In Katie Ford’s four-sectioned fourth collection, If You Have to Go, readers find themselves in indifferent rooms where the walls quit or remain standing regardless, like shrugs of the shoulder. The end of a marriage reveals the false promises believed since childhood—the kingdom—the house with a white-picket fence and 2.5 kid—is flimsy at best, a farce. The house is decaying. The mildew spreads. Her poems capture this stark truth: even as one’s sorrow all encompasses, the rest of the world either changes or doesn’t but it remains unmarked by that suffering. Ford’s poems ride the grief and surprise of existing inside this world indifferent to one’s pain, beside an absent God: “Do you think I don’t know when I say Lord / I might be singing into the silo where nothing is stored”?

Graciously, Ford offers her readers more structure than her speaker finds through the crown of sonnets found in her second and largest section, “The Addresses.” Her sonnets fashion a steady current that moves readers forward. Each poem bleeds to the next. Not only the walls of the rooms decay, so do the distinctions between poems and their echoes create an insistence that blots out foundational beliefs: “And when I say God / it’s because no one can know it—not ever, // not at all—. It’s a wall. / And it drops to the floor as I fall.” And still, the final two sections of If You Have to Go move beyond sonnets to deliver a quiet relief to readers. Here in “Psalm 40,” in particular, the speaker reaches resolution—accepts her life lived and her life to be with a modest zest: “I am content because before me looms the hope of love,” and so her readers too are left with a lightness to look forward—to life, to more from Ford.

Graywolf Press.

—Review by Madeline Vardell