This book is relentless.

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Poems from Spectra


Praise for Spectra


“Like hands running over a strange surface in a dark room, the language of Ashley Toliver’s mesmerizing debut collection, Spectra, is constantly searching—the phrases, logics, and images coalescing only to disperse and transmogrify... Toliver’s innovative, open forms and imploring phrases accommodate the linked intricacies of mothering and loss. While reading Spectra I was reminded that feeling one’s way through the unknown can itself become a kind of unparalleled knowing.”

—Claudia Rankine

Ashley Toliver’s first full-length book, Spectra, showcases her ability to articulate the infinite that exists within the personal. The sentences here investigate the numberless contact points between the self and the beloved, the self and the limited imagination of those who encounter that self: “I still don’t know what kind of woman / I am. But as the flame nears the fingers / that trust the match, as close as the skin / can stand it to singe, I call this the nerve / to find out.” This book is relentless.

—Believer Book Awards, Finalist Citation


In her radiant debut, Toliver carefully explores domesticity, medical trauma, and the profound limitations of having a body. Divided into three sections, the book opens with revelatory images of light that spark a phenomenological query into the nature of perception. Testing the bounds of relationships and identity, Toliver displays her linguistic gifts in poems that resist egotism and startle with their intimacy.

publisher's weekly

Ashley Toliver’s Spectra is a book of poetry that thinks like a book of useful philosophy. She wields words as if they are on fire. The violences of this beautifully necessary book get cooled and contained by Toliver’s wish for formal variety and by her own formal dexterity. Still, each of these poems sees into the possibility of how any relationship can have in it something that cuts, something that burns. I am in awe of this book.

—Jericho Brown


Here is a book full of careful attention to what has been called the natural world, how it begins in the poet’s own body, ravels into a house, a marriage, and extends out into the continents. Like those of Bishop’s mapmakers, Ashley Toliver’s colors are ‘more delicate than the historians.’ They are also certain, meticulous, and—it must be said—just absolutely beautiful. Reading Spectra makes me feel like Toliver has stitched a new constellation into my mind; she has written that much dark, that much light.

—Heather christle