Daggers of Light – Brief poems by Andrea Cohen

Photograph: Joanna Eldredge Morrissey

Andrea Cohen grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and has written poems, she says, for as long as I can remember. I used to walk with my dog through the woods, making up little songs. It was what I loved to do––and my days haven’t changed too much since then. Of the same dog she has said, I hung out with my dog in the woods and would recite poems to him. He was a very good dog and did not let on that the poetry was very bad. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where she was also a Teaching-Writer Fellow.  Andrea Cohen is the author of the poetry collections Everything (Four Way Books, 2021), Nightshade (Four Way Books, 2019), which was included on The New York Times “Best Poetry Books of 2019” list, Unfathoming (Four Way Books, 2017), Furs Not Mine (Four Way Books, 2015), Kentucky Derby (Salmon Poetry, 2011), Long Division (Salmon Poetry, 2009), and The Cartographer’s Vacation (Owl Creek Press, 1999) which was a winner of the Owl Creek Poetry Prize. She has received several fellowships to MacDowell and directs The Blacksmith Poetry Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the Blacksmith House, site of the village smithy and spreading chestnut tree of Longfellow’s poem The Village Blacksmith. She also writes about marine research at MIT.


There is a persistent sense of loss and deprivation in many of the brief poems which accumulate in the recent collections of Andrea Cohen. A Refusal to Mourn (see below) condenses Dylan Thomas’s plangent and verbose lament into a seven-word cry of pain. First Love is a dark joke on the darkness of love. The “dagger of light” referred to in one poem illuminates the spectral world the poet inhabits. The ability to constrain dark emotions in small spaces is central to the achievement and ambition of these poems. I do want to say as much as I can in a few words, and many of these very short poems tend to find their way to me pretty much whole. Like a fruit falling from a branch. Though like a fruit that gets some leaves clipped, or gets polished. The world, like some fruit, may be “bitter-sweet”, as the title poem of Nightshade has it, but, as it concludes, “what living isn’t?”

Brief Poems by Andrea Cohen

First Love

She was
the dark on.


Refusal to Mourn

In lieu of
flowers, send
him back.



It’s an extreme
sport – like in-
door beekeeping.



It looked like something
you could pick up, that

dagger of light.
He left it there,

not trusting what
he might do with it.



Someone was talking 
quietly of lanterns –

but loud enough
to light my way.



It trades in
poison and

in balms. We
call it bitter-

sweet – what
living isn’t?


How Sound Travels

You said goodbye and I
heard good and I, and

only later, the buzzing
b, its lethal sting.

Summer Lake

You can’t fish
for light, or

you can, but
you have to

throw it back.


Fellow Traveler

She went everywhere
with an empty suitcase.

You never know when
you’ll need to leave

swiftly with nothing.


Wedding Dress

Look closer:
she sewed it

from a hundred 
tattered flags

of surrender.



Dear God, give
me the strength –

in the presence
of deaf gods –

to stop praying.



Not an absence
of blackbirds

singing, but
an abundance

of blackbirds



I carry 

my people



What would I
think, coming

up after
my world

had evaporated?
I’d wish

I were water. 


An interview with Andrea Cohen on Redivider.

A large selection of poems are available through her website.

Andrea Cohen reads a selection of her poetry at the 2017 Nantucket Book Festival.

The Salmon Poetry page for Long Division.

The Salmon Poetry page for Kentucky Derby.

An interview with Andrea Cohen in Memorious.

An interview with Andrea Cohen in The Arkansas International.

Kate Kellaway reviews Long Division in The Guardian.

Jackson Holbert reviews Furs Not Mine in The Adroit Journal.