87 North

Poetry by Michael Coffey

May 1, 1999 • 6 x 9 • 124 pages • 978-1-56689-085-4

Poems that take the poet and the reader home, to a point of greater understanding of the past and comfort with the future.

The poems in Michael Coffey’s 87 North map a complex journey—by car, by train, in spirit, in a poetics—from New York City, where he lives, to the environs of his youth in the Adirondacks, where he was raised by his adoptive parents in a town of about seven hundred people. “In this book, I try to convey both the sense of living in a metropolis teeming with the impersonal and that of being in an expanded terrain in which everything makes sense, if only because one knows it so well, and everyone knows everybody.” Named for the highway that runs from the bottom to the top of New York State, 87 North begins with a surreal guidebook invoking Indians, John Ashbery, and Max Ernst while still engaging memories of a rural upbringing, and ends with a simple family recipe. Throughout, the rhythms of city life—jazz riffs, traffic, overhead street dialogue—alternate with epiphanies of the restorative power of language, memory, and experience. 

Along the way, these poems examine Coffey’s relationship to his parents and hometown and Irish-American roots. “There is a bardic tradition in Ireland that puts certain responsibilities upon the poet to communicate. That was the poet’s job, not to be obscure but to tell, to interpret, to delight, to help grieve.

About the Author

Michael Coffey is author of poetry collections Elemenopy and 87 North, and the editor (with Terry Golway) of The Irish in America. The editorial director of Publishers Weekly, Coffey lives in New York.


“The poems that wait for the reader along route 87 North artfully combine an inviting colloquial voice with solidity of language and a rich texture of verbal music. There is much to be discovered in these nimble, surprising, and delightful poems.” —Billy Collins

“Michael Coffey’s second book exhibits the ferocity of his range: polemics worthy of Pope; quick delights that ignite in wit; and dazzling, luminous poems that mix the language and geography of upstate New York with history, faith, autobiography, and poetic inheritance. It is a marvelous book.” —Susan Wheeler

“I’ve lived in New York City, and I’ve lived in the Adirondacks, and so can say that Coffey understands both these marvels in some deep way. Understands them so well he can distill their essence, drip their meaning out like water through a percolator, each drop full of bitter flavor. With this book he becomes a poet laureate of the Empire State, and of a much wider and more unbounded realm as well.” —Bill McKibben

“Coffey, with a steady formal vision, makes maps of our cultural touchstones. And for the reader traveling 87 North—the route that transects New York State—it is a pleasure, even when the terrain, both urban and rural, is toxic. Engaged and impersonal at once, these poems rile and soothe us with their brilliance and compressed beauty.” —Hilda Raz