Debts and Obligations

By Alicia Cohen


O Books
Original Language(s)
Additional Credits
Cover art by Leslie Scalapino
Design by AEM Design
Edition, Year
First Edition, 2008
In Print

Finalist for the 2009 Oregon Book Awards

Alicia Cohen’s poems are divided into mysterious sections that, crossing-over, tie wolf-children or people who are animals other than human to nations as if in-formed in the text’s transpiration as if identity set in terms of law and patriarchy in The Oresteia, nature in relation to humans in Moby Dick, and emptiness of identity in the film, Vertigo. The mystery is not concluded in the sector of mothers, infants, and death. Her poems are writing present unfolding as being an act of grace that’s in unrelated individuals at once.

Alicia Cohen
Alicia Cohen lives in Portland, Oregon, with her two children and the writer Tom Fisher. In addition to writing poetry and criticism she has shown work in the visual and performance arts, including a gallery installation and poem-opera ... Read More

The[se] poems are full of unsettling beauty. They explore the connections between people, animals, and the worlds we all inhabit—all the while interrogating how we make these categorical distinctions.

— Megan Kaminski, No Tells


Alicia Cohen’s Debts and Obligations is an innovative and innervating book. After reading it, you feel like you have formed new neural connections (or perhaps re-formed ancient ones) regarding modern humans and the natural world. 

— Matthea Harvey, judge for 2009 Oregon Book Awards


Praise for Debts and Obligations

What singles out these poems is the poet’s power of innocence that renews what she sees. Alicia, with youthful fierceness, creates her continuum of nature, animals and people and makes it move from wilderness to waterless cities, with a magic lightness, “in these, the early/or late years of history’s/early winter.” We want to share that pleasure.

— Etel Adnan

The promise of ecopoetics echoes here, strewn with hope, at the edge of a wild continent. The poet sings to stave off regret. Alicia Cohen’s Debts and Obligations is a linguistically sentient excursion into the woven core of animalady.

— Charles Bernstein

The poems of Debts and Obligations show the mystery of existence up close and unpackaged. Theirs is an unsettled beauty, animated, emotional, at the rough edge of “the end of the world is always coming.” Alicia Cohen not only makes us aware of our profound debt, but also shows a way of reckoning through discomposing distinctions such as, animal and human, riot and quiet, poet and poem. She writes, “all lives are fires,” indeed, these poems, written with “attention’s fierce flame,” burn with clarity. This is a quietly startling book.

— Denise Newman

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