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Whale Fall: Poems (Paperback)

Whale Fall: Poems By David Baker Cover Image
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“The craft of Whale Fall defies. It asserts, for me, a definition of poetry: an unbearable gulf of feeling made indelible by form.”—Diane Seuss, Paris Review



A masterful and moving new volume from a “peerless poet of the natural world” (New York Times Book Review).


Acclaimed as an essential voice of the American Midwest, David Baker expands both his environment and his form in his eleventh collection. Whale Fall is about time, measured in the wingbeats of a hummingbird or the epochs of geological change, and about place, whether a backyard in Ohio or the slopes of a melting glacier.


In the exquisite, musical title poem, a deft hybrid of eco-poetic alarm and intimate narrative, Baker transports us to the deep sea as a single gray whale carcass falls, decays, and is reinhabited by a cosmos of teeming lives. Among the strands of ocean health, microplastics, and related calamities of human disregard, the poet weaves in a personal story of chronic illness. The result is a stirring, confident work, astonishing in its emotional acuity and lyric range.


Each poem in Whale Fall is an echolocation, emitting its music to situate itself among others in the vastness of the world. Amidst climate change and catastrophe, as amidst a blooming viburnum or a viral disease, these poems send their songs across empty spaces of a line, a page, or a continent, to see who is out there, moving in the depths of being.



About the Author


David Baker’s many honors include fellowships and awards from the Poetry Society of America, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. The recipient of the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize, Baker teaches at Denison University and lives in Granville, Ohio.

Praise For…


[David Baker] locates his experiences in an understanding of the natural world that is both scientific and transcendent.
— Ron Charles - Washington Post Book Club

One of the collection’s many achievements, however, is that [its] density of reference never lands heavily. Whale Fall contains voices that fragment and shift pace, but never loses sight of a lyricism so reliable that it feels instinctual.… In 2001, [Baker] wrote of 'the moral harmony of nature.' Whale Fall might be the collection that refines and refinds that harmony for the Anthropocene, in which acid rain and microplastics and handholding in a tree are all part of the same music.

— Daniel Shailer - Los Angeles Review of Books

In poems as formally astute as they are emotionally resonant…Whale Fall casts an amber eye’s deep nostalgic light on a world we’re losing.… [H]opelessness in these poems is also riddled by hope, and a rigorous honesty of our earthly plight is countered by an equally rigorous generosity.

— Dan Beachy-Quick - Colorado Review

[Whale Fall] finds [David Baker] in a wistful, elegiac mood, paying witness to the shared frailties of the natural world and the aging, ailing speaker. ‘Listen, the years are short. They are nothing,’ one lovely and haunting poem exhorts. ‘When we wake it is piecemeal, until we are gone.'

— New York Times Book Review

[David Baker’s poems] make a sound that’s believable, intelligent, humane, self-aware but not self-absorbed, mysterious, and stranger each time you hear it.… [T]he range of these poems is broad, as broad as any book of Baker’s so far, and his consistency—poems about life forms large and very very small—is matched by his restless curiosity.
— Jesse Nathan - McSweeney’s

The poem ‘Whale Fall’ is fireworks and meditation in concert—news reports, descriptions, equations, images, shifts in perspective, there’s brutality alongside tenderness.… [E]xtraordinary.
— Renee H. Shea - World Literature Today

Whale Fall fixates not just on death, but on the descent into death, from life into what it becomes—death as metamorphosis. As a book of ecopoetry, it could quickly slide into the merely catastrophic—because, these days, what else could it be?—but somehow, even as it elegizes, Baker’s Whale Fall also cultivates our attention to the marvelous.… [A] gorgeous, mesmerizing eleventh collection.

— Chelsea Wagenaar - Plume

Whale Fall is divided into five numerated sections, notable for their variance, expansiveness, and sumptuous orchestration. I read this book as one absorbs a symphony, attending the lavish feast of sound and motion with its multiple instruments and silences. The poet knows his orchestra, and he brings every technique to bear on this composition.

— Alina Stefanescu - Arts Fuse

In ‘Whale Fall,’ all of Baker’s formal, phrasal, and intellectual play are on display.… The overall composition of this central poem, in fact, exemplifies the tonal and formal range within Baker’s entire collection, as well as its shape and arc, and its ethic: to be as vitally concerned about the smallest things, say a cottonwood seed moved by the wind from the book’s final brief lyric, as one is the largest.
— Daniel Tobin - Literary Matters

A virtuoso of eco-poetry and acoustics, Baker meditates on the nonpareil majesty of the planet with rigorous consideration and reverence.… Baker’s careful, captivating writing sinks under the skin, summoning a long-forgotten need for stillness, wonder, and attention to the sacrosanctity of the world.
— Publishers Weekly

From the shadow of the garfish to the memory of seabed in Ohio sandstone, nothing appears to be too slight or too immense for David Baker’s powers of lyric transformation. In book after eloquent book, his artistry has become more purely his own: pared down to essentials while refining its scope of generous inclusion. Baker’s method, like his subject, is the fine pulse of human encounter: here in its most distillate manifestation.
— Linda Gregerson, author of Canopy

All of [the] modes of awareness [in these poems] work to strengthen one another, to support present consciousness of one’s interconnected life in the world, which unites the aesthetic, compassionate, intellectual, and psychological chambers of the heart of the [title] poem itself.
— Michael Collins - The Night Heron Barks


Product Details
ISBN: 9781324074687
ISBN-10: 132407468X
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: March 12th, 2024
Pages: 112
Language: English