To the Bramble and the Briar


Poems by Steve Scafidi
978-1-55728-651-2 (paper)
March 2014


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Cowinner: 2014 Miller Williams Poetry Prize

To the Bramble and the Briar is a magical biography that renders the development of Abraham Lincoln’s vision in all of its clumsiness and beauty. We see Lincoln as unromanticized, deeply human—whether reading Shakespeare out loud at the bottom of a well or sitting with a bucket over his head after Bull Run. We meet Frederick Douglass and Walt Whitman, as well as unnamed witnesses: a courtroom stenographer typing Lincoln’s words in Illinois; a teenage girl lifted out of slavery by a kite in the shape of a swordfish; and two anonymous workers charged with opening Lincoln’s grave. With young Tad Lincoln, we see—as a man is tarred and feathered, his two sons standing by—that ‘One day the world ends / right in front of you.’ Especially poignant—both funny and filled with sorrow—is the love story between Mary and Abraham, a husband who would come to his wife’s room “every night to kiss / at nine-thirty and then / at ten to undo her / some more.”

Steve Scafidi, a cabinetmaker, is the author of two books of poetry: For Love of Common Words and Sparks from a Nine-Pound Hammer.

Author website.

“Even the chairs of To the Bramble and the Briar are enchantments: the two Hepplewhites broken during a fantastic brawl between Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass, the Windsor chair ‘upon which the president sat to think,’ the chair lowered into a well wherein he ‘passed a pleasant afternoon reading.’ The real enchantment here is, of course, Lincoln animated by war, robots, asteroids, shark attacks, and all else Steve Scafidi conjures in these irreverent new poems. To the Bramble and the Briar is a sublime, inimitable achievement.”
—Terrance Hayes, author of Lighthead: Poems

“This sequence of poems with the mystery and dignity of Abraham Lincoln at its core blends history, myth and improvisation to explore our national imagination with a boldness usually restricted to dreams. Steve Scafidi has chosen ‘to follow the wild gold of [his] thoughts,’ and we are the richer for his risk taking. Though this is a dark book, its beauty brightens the spirit. No American poet today is writing more exciting, unsettling and consequential poems, and To the Bramble and the Briar expands our expectations of how art might refresh and enhance our lives.”
—R. T. Smith, author of Outlaw Style: Poems

“Scafidi gives us here what we thought impossible: a Mozartian performance, drops of piercing light, on some of the heaviest, most earth-laden moments in the history of this country. To the Bramble and the Briar is work of a master poet, a rare, beautiful book.”
—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa

Finalist, 2015 Balcones Poetry Prize