In the Unwalled City

118 pages
September 1, 2022

COMING SOON! In the Unwalled City takes its title from Epicurus, who wrote: “Against other things it is possible to obtain security, but when it comes to death, we human beings all live in an unwalled city.” This affecting book—which weaves prose memoir with poetry—explores that feeling of being open to attack—in this case the […]

Hardcover ISBN 9781639821150 $29.00
Paperback ISBN 9781639821143 $16.00
eBook ISBN 9781639821167 $9.99
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COMING SOON!

In the Unwalled City takes its title from Epicurus, who wrote: “Against other things it is possible to obtain security, but when it comes to death, we human beings all live in an unwalled city.” This affecting book—which weaves prose memoir with poetry—explores that feeling of being open to attack—in this case the pain of grief after Robert Cording’s thirty-one-year-old son Daniel died.

To borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis, here is “a grief observed,” encompassing not only the big questions but also the impact of grief on daily life. For a poet like Cording, one form that grief takes is that of speaking to his son. In “Afterlife,” Cording has a vision of his son replying: “let the emptiness remain empty . . . Stop writing down / everything you think I’m telling you. / This is your afterlife, not mine.”

At the heart of In the Unwalled City is a series of questions: How does loss change a person? How does one chart a new life that both acknowledges a son’s death and still finds a way back to delight? How does one now live fully in the unwalled city?

In a long and rich career, Robert Cording—indifferent to and transcendent of any vogue—has persisted in addressing what I can only and inadequately label matters of the spirit. He’d surely be the last earthly soul to celebrate the death of a beloved son, “who is both not here, and not not here,” as occasion for his most powerful work to date. And yet it is that. And it is spiritual. To read In the Unwalled City is to have our hearts broken, poem after poem, even as we celebrate the deeper-than-deep humanity of its testimony. I’m simply aware of no recent poetry that matches it for mournful eloquence.

Sydney Lea, former Poet Laureate of Vermont

Throughout Robert Cording’s In the Unwalled City, one is immersed in the essence of duality—first, in a mingling of memoir and lyric—where language itself is an incantatory talisman against incredible loss yet unable to offer lasting solace. The title essay and collection of linked poems concerning the poet’s late son impart a gorgeous grief which simultaneously embraces remembrance while also seeking some means of forgetfulness at “an altar where all rationality had to be sacrificed.”

Claude Wilkinson, author of World Without End