantations to exorcise or celebrate memory, to mourn the beloved dead, to conjure children or keep them at bay, to faithfully inhabit one’s given body. In sestinas, villanelles, hallucinogenic prose poems and free verse, Kiki Petrosino summons history’s ghosts—the ancestors that reside in her blood and craft—and sings them to life.

Kiki Petrosino is the author of two previous books of poetry: Hymn for the Black Terrific (2013) and Fort Red Border (2009). She holds graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Her poems and essays have appeared in Best American Poetry, The New York Times, FENCE, Gulf Coast, Jubilat, Tin House and online at Ploughshares. She is founder and co-editor of Transom, an independent online poetry journal. She is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Louisville, where she directs the Creative Writing Program. Her awards include a residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat and research fellowships from the University of Louisville’s Commonwealth Center for the Humanities and Society and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.


“Petrosino. . . crackles in her stunning third collection, as she dives deep into the ephemeral powers of the body, particularly those of black women. . . .Cosmic images blend with the familiar and domestic to create an all-encompassing reading experience.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Petrosino is a canny, wide-ranging and formally nimble writer with a magician’s command of atmosphere.”
—The New York Times, “The Best Poetry of 2017”

“In Petrosino’s singular world, the familiar becomes strange, and the strange, suddenly irresistible, settles deep in the bones. Sparkling with sly wordplay and fantastical imagery, these are not only masterful poems but mighty incantations. Utterly spellbinding.”

“Petrosino writes complicated, layered poems, rife with internal rhymes and echoes of assonance…A fine addition to large poetry collections.”
—Library Journal

“This stunning spellbook on love, being a woman in all phases of life, motherhood, and inhabiting the female body will cast a spell on you.”
—Barnes & Noble

“In Witch Wife Petrosino achieves what most poets spend all their time hoping for: she gets better and better and better.”
—Kazim Ali, Poetry Foundation, “Reading List: April 2018”

“Witch Wife offers that maybe all love stories are stories of bodies. We are within before we are without. Petrosino is a unique voice, churning a mixture of smirk and mirth. . . Witch Wife is a weird wonder, something altogether new in its combinations.”
—The Millions, “Must-Read Poetry: December 2017”

“When the poet gets personal, asking the stranger to sit through her deep feelings about her body, her lover, her dreams and fears, the stranger makes a demand in return: only if you interest me, poet. And yes, Kiki Petrosino fully delivers on that account. She is thoughtful, eminently likable—it’s a pleasure to know her.”
—Foreword Reviews

“Lyrical and elegant…”
—New York Journal of Books

“The poetry of Kiki Petrosino explores a host of forms and techniques, from the storied to the contemporary—all the while exploring questions vital to the author’s sense of being. . . .In this volume, she embraces the idea of poems as spells, and in doing so adds yet another layer to works with haunting complexity.”
—Vol. 1 Brooklyn

“Unfolding over four sections—each sprinkled with villanelles and other crackling formal quirks—Witch Wife deftly slides back and forth between the humorous and the devastating, between the guttural and the cosmic, between the conditions of America and the particularities of the speaker’s own body. . . .Certain to make many ‘best of’ lists for poetry this year, Witch Wife is not one to be missed.”
—Arkansas International

“There is no moment of Witch Wife that slacks— Petrosino revels in the crafting of sculptural cats-cradle like poems: strange and beautiful, morbid and musical, Witch Wife confirms Petrosino as both magician and master, and certainly one of America’s most fascinating contemporary poets.”

—Five Points

“The visceral poems in Kiki Petrosino’s collection Witch Wife brilliantly explore themes of race, gender, and motherhood.”
—Largehearted Boy

“These dark liturgies speak from the deep spaces of the Earth and of the human heart, painting 21st century rational angst with the blood and broken teeth and forest roots of the grimmest classic fairy tales”
—Fourth & Sycamore

“[M]any of the poems feel exactly as though they are exposing the magic in the world: stitching together frayed edges, weaving new connections, folding ideas into themselves to strengthen them.”

“Petrosino has long been one of my favorite poets, working her linguistic sorcery through the heart’s palette with aching joy and stinging creativity. Her words kindle. Her poems are pure fire. Witch Wife might be her finest burn yet.”

—Amber Tamblyn

“Kiki Petrosino’s lush and stunning Witch Wife is a hothouse in winter, incongruous and adamantly fertile, full of strange blossoms, site of refuge and danger. Someone has drawn pictures in all the steamy windows. These are poems about what composes us—our names, our flesh, our vexed relationships to both—and about ambivalence turned glittering and feral, about the question of what the body can and cannot stomach. Petrosino’s language turns organs into verbs, and verbs into organs, metabolizing the strangeness of presence, regret, and hope. When I read this book on the subway, the investment banker sitting next to me was reading over my shoulder. He could tell I was warming myself by some kind of fire. And I was. It was glorious.”
—Leslie Jamison

“Liberated verses, strangely lyrical prose poems, and altered constructions are Petrosino’s forte. She delights in unsettling the familiar with startling results, whether channeling Anne Sexton or William Blake. Her stylish innovation refashions traditional forms that insist on repetition. The poet signs her given name in a ghazal that also is an elegy for her namesake. She patterns a ‘political’ sestina on a line that President Obama quotes from a sermon by M.L.K., who paraphrases Theodore Parker. In several unconventional villanelles, Petrosino abandons end-rhyme while keeping the double refrains and tenacious obsessions. Her chosen form admits recurring thoughts and dreams of conceiving a potential child: ‘Your small breath troubles the flour / I’m spilling. Did you leave sweet jam on the sill?’ The binding spell of Kiki Petrosino’s Witch Wife conjures a good belly and a mouth not too pretty to sing.”
—Harryette Mullen

“There’s not a poet out there who amazes and delights me more than Kiki Petrosino. In Witch Wife, Petrosino’s characteristic formal and syntactic daring becomes even more lush as she challenges both our way of hearing and making sense of our world. These poems of the body, of the ecstatic utterance that ends in grief, or glory, or the ghost’s head turning toward us, seem to me to be an essential addition to this remarkable era of poetry we are in. Petrosino helps us see not just what we want, but what it means to want so many things at once. This is a necessary book in a time of great uncertainty. It is a treasure.”
—Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Past Praise for Kiki Petrosino:

“In Petrosino’s arias and dirges, the truth is almost always a raw and bewildering thing. That is no reason not to sing it.”
—The Rumpus

“[T]he lineage of her foremothers becomes crucial to the construction of Petrosino’s own lyric position. Her speaker uses hands “dark with craft” to subvert racial expectations and challenge the reader to ‘Come see what I’ve digged/with the teeth in my face.’”
—Boston Review

“Kiki Petrosino is one of the few poets I know of who regularly writes poems I would call perfect.”
—Shane McCrane

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