Generous, penetrating, relentlessly sonic poems that record the creative potential of the body and the boundaries of the self.

Toliver's work has the generosity and intelligence of C.D. Wright's and Claudia Rankine's (both of whom were her teachers) and the exacting standards of form, meaning, and language of Dawn Lundy Martin's. Spectra is maximal in content, and minimal in production: these poems are razor sharp, almost clinically precise in their interrogation of the domestic sphere. The thud and drone of language evoke the suffocation of a marriage gone sour with sound that bounces back, creating patterns that are an inhibiting force in themselves. There’s a pulse to her poems, one that harnesses the energy on the page to transcend binaries and boundaries of the self. There's nothing soft-focus about them.

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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

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



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

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