Cover page Musical Figures

Musical Figures

poems by Samn Stockwell

From PSOV member and author of the critically-acclaimed books, Theater of Animals and Recital, is a poetry collection in which memory is recollected. With 5 distinct and lucid sections, this poetry book revives the authors’ childhood dreams and nightmares, masterfully penned. Poems in this collection have appeared in Ploughshares, Anomaly Literary Journal, Chaffin Journal, and others.

Musical Figures

ISBN -13: 979-8-9861105-6-1
84 pp., July 28th, 2023
Cover artwork by Knox Peters
Cover design by Josh Dale


“In Samn Stockwell’s collection, Musical Figures, moments of family history are relayed in crisp narratives fueled by lyricism. The combination of storytelling and musical phrasing result in poems both powerful and true. Above all, the voice is captivating: revealing everything in an understated manner, no matter the violence or catastrophe encountered, so that the reader leaves this hard-bitten, hardscrabble life with a sense of optimism and even well-being, as the speaker has remained calm, compassionate and credible, a survivor, and these are the hallmarks of her work.”

—John Skoyles, author of Driven and Yes and No

“One could read the eponymous five Musical Figures alone in this wondrous book and have a sense of a whole. But in so doing, readers would rob themselves of one moving moment after another. Like her figures, Samn Stockwell’s poems might first appear as mere lists, but in a trice, they turn out brilliantly to render scenes and situations, physical, emotional, societal, and even historical. The reader is there in every sense. With a few exceptions, each work tends to be short, almost a supercharged haiku, that is. Stockwell is sui generis, no other poet I know delivers so much by way of such an artful economy.”

—Sydney Lea, author of What Shines and former poet laureate of Vermont.

“Samn Stockwell’s Musical Figures conjures past figures into the present and present figures into the past with a language of songs only Stockwell can create. These poems carry a voice that is hauntingly original, building a juxtaposition of the enduring beauty and pain of family and home through vignettes and surprising, sharp descriptions. Musical Figures explores a heritage of trauma, as time becomes nonlinear moving back and forth through the interactions of three generations. Stockwell shines a light on the why and how of a family who is injured and causes injuries with deft imagery that is both stark and beautiful, expertly evoking a combination of darkness and comfort — “through curls of cigarette smoke/cream streamed in our bowls.” By focusing on one family, Musical Figures offers a path for anyone to see and feel “the ways we infected / each other, here is a yellow / thumbnail much pried from the door.”

—Natalie Padilla Young, author of All of This Was Once Under Water, managing editor of Sugar House Review.

“Samn Stockwell’s poems in Musical Figures are beautiful, searing, and intimate. Stockwell’s sharply observed poems of domestic life explore emotional landscapes that expose what it means to be human. A magnificent achievement.”

—Julie R. Enszer, editor and publisher of Sinister Wisdom.

“From the moment I heard ‘the screen door opening and closing,’ I knew I had entered a recognizable world; a world I would experience through touch and sounds. The poems in Samn Stockwell’s Musical Figures are rich with the relics and detritus of a lifetime, ‘a cradle, quilts, and a ukulele.’ Tracing a lineage that includes the institutionalization of poverty, of mental illness, alcoholism, and war, Stockwell’s speaker is ‘busy fleeing my birth;/in a movie I would have shouted/don’t go by yourself.’ The poems refused to let me look away from ‘the glue of everyday life,’ this sticky trauma, this ‘bowl of molasses kisses/wrapped in twists/of yellowed wax paper.’ Musical Figures is a close examination of humanity, where the speaker has ‘other stories, who doesn’t.’ It’s in this reaching out to the reader that Samn Stockwell opens their heart to ‘making something,’ to the constant and heart-breaking motion of “riding our bikes over the iron bridge/waving to our distant parents.”

—Jennifer Martelli, author of The Queen of Queens and My Tarantella.

You can purchase a copy of Samn Stockwell’s Musical Figures at Thirty West Publishing House Be sure to look for member books in your local independent bookstore ( if not available, suggest they support Vermont poets and stock them.)

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