The Beat: Janet McAdams

Janet McAdams is the author of the novel Red Weather and the poetry collections Feral and The Island of Lost Luggage, which won an American Book Award. Her chapbook of prose poems Seven Boxes for the Country After won the Wick Chapbook competition and was published in 2016. She teaches at Kenyon College, where she is the Robert P. Hubbard Chair in Poetry.


Read "Thanatoptic"

Bio and poems at the Poetry Foundation

"Lie" at Poem-a-Day

Interview at Shenandoah’s website

"______and the Elders” at Southern Humanities Review

Alan May:

Welcome to The Beat, a poetry podcast produced by Knox County Public Library. Today’s poem is a meditation on death by the poet, novelist, and editor Janet McAdams. I love McAdam's use of specific details and imagery in this amazing poem. The boy we see in the beginning of the poem isn’t just a “small-town boy” but he’s “that older boy from school who bagged our bread and eggs/ late afternoons.” And then there’s the list of medical procedures to thwart attempts at suicide: “the forced-down emetic, the choked-upon tube, wrist/ staunched and stitched back together.” Here’s the poem “Thanatoptic” by Janet McAdams.

Janet McAdams:

THANATOPTIC by Janet McAdams

Not for the wild girl who taught me French kissing.

Or other poets with their leaps and plastic bags and ovens.

The first, that older boy from school who bagged our bread and eggs

late afternoons. His brother, three desks back, kept his head down

two days running, until the teacher made him lift his face

to fractions and the Battle of Beacon Hill. It never seemed

that difficult for someone else to die.

They said that suicide was contagious and, after the hanging girl,

kept watch over us for days. But those sad deaths only served

to shore me up. Besides, my dread was the dread of getting there.

Like any traveler, I wanted least of all the journey interrupted—

the forced-down emetic, the choked-upon tube, wrist

staunched and stitched back together.

Then, I worried if the words were enough without it.

Now, childless and so often alone in the snowed-down

village, I want nothing to do with stones or services.

I want my books burned and the body, likewise,

wrought down to ashes or left in a copse of sycamores

to be taken back, cell after cell, by the ground—I want

never to have been here but I am.

Alan May:

That was “Thanatoptic” by Janet McAdams. McAdams is the author of the novel Red Weather and the poetry collections Feral and The Island of Lost Luggage, which won an American Book Award. Her chapbook of prose poems Seven Boxes for the Country After won the Wick Chapbook competition and was published in 2016. She teaches at Kenyon College, where she is the Robert P. Hubbard Chair in Poetry. You can find books by Janet McAdams in our online catalog or call us at the Reference Desk at Lawson McGhee Library. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.

Various voices:

Thank you for listening to and sharing this podcast from Knox County Public Library in Knoxville, Tennessee. Music for this podcast is by Chad Crouch. Find all our podcasts at pods.knoxlib.org, and explore life-changing resources at www.knoxlib.org. That's "knox l-i-b." Go to our "keep in touch" page to sign up for newsletters. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Make us your essential connection for life-long learning and information.

About the Podcast

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About your hosts

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Melissa Brenneman

Melissa listens to hours of podcasts on most days. She started the habit with the intention of taking long walks, but podcasts proved to be more addicting than exercise. She records, edits and mixes podcasts for the library.
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Alan May

Alan May works as a librarian at Lawson McGhee Library. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Alabama. In his spare time, he reads and writes poetry. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Quarterly, The Hollins Critic, The Idaho Review, DIAGRAM, and others. He has published three books of poetry.