Dogged Hearts

by Ellen Doré Watson


“Watson’s skill here, as on so many pages, is to be accessible and kinetic while seeing something new in a common experience. Her sight is so unique, her inner editor so keen, that she brings a prismatic freshness to what eye and her ‘dogged heart’ confront.”
—Barbara Berman, The Rumpus

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Watson’s skill here, as on so many pages, is to be accessible and kinetic while seeing something new in a common experience. Her sight is so unique, her inner editor so keen, that she brings a prismatic freshness to what eye and her ‘dogged heart’ confront.

Barbara BermanThe Rumpus

A Tupelo Masters Series Book
with Companion CD

In her fifth collection of poems, Ellen Doré Watson lends her supple voice to a multiplicity of characters, each with his or her own particular dilemma, distraction, or disarray: Junie biking home to find a new mom, Edur wondering whether he’s anyone’s father, a pregnant teen starving herself to lose the fetus, or the widower Lew buoyed by a vision of his wife after her death. With a novelist’s finesse and a poet’s details, Watson creates lives that resonate with poignancy and urgency.

In Dogged Hearts Ellen Doré Watson demonstrates a capacious talent for invention and empathy and, with her incomparable linguistic brio, gives us an unforgettable look at how loss and disconnection can usher in chance-to-change reverie and unexpected veerings towards life.

Advance Praise for Dogged Hearts:

The poems are wild, delirious—they go every which way—yet the (smart) organizing principle is this mind, ever alert, choosing and sorting, saving and abandoning, given up to passion and knowledge. Dogged Hearts is a powerful and wise book.

Gerald Stern

These intensely lyrical, very physical poems batter their way forward, embodiments of the struggle to keep emotionally alive; Dogged Hearts reminds us why the arts are called the humanities: because they remind us how to be human.

Tony Hoagland

‘…dear rash world so far / outside my window….’ Well, not that far, in these wily, intricate poems, because so many radiant voices live here—old, young, the living, the dead—plus all gorgeous manner of trees and stones and birds. A kind of glad lush chaos hits again and again in this work.

Marianne Boruch


2010 ForeWord Book of the Year Finalist


dogged heartsEllen Doré Watson was hailed by Library Journal as one of “24 Poets for the 21st Century.” Her collections of poetry include Ladder Music and We Live in Bodies (Alice James, 2001 and 2002), This Sharpening (Tupelo, 2006), and most recently Dogged Hearts (book and audio book: Tupelo, 2010). She has also translated a dozen books, including The Alphabet in the Park: Selected Poems of Adélia Prado(Wesleyan University Press, 1990) and works by Brazilian poet Ignácio de Loyola Brandão as well as contemporary Arabic poetry (co-translated with Saadi Simawe). She is the Poetry and Translation Editor for The Massachusetts Review and the director of The Poetry Center at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Watson’s poems have appeared widely in journals, including The American Poetry Review and The New Yorker. Among her awards and honors are the Bullis-Kizer Prize from Poetry Northwest, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship, and a 1990 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Grant.

In 2011, she was appointed an Elector of the Poets’ Corner at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

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Weight 0.4 lbs
Dimensions 6 × 9 in

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Fireflies at the Altar

The air here does kind of taste like lemons,
thought the boy in the hammock, swaying
his way to the future. The bride would be

dead within the year, everyone in their finery
knew this. Which was why she brought the boy
along, nestled in yellow petals that trembled

with each footfall. She’d invented him exactly
three days after diagnosis, whispering
to her ovaries as she fingered childhood photos

of the man waiting now on the altar, all full
of this wedding and the way he would hold her.
The gathered ones gaped at the gray of her,

the size of his love. She cared less for its heft
than for his knowing how to tame it: sex,
the purest kind of barely-touching. Now

her body was in her dress, the ring was sliding
onto her finger. Everyone watching her become
“one” with the man who couldn’t come along.

Fire raging in the room above his head, the boy
dreamed he was brushing his teeth with fireflies,
which were not hot, but yellow, dry, and feathery.

Lew’s Late Love

The fourth month flowers waxy and small.
Grief is like sleeping in water, he thinks. Like
throwing light onto the smallest stone. It is
like scolding a doorjamb for crushing a finger
in third grade. Her finger. Now in the ground.
The same one she fractured flying off a treadmill
the day her first husband walked away. Why
these vignettes that long preceded him, now,
his ninety-first day without her? Long week after
week in a world now narrow. A runner instead
of a proper rug. If he could stand her there, across
the disbelieving room, he’d ask, all sheepish, how
she was doing without hunger. He can hear her
smile: “Look at the lake. Tell me I can’t have it.”

What Tess Wants

A wooden bowl, fragrant oil, and a good
half hour. Cello to accompany a careful task,
not one draught. Please, not a forest but a bevy
of single trees. Oh and I want him far away
or at least his anger. Like that voice that says
we’ll be erased when we hang up, I wish he
would. I wish he’d stop painting the house and
discover color. I want my arms heavy with sun
like boughs with snow and everyone’s heads
to stop hurting. I want a weeded house,
an ocean a month, time with my spice grinder.
I’d like one day someone new to make me supper.
I don’t want to feel marinated or married, but
yes, one flower — wild — worthy of a vase.

Edith’s Roofer Dream

Raw day, and I’m practically up in the clouds
next to some hard-hat hollering to another over
din of metal, smell of tar. The second guy grins back:
Verbal abuse is nine-tenths of the law! Swear to God.
Yeah, I guess I’m invisible—and plus somehow I know
at home on his dresser in a heap of change is the key
to a box he’s terrified to open. Where does this stuff
come from? Meanwhile, a third man, heavyset, stoops
in the rubble, pretends to search for something, but
really he’s worrying about how to fix the membrane
between him and the world, recently torn, letting stuff
leak in and out. Whaddaya mean you didn’t wanna be
a roofer? booms a voice from above. Noon whistle
shrieks. All the guys on site grab their lunch boxes,
sit in a ragged circle. Remove their shirts, thermoses,
and Tupperware and—I kid you not—burst into tears.

Decade Parade

The Broker adored Hildegard of Bingen—
but was a pussycat like my ex before the X.
Flannel Shirt was into conspiracy theories
and Sportswriter wanted a wife bad—
and found one a couple weeks after I passed
on the job. Bob #2 had some cockamamie
ideas about harnessing sexual energy. I knew
he was right, but he so wasn’t. Head of Hair
wore a retainer and funny underwear.
None of them could be called Que Será or
sidelong or had, to my knowledge, a tattoo.
One had a performance problem and resembled
Howard Dean (neither of which was the problem).
Junior partner had a head of hair, too, but O
so much blather. No, I’m not a bitch and yes
have many flaws, but the old friend is way
too old a friend and the high school geek,
while handsome now, is still one. Three ex-wives
or permanently single, the whole lot of them
were too damned something. That slow food activist,
though, he saw through me in a way I don’t yet
get. Which has me considering invisibility—
a counter-intuitive and possibly counter-
productive strategy, but maybe a good cover,
as I scan the crowd for a tattooed, bald
widower not named Bob, reluctant, loose-
limbed, and wearing linen, who gives good talk.