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ISBN: 978-1-62557-812-9
Categories Poetry


Publication Date: March 2020


Listen to Lisa Fay Coutley read poems from tether // Watch the captioned video on the BLP YouTube Channel


In tether, a spacecraft of a book superbly conceived and assembled, Lisa Fay Coutley engineers both recovery and healing in poems that swerve emotionally between the landing bays of grief, longing, and wonder. A bright hunger constellates around these poems, but so too the immensities of love. Tether is a burning inquiry into the miracle of being here on earth and what keeps us fastened to each other, for better or worse. 

-Major Jackson

Lisa Fay Coutley’s tether is characterized by a compressed tension, each line, each word, hitched to the next, quivering with the effort to remain connected and with the opposing desire to be released. The image of the tether accrues intensity in the course of the book: astronaut tethered to the ship, poet to the poem, mother to the homeless, addict child and child to the mother, and in the space between “the two / great opposing poles” is God, who learns, in that chasm, “wonder &suffering.” Indeed, oppositional forces reign in these poems; there are no conventional false resolutions to be had. “Every event / that’s saved my life has nearly killed me the speaker declares, and “I would rather live / with my burning than sleep with my dead.” This is a far-reaching book, a political book, a deeply personal and heroic book. Its thesis is reflected in its enviably honed diction. “Mystery is her / bitch the speaker writes of the eclipsing sun. The same is true of Lisa Fay Coutley and the ravishing poems of tether.

-Diane Seuss

Tether is a book of distances and intimacies, of letters never sent and dream talks and delayed communiques, It is a study of distance between us,between an astronaut and a poet, between lovers, between ourselves and each other, ourselves and ourselves. “We are the beached boat / with a hole in its hull admits the poet. Each of us, even as “baby in a womb is a cloud.” And yet there is so much love. And yet, everything that happens to us, happens for a purpose. And when one turns worthy, a giant squid washes ashore.It is this knowing, this insight into our distances (of years, of geography, ofa space of a single day) here that I find compelling: “& how far / must you back away / from yourself / to see / yourself / as the Astronaut / sees/Earth.” Beautiful work.

-Ilya Kaminsky

,Just over a full column of definitions for “tether” in the OED, among which are those that suggest diametrically opposite forms of fastening. It’s fascinating to read through them, but not nearly so compelling as it is to read the poems in Lisa Fay Coutley’s tether. We are tied, ensnared, and attached-in an especially intimate sense of that word-to everything that matters, which Coutley knows and makes us see and, in the richest sense of this word, feel. This is a superb book of poems.

-Robert Wrigley

Is it desire, wonder, duty, or memory that keeps us most firmly tethered to the world, where “truth is every bird starving and we live in constant awareness of all the forces that threaten to break the bonds between us and our loved ones? A mother’s death, a son’s drug addiction, the disastrous world news filtered daily through the internet: how do we reconcile the painful events that define our existence with our hope for a more secure future? Through sinewy, sometimes hallucinogenic syntax that threatens to (but never does) spin out of control, tether’s poems examine a contemporary and very human paradox, in which we long to absent ourselves from our grief, while also needing to document our losses so as to ensure we won’t forget. tether reminds us that we are formed as much from pain as from delight and that, in her ability to look back upon her past, upon today’s terrible and compelling news, the contemporary poet is like an astronaut, able to regard the world “from a great height a witness to what most of us cannot bear to see.
-Paisley Rekdal

About the Author

© Randy Mattley

Lisa Fay Coutley

Lisa Fay Coutley is the author of tether (Black Lawrence, 2020), Errata (Southern Illinois University, 2015), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition, selected by Adrienne Su, and In the Carnival of Breathing (BLP, 2011), winner of the Black Lawrence Chapbook Competition. She is also editor of the forthcoming anthology, In the Tempered Dark: Contemporary Poets Transcending Elegy (Black Lawrence, 2024). Her poetry has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, fellowships and scholarships to the Sewanee and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conferences, an Academy of American Poets Levis Prize, selected by Dana Levin, and the 2021 Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, selected by Natalie Diaz. Her poetry and prose have been published and anthologized widely and have appeared most recently in Brevity, Copper Nickel, Gulf Coast, NELLE, Terrain, Waxwing, and on Verse Daily. She is an Associate Professor of Poetry and Creative Nonfiction in the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Nebraska Omaha. She can be found at

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