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The Do-Over, Kathleen Ossip


“How do you stay in heaven?” Ossip asks, “Is it a kind of sophisticated rewind?” Her third collection of poems is haunted by the idea of ‘rewind,’ and especially by the teasing possibility that we, too—like the moon, like a plant—may be granted cycles of life, death, and rebirth. The book's overarching narrative is the death of the poet’s stepmother-in-law, a cherished, loving, eccentric woman who returns to its pages again and again.  But in spite of its focused grief and ontological urgency, The Do-Over is a varied collection—short acrostics mourn recently dead cultural icons (Amy Winehouse, Steve Jobs, Donna Summer); there's an ode to an anonymous Chinese factory worker, three “true stories” that read like anecdotes told over drinks, and more. The Do-Over is an unsentimental elegy to a mother figure, a fragmented portrait of its difficult, much loved subject. It's also a snapshot of our death-obsessed, death-denying cultural moment, which in Ossip's gifted hands turns out to be tremulous, skeptical, unsure of ultimate values and, increasingly, driven to find them. “I am still studying, aren’t you?” she begins. Readers will eagerly embrace the surprise, humor, and seriousness of her quest.

For a classroom-ready reader's guide written by the author herself, follow this link, and explore more titles with reader's guides in Sarabande in Education

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Kathleen Ossip is the author of The Cold War (one of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2011), The Search Engine (selected by Derek Walcott for the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize), and Cinephrastics, a chapbook of movie poems. Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, The Washington Post, The Believer, A Public Space, and Poetry Review (London). She teaches at The New School in New York and online for The Poetry School of London. She was a founding editor of LIT and is the poetry editor of Women's Studies Quarterly. She has received a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.


“Ossip writes to remember the dead, especially Andrea Ossip (1944-2008), her husband’s stepmother; to face her own death without panic, if she can; to help us face ours; and to show how an aggressively up-to-date vocabulary—one that would make a lesser writer sound jaded, or bored, or distracted by pings from her iPhone—can fit the most serious of poetic concerns.”
—The New York Times, Editor’s Choice

 “Much in this collection feels strangely healthy, as if part of what Ossip has inherited from A. is an ability to take pleasure in the work of living, which is the work of thinking honestly enough to go on revising one’s ideas. The Do-Over is not so much a book of grief as it is a book of gratitude enacted, both in its recollections of A. and in its investment in a world that can be experienced and described, but only so long as one remains open to moments and meanings that overlap, alter, obscure, conflict, and, therefore, continue to invite more thought.”

"It may be the case that Ossip understands the elasticity and capaciousness of contemporary poetry better than anybody. . . .  This is our book."

“Unassuming and masterfully crafted, Ossip’s poetry is sneaky, very often disguising itself as easy and surprising you the moment you let your guard down. . . . The Do-Over is a kind of elegy to contemporary culture: it critiques modern life while basking in its ever-younger, glitzier rabble."
The Paris Review

“Kathleen Ossip’s third book of poetry explores the nature of time, eulogizes the recently deceased, and ventures into a host of forms along the way.”
Vol. 1 Brooklyn

 “[P]age after page of The Do-Over demonstrates the poet singing variant verses from the world’s oldest song. It is a testament to Ossip’s rigorous powers of perception and imagination that this song is sung in new, often startling ways: her poems surprise—and often induce pause.”
Brooklyn Rail Review

“The Do-Over, Ossip’s third collection, is a lyrical, open-ended, meta-leaning meditation on the subject of death, but while the passing of the speaker’s step-mother-in-law is the book’s chief impetus, the reader is invited to engage with more than passive sympathy for the speaker’s loss. . . . Death is not Ossip’s only subject—the book also examines her past, social injustice, the 2008-10 economic collapse, and the men she has loved—but Andrea’s death becomes the lens through which she views everything else.” 
—Boston Review