Filched by James Tolan


Filched: to steal a small thing, casually, as if it belonged to the filcher, anyway, or as if it were no one’s thing to keep. The poems in James Tolan’s Filched are such stolen things, treasures pilfered from a shipwrecked world with a deft hand — joy filched from heartache, laughter filched from pain — and he offers these treasures up to us, makes us complicit, makes them also ours, these poems, this world in which a lover’s cries in the act of love become the cries of angels, too. Tolan takes us deeply into the sensibilities of a boy, a man, into how it feels to be alive in a male body in these times, how it feels to emerge from the “temporary tomb” of an MRI machine to recall his young son at the beach, screaming into the waves, charging into the surf, admonishing his father, “We can’t give up. We/have to fight.” And so back into the waves they go, “wild into the wake.” This is an achingly gorgeous book, full of grit and love and wonder and hope. —Cecilia Woloch

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  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 86
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: August, 2017
  • ISBN: 978-1-939929-79-2


In Filched, James Tolan acts as a conduit of the real and the surreal, the experiences of Earth and of dream. The poems are full of loss and longing, but there’s redemption here, too. Within every darker meditation, there’s a spark, a joyful recollection soaring up. This is poetry that will endure. Deft, daring, elegiac, musical, crafted and wild at the same time—these are poems to be returned to again and again. Filched is the book you didn’t know you’d been waiting to read, the one that will change you. “…write something as good as breathing.” James Tolan has done exactly that, over and over, in this astonishing collection. —Laura Kasischke

Filched is about fathers and sons, time and loss, and the music of words. The poems are moving, insightful, and dynamic with the beauty of language. Tolan has a brilliant ear for assonance, meter, slant rhyme, and song. The book converses with the history of poetry, as when “A Penniless Piece of Spent Fashion” echoes Blake’s “Tyger” in “each mortal hand and eye.” I love “The Big Sleep,” love “It was the 70s,” love all the intimately remembered stories. Filched is a great book to which I will often return. —Jennifer Michael Hecht


Fire and Water


It was late, just three of us that night
at the pool the rich kids owned by day,
and Hakko the first to hear
the thwonk and wobble of the board.

Near the chain link we caught sight
of the O’Reilly boys,
fire in their mouths as they dove—

cannonball, belly flop, swan
and dead man’s plunge—

their concert tees and boot-cut jeans
clinging to teenage scrawn.

They were lighting twenty at a time
chomped between their teeth.
Pack after pack into a brother’s mouth,
lit then doused in the pool.

We watched them finish a carton off,
pull on their high tops and climb
out under the spotlight opposite us,
spent smokes bobbing in their wake.


We didn’t swim that night amid their mess,
but Schmo was on the horn
first thing next morning.

Shawn and Jeff, the O’Reilly boys,
their dad had flipped a rail that night
in his wicked GTO, didn’t make it
breathing to the ambulance.

He was the last we knew who took
his smokes unfiltered, Pall Malls
he bought from my mom down at the Jewel
one flame-red carton at a time.


James TolanJames Tolan (February 1964-March 2017) is the author of Mass of the Forgotten (Autumn House Press), Red Walls (Dos Madres Press) and co-editor with Holly Messitt of New America: Contemporary Literature for a Changing Society (Autumn House Press). He lived in Brooklyn and taught at the Borough of Manhattan Community College/City University of New York. His website is

Additional information

Weight 9 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in