This fierce first collection, a compilation of pain, rejuvenation and rebirth, pioneers landscapes of forgiveness, where Ailey O’Toole’s poems ascend to create a resting place of self-compassion and atonement. Follow along as O’Toole recounts her journey from emotional decimation to a place of redemption and self-love. Her shuttles of reckoning dive-bomb and crash, but never fail to pull passengers from the wreckage. These poems are a punch to the gut, a heart beating on the page, a nightmare turned daydream, as Ailey O’Toole buries what we hope to find and helps us see grace in the wild. How do we heal after re-injuring ourselves the same way? Following any major collapse, O’Toole helps us to find resiliency within ourselves in her debut collection.
The Cerurove: “I wanted to write something that other people who were struggling could read and know they weren’t alone, but I also wanted to tell the story of how I moved through that grief and eventually came out the other side.”
The Rumpus: “I definitely use writing as a way to process my trauma and to self-reflect about how trauma is manifesting in my life. I don’t think I would’ve reached the point in my recovery that I have without the catharsis and self-investigation that occurs in my writing.”
“Hardships and the poets that write about them are nothing new. However, Ailey O’Toole’s “Grief and What Comes After,” a three-part meditation on the ebb and flow of mental health, and how one’s identity and determined value are intrinsically linked to trauma, both past and present, single-handedly rewrites the blueprint on “How To Deal,” and emerge on the other side with enviable perspective.
To move through this book, unscathed, is nearly impossible—as it mirrors the universal truth of humanity’s inability to live without mishap, heartbreak, challenges and self-doubt. Wounds are opened purposely for the sake of observation; doors left ajar for the reader to voyeur into O’Toole’s psyche. The pain is palpable; the body: a swinging anvil on rope that isn’t pulled taut, and the images—of a Mazda sitting under the faint glow of a street lamp, a bleeding, split lip, a park bench, concealed pink flesh forced to show itself—quickly weave themselves into the reader’s narrative—your very DNA.
Shamelessly exhibiting poetic and linguistic moxie is the theme of O’Toole’s artistic ethos, and while a poet’s first collection may humbly suggest a gentle ‘paving,’ “Grief and What Comes After” is trailblazing a path all its own. While the chapbook anatomizes trials and tribulations, it isn’t presented as an opportunity to wallow. As the title suggests, much life is left to live in the phase of ‘what comes after,’ and Ailey O’Toole shows no signs of ever letting us forget who she is, where she’s from and, most importantly, where she’s going.” – Afieya Kipp, Founder and Editor in Chief of Vessel Press
“Grief, And What Comes After is a prismatic collage of grief in forms, abstract and familiar, that speaks to the oldest and youngest parts of a soul. Its author, Ailey O’Toole, shows the complexities of the female spirit, strong and vulnerable, in both her punk rock, deceptively fragile, Holly Hobbie persona and in her skillfully curated patchwork quilt of poetry large enough to shelter all with its complex construction. Life is grief — what we are given is borrowed and will be taken away: relationships, people, sometimes even our hold on our own sanity. O’Toole rages, weeps in works like “Salt Water Sacrifices” to a crescendo of a tempered acceptance of the self in her final poem “A Field Guide To Loving Yourself.” Like grief itself, Grief, And What Comes After isn’t an easy book, in moments, to navigate. It explores a very genuine, clearly autobiographical near-drowning swimming in that irreplaceable, intangible genuineness of the author’s experience. O’Toole takes us deep, in this book, into tumultuous, treacherous waters, but this is not a book for drowning. It’s a book for survivors reaching out to each other in the darkness, finding fingertips, limbs in the frigid sea, holding on, telling our stories as we float together towards land in O’Toole’s poetic life jackets.” – Kristin Garth, author of Pink Plastic House, Pensacola Girls, Shakespeare for Sociopaths & Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir
“‘Grief and What Comes After’ is a journey, not across time, but into tissues, through organs, and to the center of cells as they are born and dwindle. O’Toole is an archeologist of her own interior, and what she finds there–artifacts, love letters, ancient shells that might hold nutrients or gun powder, depending on how she tilts them–is at once celebrated and deeply mourned. These are poems of ecstasy and agony, and O’Toole demonstrates at once a maturity in describing her human condition and a refreshing refusal to become jaded or claim she is finished with the mystery of it all. As a reader, I recognized feelings I have experienced without being able to describe them, but I was also swept away by O’Toole’s descriptions of her everyday life and imagination. This is a brave book by a voice that is sure to make a dazzling impact on literature and the arts.” – Amy Alexander, author of The Legend of the Kettle Daughter (Hedgehog Press 2019)
“This fierce first collection pioneers landscapes of forgiveness, where Ailey O’Toole’s
poems ascend to create a hive of universal love. Her shuttles of reckoning dive-bomb and crash, but these poems never fail to pull passengers from the wreckage. Ailey O’Toole buries what we hope to find, and helps us see grace in the wild. How do we heal after reinjuring ourselves the same way? Following any major collapse, we rise with Grief, and What Comes After.
From Annihilation, we daydream the small spirals bodies make, and get drunk off the
first wonders new love creates. Ailey O’Toole combines a multitude of perspectives on loss, while constantly assuring us we can “keep going” and swim through the furious flood of our cardiac injuries. Bravery collides with fear in this stunning collection of judgment and the rationalizations that follow soon after — look to poems such as, “Difficult at Parties” and “Roots” for a voice faithful enough to trust peach pits to bloom, while bones burn in a neighbor’s yard.
The voices within Introspection launch this second act into atmospheric perspectives,
where former lovers hang suspended in zero-gravity, as bad love swirls monsoons. O’Toole’s fearless poetry dives into memory’s wreckage, after oceans of passion collide with uncontrolled bodies. These poems search the ruins for hope’s fragments and create a mosaic of “all your broken pieces”—fallen-out teeth, twigs, and kite strings connect to make her radiant wingspan.
Fractured trust is made unbreakable in Reclamation, and we are reminded to let our scars heal. Together, we cope in the garden and forgive love’s deceptive beginning — the “Fourth of July” and “Lake Travis” fuse those original sparks within Edenic landscapes. However, we are always driven out of youth’s paradise — the people we once loved do not exist, and without them we must board a ship bound for elsewhere beyond blue. Without Grief, and What Comes After, we may not find the pale flowers hidden behind our wrists. These poems help us hurt, not in violence, but with patience.” – Forrest Rapier, 2018 Best New Poets Finalist
“Grief and What Comes After is a timely collection of poetry by Ms. O’Toole that highlights pain that too many young women experience at the opening doors of womanhood. We follow the narrator through depression, loss, emptiness, and even suicide… and are able to witness the growth and perseverance through everything that troubles her and those around her. There is a subtle sense of humor in some pieces, which adds brief lightness to the dark density of some of these poems, and brings even more dimension to the subject. Be prepared to feel deeply, ache along with the characters, and in some moments, clutch your pearls. It is worth reading this collection from beginning to end because where the narrator ends up in this seemingly chronological story is surprising indeed.” – Samantha Rose, author of L’ACQUA and Creatress in Chief of Pussy Magic Press