The Weather & Our Tempers by Dominique Townsend

  • Dominique-Townsend-poems
  • Dominique-Townsend-Weather-Tempers-Poetry

Rarely does a debut collection deliver so effortlessly on the promise of poetry as it is lived, offering its readers an intuitive musicality paired with careful observation and a certain stillness of mind. The voices in these poems somehow manage to be openly self-conscious while remaining expressive, deliberate, and measured. It’s as if Dominique Townsend feels altogether at home in whatever environment she finds herself, confident in her abilities to describe/unearth/translate from the temporal moment any universal experience it may contain, or explicate the emotional cathexis as generated by the human situation in which it resides. In these poems searching is an act of faith—but a wandering, hard-won faith, lived-in and inseparable from its discovery—where the fleeting is found to be necessary and worthy of our examination and praise. The Weather & Our Tempers offers a vision of a world exceptional as it is mundane, funny as it is tragic, a world that relies on our perception of it even as it changes our perception. It is a world that is rejuvenating, but always with death right there in the background, the sacrifice required for our recording: “something needs / to be offered up / for the sake of the story.” Here is a book that while relishing ideas, persons, objects—allowing each their own place and instance—simply cannot let things be.

The Weather & Our Tempers
by Dominique Townsend

Pub Date: August 15, 2013
72 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-936767-11-3

Cover Art by Aaron Sing Fox

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Meditative and mysterious, these spare, intimate poems trace an inner landscape that stretches from Brooklyn to Paris, from Tokyo to Kathmandu.

Lizzie Widdicombe, writer for The New Yorker

To read Dominique Townsend’s debut book of poetry is to be seduced by a particularly spiritual, sensual, and uniquely modern world, where the questions of body, mind, and—indeed—soul, are sometimes painful, sometimes witty, sometimes searching, and always exquisite. These are poems to treasure and revisit.

Joanna Hershon, author of A Dual Inheritance and Swimming

The poet’s spirit settles among objects, the quotidian flotsam. But how to keep the resulting words incantatory? This is Dominique Townsend’s gift. Talismans are everywhere in The Weather & Our Tempers, and some of them are “flapping encyclopedic wings.” While this is a book full of the sense of man’s gentle presence in nature, it also rings with apostrophe and sharp conversations. The ache of being human hangs in the doorways of this poetry. You’ll be the wiser for entering.”

Peter Thompson, author of Angle of Incidence and Editor of Ezra: An Online Journal of Translation

Review, Publisher’s Weekly

“Concise and welcoming, yet intricately tied to place and religion, this quiet debut could take off.”

Review, Joanne Mallari, Bookin’ With Sunny

“. . . Townsend draws us into a world of provocative details. . . . The Weather and our Tempers is written with swift brush­strokes of detail, quickly immersing us into another time and place. . . . These are poems that will morph with you—poems that invite you to cel­e­brate the full spectrum of our shared humanity.”

Interview with Late Night Library

LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?

DT: The will to make light of painful experience without diminishing its sharpness and interest, a fascination with the ordinary things people say to each other, concern with what gets passed down through generations, an effort to stay perceptive and awake enough to find meaning everywhere. I also secretly hope my poems have a sense of humor. It’s rare, but I love it when readers laugh.


Townsend received her BA from Barnard College, a Master’s from Harvard, and a PhD from Columbia. She currently teaches Buddhism at Columbia. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

to Godavari


Dry blue dust just after noon,
we searched for the Japanese
place where you recently sat
with a big monk in the rain.

Monsoon’s night was too black,
too slick for you to recall the place—
all you knew were salted fish
and kerosene lamps hung out front.

The trouble, you said, started with the king.

It was too hot to walk but we were
always just about there. Flushing
and turned around, you insisted again
we move away from the temple,

only to spot the cracked sign beyond
the clanging of that deaf god’s bell.

I ate unremarkably, drank tea
quietly, not wanting to say the place
neighbored my old friend’s room
and I noticed his window, open.

We washed hands, gave tips
and agreed on an outing—
to the unblossoming orchids
and fruitless trees of Godavari.

The road was blocked with students.
Dissenting, they sweated and sang toward
their minister’s new Garden Of Dreams,
where we’d trespassed on our last date.

Up the hill of the rice green valley, we crouched
where humans might have been sacrificed,
some anthropologist had told you.

The children we smiled at plucked weeds,
walking from school to their ancient dwellings
dangling garlands of countless red chilies.

Near the top our taxi stopped
under a giant gold-faced Buddha.
Through steel gates we played at
demanding to see the orchids.

On the other side a soft-speaking girl moved
too slowly with dry clay-reddened palms and
a handsome man was patient with our climb
down and back, bored by mere green and a dog.

No flowers, as we knew. But our lack
of purpose surprised us more than them,
at ease with nothing ready to buy or sell.


it all appeared real
this round

everything went wrong
we became a stranger

observing us
from a balcony

built by an author
who writes an old man

“un homme d’un âge”

in his pajamas
in a novel

removed from where
his ideas hold sway


as if he had nothing
to do with himself

the woman
who visits

his first storey
flat drifts off

tasting of a cooled
clear broth

her thinking
turns by his side

it would be easy to say
he’s lived for too long

a woman
“of a certain age”

has a sexual sense
in French—

is wasted


Since we know now
writing was meant to enslave

the first words
I wrote for you
were from too long ago

when he of
the injured eyes
was the gold
standard make-

I did love
but in agony
we joked of irises
that would
open if only
I would

divert my eyes
too full
of impossible

it all happened
as in a book
I call The Other
First Poem
for B—.

neti neti

the other word for
“gasp for air” can also
mean “console”

(we can’t see
or say why)

dear god is this about
whose art is to be valued, whose
work will take effect?

neti neti—
“not this, not this”

ancient rite

“neither this, nor that”

millennia on &
on conducting
rites about which
nothing is known
to make sense
of what is not

in childhood
is fair the case
lasting oceanic
reliable afraid

“not so, not so”

we misunderstood is all
& the frame was all
wrong or even gone

there was no context
for orientation our laughing
echoed in a tunnel dreaming
atop a rusty beginningless
tower in a valley afire

a siren reminds
us so young to
stay indoors to
stay asleep

with a shamefaced image
ignoring a smoke signal
sitting Indian-style

still fashioning
our walls in underwater
scenes dressing the self
doctoring as if playacting
our own image

“neti, neti”

(meaning “no”)


wind moves ivy to
strangle the old oak

meanness rests here
not remembering

the number of rings
a figure after all unknowable

our parents claim
until the tree is cut

its seasons
accumulate in our hands

(the oak is four hundred
years old today)

the one who’s left tries to make sense
of her ancestors raging

for shame or sport
the taboo crossed

all these generations

a storm of incoherent stories

of passionless even listless

the characters undergo

a change of name
fundamental incidental

or cosmetic who can say

it is not the oak
but another tree with

no name
no family

the ivy strangles


(not so, not so)

something willing or not
something needs

to be offered up
for the sake of the story

we sleep longer
still growing