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Blue If Only I Could Tell You - Richard Tillinghast
$17.00, ISBN 978-1-945680-57-1

Readers of this seasoned poet, whose first book came out over fifty years ago, when James Dickey called him “the best poet of the younger generation, and deserving of more recognition than most of the poets in the older generation: that is, mine and the one beyond it,” will enjoy seeing how his work has developed over the course of the decades—the perennial enthusiasms he revisits here, the new directions these poems take, and especially how Tillinghast continues to stay curious and engaged, involving himself with the twists and turns of American history and how they manifest themselves in the social issues of today: the worldwide refugee crisis, how the rise of violence and rage in our society threatens the social fabric of our nation, the various ways our contemporary racial reckoning arises from our troubled history of slavery, civil conflict, and violence directed toward Indigenous Americans. Through it all, entering his ninth decade, Tillinghast addresses his own sense of mortality and personal vulnerability. He is at heart a lyrical poet, but his inherent impulse to celebrate life is troubled by the changing world he finds himself living in.

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Blue If Only I Could Tell You is a book of journeys and arrivals, of the many far and consequential places we might find ourselves: Punjab, Tipperary, the sandy banks of the Platte River in Nebraska. Exquisitely plainspoken, clear-eyed and wise, Tillinghast is keenly aware of the histories and stories that shape our worlds; these poems roam and wonder and find homes for us everywhere. “You gave me a compass,” the poet writes, “and here it is / on my table / pointing north.””


 —Joe Wilkins


“These are troubadour poems, wandering back in time and far in space, finding their tunes in a Southern childhood of farmland and fishing, in India, the American West, Hawaii, and Ireland, alert to “ghostings/ of rain” and to the astonishment of “apples falling through the Milky Way.” Tillinghast’s cadences feel deeply, richly, surprisingly true to life. And abundant in the heart’s intelligence.”


—Rosanna Warren


“Richard Tillinghast’s new collection of poetry is the book we need right now, assuring us that music can be heard in the silence and dread will always, eventually, give way to hope. His poetry is infused with dark humor and casual wonder. Lyrical, conversational, clear-eyed and mystical, the poems in Blue If Only I Could Tell You are the kind we’ll return to again and again. This is a book that has been inspired by the present, informed by the past, and is sending a love note, while sounding a warning, to the future.”


—Laura Kasischke

“‘And who was I / in the midst of it all?’ Tillinghast asks in these moving poems of memory and travail, of personal moments and historical reckonings, of confronting the unexpected murderousness of the world. Tillinghast is still a seeker, and these late poems balance suffering and joy in a deep quest for understanding.”

—Edward Hirsch


Blue If Only I Could Tell You, Richard Tillinghast’s latest collection, is a book rich with life and wisdom. Yet it contains a childlike imagination that wanders all provinces of being and unbeing, crossing borders racial and geographic, putting everything into the precious box of letters the poet writes to the earth, his mother, who wishes to hear from her lost son, vividly alive in the lost world. Though raised in a Southern childhood of some privilege, the poet’s sweetest songs are for the forgotten—the indigenous whose lands were stolen, soldiers from the Confederacy who deserted in disillusionment, the black housekeeper who raised him, and the unfortunates of displacement, prejudice, and diaspora scattered by wars and global economies their lives could not withstand. In easy, relaxed cadences, Tillinghast’s poems carry their ethical meditations on an uneasy presence on earth, fully aware of injustice and exploitation, yet reveling in the ephemeras of joy. Whether in Hawaiʻi, Memphis, Ireland, or Istanbul, out on Highway 61 or at a campsite on the “willowed Platte,” this poet gives testimony to a beautiful life that arrives, not at a sere regret nor a Promethean defiance, but at a sage-like compassion. Tillinghast sits under the bodhi tree. “


—Garrett Hongo, author of Coral Road

Richard Tillinghast was born and raised in Memphis. After college at Sewanee he did graduate work at Harvard, where he studied with Robert Lowell. The author of thirteen books of poetry and five of creative nonfiction, he has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the British Council and the Irish Arts Council, and has held the Amy Lowell Traveling Poetry Fellowship. He has taught at Harvard, Berkeley, the College Program at San Quentin Prison, and the University of Michigan in the US as well as at Trinity College Dublin and the Poets’ House in Ireland. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Paris Review, The Yale Review, the American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, The Best of Irish Poetry, and elsewhere. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New Criterion, and other periodicals. He has been awarded the James Dickey Prize for poetry from Five Points and the Cleanth Brooks Award for nonfiction from The Southern Review. His 2000 book, Six Mile Mountain, is being reprinted by StoryLine/RedHen. Currently a member of the Core Faculty in the Converse College MFA program, he is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Michigan and a founder and past Director of the Bear River Writers’ Conference in Northern Michigan.


Tillinghast has long been a student of Turkish culture, having first visited Istanbul in 1964 as Editor of Let’s Go, the student travel guide, and returning there many times since, often with the support of grants from the American Research Institute in Turkey. In 2009, in collaboration with his daughter, Julia Clare Tillinghast, he published Dirty August, translations of the 20th-century Turkish poet, Edip Cansever. His literary travel guide, Istanbul: City of Forgetting and Remembering, was published in London in 2012 and translated into Turkish a year later. He has also had a long association with Ireland, living in Galway for a year in the early 1990s and in Tipperary from 2005 to 2010. For many years he wrote for The Irish Times and other Irish periodicals. Salmon Poetry published his Today in the Café Trieste in 1997, and Dedalus brought out his Selected Poems in 2009 with an introduction by Dennis O’Driscoll. The University of Notre Dame Press published his Finding Ireland: A Poet’s Explorations of Irish Literature and Culture, in 2008. Richard’s 2017 book, Journeys into the Mind of the World: A Book of Places, University of Tennessee Press, recounts some of his other travels. He currently lives in Hawaii and spends his summers in Sewanee, Tennessee.

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