By Sara Henning
“Sara Henning’s Terra Incognita opens with a dream, and the poems undo us the way dreams do, with imagery that is seared into our minds so completely we can’t shake it. I left this book reluctantly, a little dazed, and wanting to go back inside the world Henning created, ‘the sky dusk-raw,’ the stars ‘moving braille.’ Terra Incognita is a rare book of poems, and Henning is a rare talent.”
Maggie Smith, author of Good Bones and Goldenrod
“‘Grief turns out to be a place none of us knows until we reach it,’ Joan Didion once declared. Sara Henning crafts beautiful and protean music out of the terra incognita of motherlessness. The gallery of richly evoked lines and incidents suggests the poet is a dynamic, at-the-ready elegist for all she sees. ‘In the belly of every summer day is a god / taking its first breath, so I learn to call it praying, / my mother forsaking the AC for a grace called smoking / in the car.’ Yes, one of the book’s major triumphs is that Henning, with artful precision and a daughter’s utmost love, makes the vital woman who was her first window on the world count for the reader as well.”
Cyrus Cassells, 2021 poet laureate of Texas
“In Sara Henning’s stunning elegies, the mundane sears and sparks, infused with the speaker’s fierce grief. These poems accelerate, their energetic lines and images fueled by Henning’s imaginative precision and a lyricism that pops with its verbs and trills, whether telling a story of a mare’s head thrust into the window of a Chevy Nova, or the loss of a baby, or a mother’s Dilaudid-induced hallucinations of violent abduction while dying of cancer. The poems of Terra Incognita are thrilling with their vibrancy and beauty in the face of loss.”
Rebecca Morgan Frank, author of Oh You Robot Saints!
“In Terra Incognita, Sara Henning gives us a passionate group of elegies for her mother and an equally intense set of odes to her marriage. The territory she explores may be unknown ground, as her title suggests, but the poet knows where she stands. At every turn these poems are totally imaginative, totally alive.”
Mark Jarman, author of The Heronry: Poems and Dailiness: Essays on Poetry.
These masterful elegies follow the contours of a troubled mother-daughter relationship, explore the paradoxes of mourning, and relish the complicated joys of perseverance to map not only how one makes sense of the world but also how one reenters it after experiencing a transformative loss.
Divided into four sections, this poignant collection begins with “Terra Inferna,” which chronicles a single mother’s attempt to raise her daughter in 1980s rural Georgia. “Terra Incognita” follows the daughter’s journey across states, out of devastating poverty, and into a loving marriage, as her mother loses her battle with colon cancer. In “Terra Nova,” the speaker meditates on her mother’s passing, her crisis of meaning turning to revelation of legacy’s love. “Terra Firma” brings closure, as the speaker reconciles her grief while rediscovering how to find joy in life’s small moments.
Sara Henning is the author of View from True North, cowinner of the 2017 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award and the 2019 High Plains Book Award. Her honors include the Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize, the George Bogin Memorial Award, the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, and awards from the Sewanee Writers' Conference and the Vermont Studio Center. Her work has been published in journals such as Quarterly West, Crab Orchard Review, Witness, Crazyhorse, Meridian, and the Cincinnati Review. She lives and writes in Nacogdoches, Texas, where she serves as coordinator of the BFA program in creative writing at Stephen F. Austin State University and poetry editor for Stephen F. Austin State University Press. More info →
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