Instructions for Traveling West




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April 9, 2024 | ISBN 9780593820643

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About the Book

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A vivid and inspiring poetry collection about what’s possible when we heed our instincts and honor our intuition, allowing ourselves to strike out for new territories of love, pleasure, and peace.
“This empathetic, honest, and intimate collection is chockful of poems reminding the reader to love earnestly, live freely, and pay attention.”—Kate Baer, #1 New York Times bestselling author of And Yet and What Kind of Woman

First, you must realize you’re homesick for all the lives you’re not living. Then, you must commit to the road and the rising loneliness. To the sincere thrill of coming apart.
So begins Joy Sullivan’s Instructions for Traveling West—a lush debut collection that examines what happens when we leave home and leap into the deep unknown. Mid-pandemic, Sullivan left the man she planned to marry, sold her house, quit her corporate job, and drove west. This dazzling collection tells that story as it illuminates the questions haunting us all: What possible futures lie on the horizon? What happens when we heed the call of furious reinvention? 
A book for anyone flinging themselves into fresh starts, Instructions for Traveling West grapples with loss, loneliness and belonging. These poems teach us that naming our desire is profound alchemy. Each of us holds the power to set our own course forward.
Expansive and heart-opening—exquisite in their specificity, galvanizing in their scope—the poems in Instructions for Traveling West speak to the longing that lives within us all. They remind us that “joy is not a trick.”
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Praise for Instructions for Traveling West

“This empathetic, honest, and intimate collection is chockful of poems reminding the reader to love earnestly, live freely, and pay attention.”—Kate Baer, #1 New York Times bestselling author of And Yet and What Kind of Woman

“Here, we see a woman feeding herself—light, bread, joy. This book is going to be a beloved companion by so many readers.”—Maggie Smith, New York Times bestselling author of You Could Make This Place Beautiful

“What a thrilling voice! Joy Sullivan’s poetry is vast and yet familiar—and more remarkably, full of images and recollections that might have been mine, or yours. Her poems offer respite for both weary travelers and those of us who still feel fresh and bright-eyed, making this book a wonderful comfort.”—Elise Loehnen New York Times bestselling author of On Our Best Behavior

Instructions for Traveling West is remarkable for how it captures this moment, the essence of this weird middle time—and for how thrilling it is to read someone who is noticing, who is saying despite every terrible thing, ‘This place is great, I want to be here, what a thing to be alive.’ Joy Sullivan will make you want to live the way that Mary Oliver makes you want to live. You read this to remember.”—Holly Whitaker, New York Times bestselling author of Quit Like a Woman

“A blistering, tender reflection on desire and delight that will soak right into your skin.”—Lyndsay Rush, Mary Oliver’s Drunk Cousin on Instagram

“In this sunny debut collection, Sullivan traces a lifelong journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance with deceptive depth. [Her] unpretentious and blunt recounting of her experiences is a breath of fresh air.”—Publishers Weekly

“Sullivan’s poems are direct and sensuous, each lyric a vibrant vignette, a story with a lesson, a sensuous homily defining holiness as lushly earthy. These are . . . moving, forthright, and fresh poems about loneliness and desire, beauty and pain. Sullivan’s collection is a welcoming and rewarding volume, especially for readers tentative about poetry.”Booklist
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Instructions for Traveling West

Remember What It Was Like to Be a Kid?

All skinned knees,
pavement and sick-sweet
candy in the sticky backseat.
How you stank of sweat,
bewilderment, popsicles, peppermint.
Swam in summer until it gobbled
you whole. Witnessed revelation,
trembling and silent: the rabbit’s nest
between the stones, a dark bat winging,
the buck carcass at the edge of the wood
where you weren’t allowed to linger,
and a woman calling you home.
How you found the jewel of language
and marveled at your wealth: mule deer,
blister beetle, blue ghost firefly. Each new name—
a little candle you brandished in the dark.

Long Division

My first friend was built like a willow tree. We were the same age but she was taller and leaner and impossibly graceful. Hadessah is the Hebrew name for Esther—the biblical beauty who saved her people from genocide. I was envious of her name and its heroism. Mine was Joy—flimsy and monosyllabic like pond or soap or cheese. Hadessah was smarter than me too, got better grades, and understood long division where all I saw was a thin bridge with numbers jumping off. But she laughed at everything I said and my god, I adored her. When you’re little, love really knocks you out.

We said what kids say when you move. That we’d write. That we wouldn’t forget. That, every night, we’d look up at that one weird winky star and make a wish. After she left, I could still see her bike leaning against the house, its blue body trembling in the rain.

Nothing is as lonely as childhood, and the person to finally interrupt that ache is a big miracle. You never forget the hero who slides into the bus seat beside you or scoots their tray over at the lunch table. The silhouette of someone small and familiar running down your street—sweaty and hopeful that you can come out to play. To this day, I can still hear Hadessah’s voice at sunset. The bats winging in the dying light. She’s calling out my dumb name. She’s making it sound almost beautiful.

About the Author

Joy Sullivan
Joy Sullivan received an MA in poetry from Miami University and has served as the poet-in-residence for the Wexner Center for the Arts. She has guest-lectured in classrooms from Stanford University to Florida International University and is the founder of Sustenance, a community designed to help writers revitalize and nourish their craft. Read her thoughts on the creative life in her Substack newsletter, Necessary Salt. More by Joy Sullivan
Decorative Carat