The Keys to the Jail

One of Library Journal’s “Thirty Amazing Poetry Titles for Spring 2014,” The Keys to the Jail asks the question of who is to blame for all we’ve lost, calling us to reexamine the harsh words of failed love, the aging of a once-beautiful body, even our own voracious desires. With daring leaps and unflinching observations, these richly textured lyrics travel from Montana’s great wildernesses to the ocean-fogged streets of San Francisco as they search out the heart that’s lost its way.

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In these poems, longing is only shaped like emptiness, but really is filled with everything one might reach toward or put their mouth to as they sate themselves on desire. THE KEYS TO THE JAIL are what they promise to be, an opening of the dark rooms within us, not to escape but to enter, to let the eyes adjust and learn to see what bright wants exist there.

Natalie Diaz

Quietly ferocious, THE KEYS TO THE JAIL is full of love and after-love poems that come clad with ‘bell[ies] of rusted steel.’ These poems are not afraid to feel, not afraid of desire or beauty or the inevitability of their respective undoings, not afraid ‘to eat the filter on the cigarette.’ Yet there is such generosity here in the ‘repenned’ landscape—out among the wolves and ghosts, the rodeo queens and Dairy Queens—that we are allowed to glean from hunger, a form of contentment, and still welcome the cavernous desire for more.

Elyse Fenton

Her poems about love between women can be her strongest, and her identities complex … her sense of place serves her sense of how people behave. Fans of Mark Doty or of Eavan Boland will find a lot here to like, especially... [the poems] about self-discovery, lust pursued or affection found, where the poet exclaims, ‘hope is the saddest/ secret of all: Please, be wild for me.’

Publishers Weekly

Kuipers is a keeper… Readers will feel the impassioned yet controlled energy that is lifted from these poems; fearless and possessing a precise sense of timing, ­Kuipers’ work keeps us reading.

The Library Journal

If there is a tightrope slung between ferocity and tenderness (and I think we all know there is), THE KEYS TO THE JAIL by Keetje Kuipers stands firmly in the middle, gripping the line with trembling toes. These poems feel determined—to defy gender stereotypes, to capture loneliness in image, to give voice to what has been lost. And we listen, in rapture, because the language is so rugged and yet somehow magical too, constantly twisting and turning in ways we don’t expect.

Prairie Schooner

I know few contemporary poets who answer apathy with an unabashed expression of joy. Because throughout THE KEYS TO THE JAIL, Kuipers—for better or worse—privileges feeling above all else, the speaker's ability to honor the ordinary world and its cyclical plots as purposeful and joy-filled is convincing. For Kuipers, it's feeling that unlocks the cells that contain us. Lows and highs are of equal value, so long as they are acknowledged, fully felt, and accounted for.

West Branch

As a whole, the poems in THE KEYS TO THE JAIL are bittersweet and tenderly defiant. As art, these poems both estrange and fulfill us. They leave us aching with the desire to overcome the want and sadness of the darker aspects of existence.

The Journal


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Book cover image, “Calla Lily, ‘Sunshine,'” by William Rugen.

Book cover design by Sandy Knight.