Shipbreaking by Robin Beth Schaer


Available Aug. 20, 2015

Shipbreaking is a stunning book about being awake. Robin Beth Schaer spins her readers through the wires, storms, and electricity between us — with great precision of language and line. This is the voice of an explorer, a speaker of wild courage. “Love/is haywire,” she says, “Current is the cure/for both a stopped heart and one that beats/too much.” Brimming with recognition of conditions both human and otherworldly, Schaer speaks as guide and messenger, creating a “… spark … in a great loneliness.” This is a moving, necessary book. — Jan Beatty, Judge

Shipbreaking’s ultra-taut lines urge departure, a kind of experiential upsweep. And they keen just as convincingly toward the steady grounding of land, home and the embrace of the beloved as they do toward the wind-racked surface and unknowable depths of the sea — constants in Schaer’s mythology, which foster “that skyward longing, to be untethered.” — Tracy K. Smith

To read Robin Beth Schaer’s Shipbreaking is to know a body: its grave intimacy and intense delight. Its muscles and eyelashes, its shadows that make for instant dawns. The intelligence of Schaer’s lines humbles me. I am seduced utterly. Please join me beneath the waters of these poems, for here the mermaids speak to us each to each: candidly, cannily. Hand your heart over to this most stunning debut. — Cate Marvin

Robin Beth Schaer's Shipbreaking offers both catalogue and hymn. Swooping between the history of human flight and the upsurges of continents, between the migrations of birds and the igniting of love, Schaer toggles between the cosmic and the intimate, brilliantly weaving a tapestry of gorgeous, sometimes painful, interconnectedness. Schaer is alert both to the rawness of the elements and the work of human hands. Her poetry charts a natural history which includes us, but not only us. The child unfurling in the womb, the city flooded in storm, the ship lost at sea: Schaer registers all with a striking combination of gorgeous gaud and stark specificity. Her poems conduct the materiality of this world, its "kevlar, duct tape,/and prayer," its bees, coelocanths, and human infants; the constellations beyond and the power of the seas. This Robin both soars and sings the "shoaled world.”   — Maureen N. McLane

“Love is haywire,” Robin Beth Schaer writes in one of her passionate lyrics; love for “my consort, my lovely undoing,” and for the seagoing vessels that haunt these lines, and for a young son whose future depends on the fate of another beloved, this world in which “under the city / aquifer fills with seawater / slowly drawing the avenues down.” Schaer’s language and her passion operate under the increasingly inescapable pressure of limit, and the result is something beautiful and broken, like this moment. — Mark Doty

"Shipbreaking is a book about being saved while recognizing loss. Schaer’s words apply equally to marine and shore moments, as so often life is “a charade that only deepens / the absence it bends to hide.” The Millions, Most Anticipated: Great Second-Half 2015 Book Preview. Read the full review here.


from Shipbreaking:

The dogs understand your heart
and know something of the taste

of salt. We live off incense and coins,
herding coveys of waves, wrenching

down the blues. I begged and pouted
all this cotton, but what use

is stooping to nothing. The sea
refused twenty corroded decades

before ours. Sometimes, the nets
raise a god in a flash of minnows.

Sometimes, matted ferns claim you,
their breath a weapon paused at the eye.

Always, we are capsized by the impossible
child in a thicket of empty books.

Spun from the squall line, I am the wrecking ball
of wind you craved, unleashed on this supine plain

where the planet’s curve is all that hems horizon,
and you, my only azimuth. Wait for me underground,

a supplicant in the shoveled safety of a root cellar.
You should not see how quick a house is dismantled,

how it will bloom, a peony unfurling wallpaper and tile,
scattering fiberglass and plaster in a bramble of wires:

a history only revealed in ruin. You cannot rebuild
here. Start over and kneel before a new god.

Add to Cart