Sum Ledger is a powerful and wide-ranging meditation — via a dazzling array of poetic forms and sources — on money, class, and poverty, that complicates the narrative of late-stage capitalism in America. Weaving together the personal with the historical, imaginative, and political, Adam Tavel’s masterfully wrought poems empathize deeply with people in distress, be it turn of the century child laborers and almshouse residents, or his own family members and hard-working community college students. I can’t think of a book more appropriate for our current moment of political upheaval and economic crisis, or a better poet to lead us through it, with his unflinching eye, muscular language, and huge heart.

 — Erika Meitner

Adam Tavel’s Sum Ledger is about money, its ludicrous power, and what it is like not to have access to it. It begins with a kid rolling pennies to buy diapers for his twin baby sisters and moves into a virtuosic ode to trailer parks, which gets at the exuberant sadness, the heroic lyricism, of places where real poetry is born. Nuance is brought to the collection as Tavel opens the frame and takes excursions into the recent and distant historical past, from child labor to 9/11 to Nero. He builds toward a tour de force of a final movement that delves into the source of all of it — including the torment of the current moment — via ekphrasis, history, and myth. Sum Ledger is a book about work, so much work. The work of trying to make it all work. Indeed, Tavel has worked these poems themselves to a fine sheen. There is meter, there are sonnets, up against the noir intensity of images. Sum Ledger is urgent, and it is masterful.

 — Diane Seuss

 His poems are musical and formally deft, and Adam Tavel makes of his own American life, and of the life of America, a portrait of itself the nation ought to see, especially now.  It cannot be said to be pretty, this portrait, but it is, in Tavel’s hands, beautiful and true.

 — Robert Wrigley

 Adam Tavel weaves a spiderweb of frost on the windows of a rectory station wagon. His poems are sacred and sometimes profane. They swagger with journey and the story of a life that could be spelled out in capital letters. There is restoration to a sense of being. Here is a master of images that cut across poems. 

 — Diane Glancy



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Adam Tavel is the author of five collections of poetry, including Green Regalia (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2022). His third book, Catafalque, won the Richard Wilbur Award (University of Evansville Press, 2018). His recent poems appear, or will soon appear, in North American Review, Ploughshares, The Georgia Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Ninth Letter, The Massachusetts Review, Copper Nickel, and Western Humanities Review, among others. He is a professor of English at Wor-Wic Community College, where he also directs the Echoes & Visions Reading Series. You can find him online at