Beginning in a theater thriving with plant life, YOU’RE THE WOODS TOO travels through documentary essay, flash-fictional performances, and poems recited by moss to illuminate the act of wilderness retreat. Why turn to nature when life confounds us? Where do we go after we find that untouched place? The answers are in the woods themselves, if we listen to their voices as they flourish across the stage.
Formally inventive and grounded in personal story, You’re the Woods lives in the thicket where the forest becomes human and the human becomes a journey into intimacy, flight, and the need to find ourselves in the natural world.
“Deploying journal entries, poems, visuals, dramatic interventions and elastic, meditative prose, Dennis James Sweeney takes brilliantly to the woods (and to the high peaks and distant trails) of the world and page to pose questions true and questions deep and questions real. Where, for example, do we go to lose the sludge of old habits? Into You’re the Woods Toowould be one fine answer. There is laughter and tenderness and weariness and wonder and rage in this book. There is a very rich, very real emptiness in it too. I read it with immense pleasure and am still thinking about it many days later.” —Laird Hunt
“I loved this book. You’re the Woods Toois an exceptional work of observation and imagination. It draws the lyric essay over landscapes of uncertainty and wrestles with the challenges of intimacy, both real and misperceived. What a thrill it is to spend time reimagining the world through these layers of meaning, even as what we are looking at might seem to be, at first glance, obvious.” —Wendy S. Walters
“‘You go out in the woods to find yourself and find only what you brought with you,’ we are told in Dennis James Sweeney’s You’re The Woods Too. What we find in this formally inventive, surprising, and moving book, is a spare lyricism that is steeped in keen observation and insight. This is: travel diary punctuated by poems; inventory of a dazzling multitude of mosses and lichens. It is stage directions to an impossible performance; blueprints for a theater overtaken by the color green. There is searching and self-reckoning. There are the paradoxical ways we relate to “nature” that always seem to point back to ourselves. At turns quiet and contemplative, and at others direct and piercing, this engaging and rewarding text feels both timely and timeless.” —Mary-Kim Arnold
“Dennis James Sweeney’s You’re the Woods Toois a book of urgencies: a scramble downhill, a stunning record of exhaustion, as it uncovers the contradictory nature of desire. In this extended lyric essay of linked, conflicting modes—from surrealist flash fiction and nature writing to dramatic monologue and mise-en-scène—Sweeney explores conflicts of desire and retreat, of creation and clarity. Am I only I when in opposition—to those I love, to the world? Who am I and what do I create in relation to others? What is it to be ‘touched,’ or to be ‘untouched’? ‘Moss has no shape but the surface it lives on,’ Sweeney writes. Also: ‘Why run with a river when, for all its running, it stays where it is?’ With tenderness, intimacy, and a captivating candor, You’re the Woods Tooconsiders not just what it is to make art on an ephemeral, wounded planet, but also what it is to be alive and share that aliveness with others.” —Gale Marie Thompson
“Inventive and heartbreaking. Brilliantly lyrical. Mesmerizing and evocative and encompassing. Quietly profound. I want to live in this theater.” —Matthew Fogarty
Literary Nonfiction. Essays. Poetry. Fiction.
Dennis James Sweeney is the author of You're the Woods Too (Essay Press, 2023) and In the Antarctic Circle (Autumn House Press, 2021), as well as several chapbooks of poetry and prose, including Ghost/Home: A Beginner's Guide to Being Haunted (Ricochet Editions, 2020). His writing has appeared in Ecotone, Five Points, Ninth Letter, The New York Times, and The Southern Review, among others. Formerly a Small Press Editor of Entropy and Assistant Editor of Denver Quarterly, he has an MFA from Oregon State University and a PhD from the University of Denver. Originally from Cincinnati, he lives in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he teaches at Amherst College.