Terminal Maladies (Autumn House Press, 2024)


  • Winner, 2023 Center for African American Poetry and Poetics Prize

“Because the growl of thunder was distant,” the speaker notes in Terminal Maladies, “I completely ignored it.” The mere mention of the far-off rumbling, however, means otherwise. This thunderous collection considers the space between attention and abstraction, between life and death. Which is another way to say love.
—Nicole Sealey, author of The Ferguson Report: An Erasure

Okwudili Nebeolisa’s debut, Terminal Maladies, introduces a poet so skillful and original that his book represents a vital moment in contemporary poetry. . . . Centering around the loss of the poet’s mother, these poems match acute observation with abiding sympathy. Masterful with formal as well as free verse, Nebeolisa moves beyond mere technique: his lines and sentences render the people he portrays with agile care. They also reveal, with often disarming immediacy, a writer capable of remaining in uncertainty and still determined to face unanticipated, often painful truths. Unsparing and yet infinitely tender, these are major poems. They will be with us for a long time to come.
—Peter Campion, author of One Summer Evening at the Falls

Okwudili Nebeolisa’s Terminal Maladies is an unflinching debut wrought by the power of naming, the power of image, a mother’s belief in the power of prayer. Clear-eyed but abashed, this collection insists on the necessity of memory and the inevitability of elegy. Nebeolisa’s speaker is at once vulnerable and indifferent, yet I felt undone by the speaker’s love for mother and depth of feeling for home no matter the distance.
—Donika Kelly, author of The Renunciations 

Terminal Maladies is a book measured in distance from mother—our first other. In these heartfelt but unerringly unsentimental poems, birth, the differentiation of self, migration, and death are plotted as points along a continuum; the emigrée’s geographic separation from his ailing mother presages the ultimate, unfordable one, just as the poet’s estrangement of syntax mirrors interior dislocations. Okwudili Nebeolisa is a poet of subtlety and surprise, in whose voice his mother’s, on the other end of the line, still reverberates.

— Jameson Fitzpatrick, author of Pricks in the Tapestry