A TIME Best Book of 2023
“Moving. . . .irresistible. . . .Transforms verse into multiverse.”—The New Yorker
Restless, contradictory, and witty, Megan Fernandes’ I Do Everything I’m Told explores disobedience and worship, longing and possessiveness, and nights of wandering cities. Its poems span thousands of miles, as a masterful crown of sonnets starts in Shanghai, then moves through Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Lisbon, Palermo, Paris, and Philadelphia—with a speaker who travels solo, adventures with strangers, struggles with the parameters of sexuality, and speculates on desire.
Across four sections, poems navigate the terrain of queer, normative, and ambiguous intimacies with a frank intelligence: “It’s better to be illegible, sometimes. Then they can’t govern you.” Strangers, ancestors, priests, ghosts, the inner child, sisters, misfit raccoons, Rimbaud, and Rilke populate the pages. Beloveds are unnamed, and unrealized desires are grieved as actual losses. The poems are grounded in real cities, but also in a surrealist past or an impossible future, in cliché love stories made weird, in ordinary routines made divine, and in the cosmos itself, sitting on Saturn’s rings looking back at Earth. When things go wrong, Fernandes treats loss with a sacred irreverence: “Contradictions are a sign we are from god. We fall. We don’t always get to ask why.”
About the Author
Megan Fernandes is the author of Good Boys, and a finalist for the Kundiman Poetry Prize and the Paterson Poetry Prize. Her poems have been published in The New Yorker, Kenyon Review, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Common, and the Academy of American Poets, among others. An associate professor of English and the writer-in-residence at Lafayette College, Fernandes lives in New York City.
A Best Poetry Collection of 2023 at Electric Literature
A Best Book of the Season at Vogue and Vulture
Moving. . . .irresistible…. Transforms verse into multiverse.
— The New Yorker
Wrestling with issues of desire, sexuality, loss, and adventure to extremely compelling effect.
— New York Magazine
These poems dislocate space and time to navigate a landscape of complex and ambiguous intimacies.
— Electric Literature, A Best Poetry Collection of 2023
Captivating. . . . generates surprising revelations and releases unruly energies out of perfectly sculpted forms.
— The Millions
These poems will kiss you on the mouth, slap you across the face, make you a cup of tea, and tell you their secrets. The language is energetic and ecstatic, and the drops into grief, discovery, and profundity are unparalleled.
— CJ Hauser, The Week
Megan Fernandes writes beautifully on the thorny relationship between grief, regret, and desire with verse that spans continents and beloveds and alternate timelines. . . . Fernandes’s poems are loving and messy but always precise, her insights the kind that make you reevaluate your entire life. This book captures Fernandes at her most mature, exciting, and brave. I Do Everything I’m Told is a perfect entry point to Fernandes’s captivating and irreverent style.
Moving. . . . An unforgettable voice filled with intense longing for both the sacred and profane.
— Associated Press
A drop-dead funny, queer-of-color testimony to the ecstasies and weltschmerz of a life lived in resistance to various restraints. . . . It shows us language renewed by love and love’s excess, and it offers to the children of the diaspora homes built on white space, on echo and break.
Whether the speaker is having an “ugly cry” before “hopping along” at a K-pop dance class in Shanghai or asking a grocery store clerk whether they sell dignity, the conversational, playful movement of these poems bounces successfully off a formal control that extends to a “Fuckboy Villanelle” in which “Eurydice’s tomb / was lousy with my amours.
— LitHub, A Best Poetry Collection of June
Vibrant. . . . Fernandes’s voice is immediate and urging, full of a kind of lighthearted sagacity. . . .The poet’s blend of irreverence, pathos, and humor works brilliantly in these pages full of winning allusions to Dostoyevsky, Rimbaud, Rilke, Jimmy Stuart, the cosmos, and K-pop.
— Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
Honest, often messy, and always expertly lyrical.
— Los Angeles Review of Books
Tin House stays putting out some of the best poetry collections in the game! I’m looking forward to this one from a poet whose work I’ve loved.
Compelling. . . . Fernandes writes with an inventiveness and sense of play that add dimension to her formal acuity.
— Pleiades Press
Powerful. . . . Remarkable. . . . leans into fear and comes out the other side. Fernandes is a poet with an impressively broad skillset, one that is sure to render this one of the most talked about collections of the year.
— The Poetry Question
Stunning. . . . so full of vibrant writing—the kind that’s funny without trying to be—that you might miss at first how haunted it is.
Defends not just joy, but also poetic language and its powers of reconstitution.
— On the Seawall
Megan Fernandes is one of my favorite poets because she does things on the page that I and most other poets can’t imagine. Her rhapsodic lineation, her liberated image and metaphor. All that wonder is on display in her new stunner, I Do Everything I’m Told. The collection is, at its center, a book of love poems like all the best poetry collections are. The pretense of love, the past tense of love, and what we do when the little galaxies we build with others start to come apart. Fernandes navigates these spaces with the kind of slick wit and care that love poems require: awareness, eros, and utter abandon. Her first two collections showed us the possibilities for a different kind of poem. I Do Everything I’m Told shows us what poetry looks like in the aftermath.
— Adrian Matejka, author of Somebody Else Sold the World
Beautiful, provocative pleasures, these poems apply a sophisticated intelligence to the most vulnerable and insatiable yearnings. Fernandes degloves traditions of love poetry through her radically adventurous poetry, baring the muscle beneath the skin. Each poem, ungovernable and alive to the contemporary moment, carries forward an original and compelling vision. The result is a brilliant triumph—both poignant and bracing.
— Lee Upton, author of The Day Every Day Is
In I Do Everything I’m Told, we are embraced simultaneously by finality and ambiguity, rules made only to be broken, and in their tesserae lies a beauty that rejects its own existence while reflecting back our own. ‘Sometimes, I wonder if I would know a beautiful thing / if I saw it,’ Fernandes writes, making of wonder itself a journey beyond the veil where death, violence, and uncertainty herald revision, witness, and love. An incredible book!
— Phillip B. Williams, author of Mutiny
I love the way this poet celebrates the contradictions of the human condition in poems that are as wise as they are wily. This is a poet whose work displays formal acuity, yes, as but also an expansive depth of play. This collection serves and swerves, sings and swings.
— Tarfia Faizullah, author of Registers of Illuminated Villages