With Devon Walker-Figueroa as our Virgil, we begin in the collection's eponymous town of Philomath, Oregon. We drift through the general store, into the Nazarene Church, past people plucking at the brambles of a place that won't let them go. We move beyond the town into fields and farmland--and further still, along highways, into a cursed Californian town, a museum in Florence. An explorer at the edge of the sublime, Walker-Figueroa writes in quiet awe of nature, of memory.
[Walker-Figueroa's] language feels especially fresh, precise, and full of possibility beyond the meanings of the words themselves ... Yet to focus only on these complex connections doesn’t do this collection justice. There’s a tremendous delight in experiencing Walker-Figueroa’s own philomathic nature, and her graceful use of language ... The collection houses a number of multipage poems that are still, at their core, exquisitely concise; evidence of Walker-Figueroa’s skill, and yes, her innate philomathism. There’s a rooting here to the essential nature of how we connect—or disconnect—from our past, our classifications, what cages us. These poems both move deeper into these realms, and offer a way to slip away from such encirclements.
As with all good place-based writing, Philomath is more than pastoral; it is intensely personal and intimate with its surroundings. Walker-Figueroa demonstrates that a place is more than its ecosystem and infrastructure. More than anything else, it is its people ... Philomath is riddled with moments that make themselves aware of our Anthropocene’s extinction events and progressive societal dilapidation. There is a grappling that ensues—how to deal with personal pain amidst public and pervasive suffering, something becoming a hallmark of contemporary poetry delivering a cultural critique. It is important to note however that this book is not merely a compendium of suffering. The characters lead textured lives and there is a wild abundance of tenderness ...
Walker-Figueroa's gloomy, atmospheric debut is driven by a steely-eyed perseverance in a desolate setting ... Walker-Figueroa's vision of America is riddled with unusual characters, and she effectively uses caesura and passive voice to suspend a sense of closure throughout. These sharply observed poems imbue its portrait of place with wit and electricity.