Carter McKenzie
Out of Refusal

In this book, poems compelled by the subjects of family history, parenthood, divorce, and the death of a brother become acts of witness and forgiveness. Out of refusal to turn away from love and its inevitable loss, new ground is created: poems of lament become songs of creation.

ISBN: 978-0-9821066-2-4
Paperback: $15
Publication Date: October 1, 2010

Born in Colorado, Carter McKenzie earned her master’s degree in English at the University of Virginia. She currently lives in Oregon’s Cascade foothills with her two daughters and teaches creative writing to students of all ages. In addition, she continues to study and perform songs of the Scottish Gaelic tradition with the women’s a cappella group Kitchen Ceilidh at festivals as well as in college classrooms. Among the publications her poems have appeared in are Fireweed, Dona Nobis Pacem: Grant Us Peace, and Raising Our Voices: an anthology of Oregon poets against the war. Her chapbook Naming Departure was published by Traprock Books in 2004. Out of Refusal is her first full-length book of poetry.

Praise for Out of Refusal

Out of Refusal rises from the hardness of sorrow, from the glittering shards of grief, ‘… transforming / cold surfaces of what / is yet to be learned / into an offering….’ These poems wrestle with profound absence and terrible loss, yet celebrate the hard-won knowledge ‘…that love is / out of all negatives / a shadow on the water of possibility / the soul of light and stones, what gives stones depth….’ With moving trope and imagery, with resonant music, Carter gives us song that ‘blooms from stone.’”
–Paulann Petersen

“The poems of Carter McKenzie’s Out of Refusal map the difficult territory of a family’s prejudice, children growing and turning away, a brother’s death…. [W]hat we learn in reading these unsettling and often radiant poems is that change can and does occur as poem after poem forms a witness born out of what she cannot ignore and refuses to forget in a necessary and moving journey toward acceptance.”
–Maxine Scates

“Her voices are both ordinary and extraordinary. Their telling lights up experience, the way Orion lights ‘in the dark before morning…transforming the cold / as I see it / into companions.’”
–Erik Muller

“Grounded in the mysteries and solace of the natural world, replete with exquisite imagery and lyrical turns of phrase…these poems know ‘[I]t is never / over, cycles of sun and darkness.’ Yet here is a poet who knows how ‘to go out alone / on my own ship / every day,’ offering us ways to live that are both resilient and transformative.”
–Alison Townsend


Excerpt from Out of Refusal


When the throat is passage
and lungs expand like wings
lifting you
from inside yourself

from breath and bones,
all the old stories
speak for themselves—

no one to hold a hand
over your mouth this time.

You want to live—

scars risen from the dead
become a ragged light.


named “The Heavenly Shepherd” in Babylonian star catalogues

Clasp of light
in the dark before morning

red star
inflaming a shoulder of sky,
the last giant fires

form just outside
my door facing south,
opening to the tasks of the day.

Animals begin to move,
the discipline of invitation
to bowls of water,
bowls of food,

a renewal of order,
of love,
reminding me how to live

the hunt through vast spaces
transforming the cold
as I see it
into companions
and steep dark roads,

trees bright with eyes.


Even if I never come back
to the place where you no longer
live. Even if I return
to the wrong door.
Regardless, may the water
shine, may you recognize home
in my thoughts,
a green harbor.
May the rains and the closing
sky fail to contain you.
May you know it is never
over, cycles of sun and darkness,
and that I am learning
from you to go out alone
on my own ship
every day.