Caroline Harper New presents 'A History of Half-Birds: Poems'

Selected by Maggie Smith for the 2023 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry, this debut collection of poems explores the aftermath of history’s most powerful forces: devotion, disaster, and us.


Third Place Books is delighted to welcome poet Caroline Harper New to our Ravenna store! New will be discussing her new collection of poetry, A History of Half-Birds, a stunning investigation of love’s beastly impulses—all it protects, and all it destroys. This event is free and open to the public.

For important updates, registration is highly recommended in advance. This event will include a public signing and time for audience Q&A. Sustain our author series by purchasing a copy of the featured book!

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About A History of Half-Birds. . .

Rooted in the Gulf Coast, A History of Half-Birds measures the line between love and ruin. Part poet, part anthropologist, Caroline Harper New digs into dark places—a cave, a womb, a hurricane—to trace how violence born of devotion manifests not only in our human relationships, but also in our connections to the natural and animal worlds. Everywhere in these pages, tenderness is coupled with brutality: a deer eats a baby bird, a lover restrains another. “I promised / a love poem,” New proclaims, then teaches us about the anglerfish, how it “attracts its mate / and prey with the same lure.”

In New’s exceptional voice, familiar concepts take on a shade of the fantastic. A woman tastes the earth for acidity, buries lemons and pennies for balance. Limestone “sucks the sea / into little demitasse” and hyacinths “sip the sun / black.” A lone elephant wanders into the wilderness of rural Georgia, never to be seen again. But perhaps most arresting about New’s work are the truths told by its strangeness, like the ancient fish who “carved their shape” in a mountain’s peak, or a mother who wears a lifejacket in the bathtub.

Crafted by New’s voracious mind and carried by her matchless lyricism, A History of Half-Birds is a stunning investigation of love’s beastly impulses—all it protects, and all it destroys.


Praise for A History of Half-Birds. . .

“There’s an untamed luminescence to Caroline Harper New’s debut, A History of Half Birds, a collection steeped in science and mythology.”
—Rebecca Morgan Frank, Harriet Books Blog

"A History of Half-Birds, an inventive and impressively wide-ranging collection, has me considering and reconsidering the connections between seemingly disparate things: between poetry and science, both fueled by curiosity, imagination, and possibility; between history and myth, precision and ambiguity, the known and the unknown. In the Anthropocene, we may be tempted to ask what poetry can do for us when what we need are tools for survival. I’d argue that these poems are just that—expertly crafted, satisfying to hold and behold, and sharp enough to dissect what needs dissecting. We’re so lucky to have this book here and now."
—Maggie Smith, author of Goldenrod

“Steeped in Gulf Coast flora and fauna, Caroline Harper New’s A History of Half-Birds is a gorgeous collection of poems that spins widdershins like a hurricane. This book embraces life’s complicated dualities—the precarious gravity of Saturn’s rings, nightmares that visit with every new love, the way an anglerfish attracts both its mate and prey with the same lure. Equally embracing facts and lyricism, New weaves stray opossums and beached whales into love poems, jellyfish and memory into a chandelier. Each poem is full of the world’s intimate facts that suddenly become mirrors. They are tender and wise and illuminate their mysteries. It’s a truly beautiful debut.”
—Traci Brimhall, author of Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod

Caroline Harper New is a writer, artist, and anthropologist from southwest Georgia. Her poetry is rooted in the precarious landscape of the Gulf Coast, where she explores human-nature relationships, maternal inheritance, and orientations to time. Her interdisciplinary work includes sculptures, paintings, short films, ethnography, translations, and eco-collaborations with musicians and filmmakers. She currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she studies anthropology and poetics.

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