Congratulations to Lee Upton for her upcoming poetry collection and winner of the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize The Day Every Day Is, published by Saturnalia Books. Described as “attentive to suffering,” Upton’s poems explore torture throughout the ages, grief, illness, and “the blasting of innocence.”
Lee Upton’s language is limpid and shimmering. Her voice is transparent and entirely her own. Her mind is clear and focused and profoundly informed. Her tone is casual, intimate, inviting. And all these elements conspire together in her work to create utterly convincing yet unexpected and unanticipated lyrical presentiments and precisions of awareness and insight. Her poems startle by what they show us of the world, and astonish us by the way they take root and live in our minds.
Vijay Seshadri, author of the Pulitzer prizewinning 3 Sections
Lee Upton is the author of fifteen books, including The Day Every Day Is; two short story collections; an award-winning novella, The Guide to the Flying Island; an essay collection; and six additional books of poetry and four books of literary criticism. Her first collection of stories, The Tao of Humiliation, received starred reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal as well as strongly positive reviews from The New York Times, PublishersWeekly, and Booklist. Kirkus selected the collection for their listing of “The Best Books of 2014,” one of eleven collections in the short story category that included titles by international authors, among them Alice Munro and Hilary Mantel. Her second collection of short stories, Visitations, was listed in “Best of the Indies 2017” by Kirkus.
Her poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies and in three editions of The Best American Poetry as well as in The New Yorker, The New Republic, American Poetry Review, The Atlantic, and other magazines. Her awards include the Pushcart Prize; the Open Book Award; the Lyric Poetry Award and The Writer/Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America; the Miami University Novella Prize; and Book of the Year Award in the category of books on writing from Foreword Review for Swallowing the Sea: On Writing and Ambition, Boredom, Purity and Secrecy.
Pre-order The Day Every Day Ishere. Learn more about Lee Upton by visiting her website.
Her short story After the Party appeared in issue 17.
Congratulations to Luanne Castle for her newest poetry collection Rooted and Winged, published by Finishing Line Press. It explores the relationship between flying and falling, the earth and the sky. Even when soaring, the poetry is grounded in small observations.
The poems of Luanne Castle’s Rooted and Winged are embedded in land and weather. “Bluegills snap up larvae in slivers of illusory light,” she writes early in the collection, hinting at the sensibilities of the companionable speaker who will usher us through the book. She sees. She is open to the world out there. She calls herself “unknown but solid,” a teller of “tiny limitless tales.” She is engaged in the retrieval of generational memory: “one hairbrush, a plastic ball / a swaying branch, leaves decaying / the insides of my grandmothers’ fridges / bubble and pop into shards of memory / dangerous to the touch,” she writes, enacting the progression from concrete detail to concrete memory to the kind of numinous memory that can be combustible. How rare it is, to discover a writer who notices that “Grandma used to stand under the bulb over the sink that haloed her and pearlized the onions she chopped,” who can bring language to this: “When the last star falls to the others, / it darkens like the hush in a theatre, / a twinkling or two from silence.” There is no arrogance in this book, but there is power.
Diane Seuss, author of frank: sonnets, Four-Legged Girl, and Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl
Luanne Castle’s work has appeared in Copper Nickel, TAB, The American Journal of Poetry, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Verse Daily, Saranac Review, Lunch Ticket, River Teeth, and elsewhere. Her first poetry collection, Doll God, won the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award and was published by Aldrich Press. To learn more, visit her website.
Rooted and Winged is a fitting title for this collection of poems that plant themselves in reality but often hint at the surreal. Throughout, Luanne Castle has mastered sound and image: “I’ve done my best with feet and fists, my small / lungs blossoming like paper flowers in water…” The poem that lingers most for me is “A Year in Bed, with Windows” in which stark details create a palpable intimacy.
Karen Paul Holmes, author of No Such Thing as Distance
Winner of the Kore Press Institute Poetry Prize, Jessica Lawson’s new poetry collection Gash Atlas is both beautiful and devastating. Combining sexual violence, history, and the speaker’s own complicity, Lawson creates a twisted mirror of our own world. Suffusing this world is the figure “Christopher Columbus,” a villain personifying a long legacy of colonization and current political terror. Columbus’s lines are filled with haunting references: “there is no turning the globe can make away from me… The fake news says there is no / oxygen in space, but anywhere is breathable if you know who to pay.” This is a collection that lingers.
Gash Atlas gives us a map of words—the physical and philosophical language—to navigate a visceral reckoning. History and the present move insidiously through bodies that serve as “soft / places to plant menace.” There is relentless difficulty, complexity, setbacks, toughness, rage. There’s hard humor alongside the exhaustion of everyday fear. Actual and symbolic horror, borne and delivered through the tender precarity of motherhood and violently performative femme-presence, show us the unsustainable cost of institutional force. How intimate it is, how prevalent, how invasive even to one’s own private thoughts—“I have a fantasy of lying down in snow and not being.” Jessica Lawson’s poems, images and stagings take the pulse of existence and offer a bold, intimate conversation that shows us just how close we—humans—are to the ultimate wreck, if we continue charting our world according to the persistent peril of ignorance.
Khadijah Queen, author of I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On
Jessica Lawson’s work has appeared in TheRumpus, Entropy, The Wanderer, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. Gash Atlas is her first book. To learn more about Lawson, visit her website.
Behind every great man/ is too much forgiving/ and an awl of blood” writes Jessica Lawson in Gash Atlas, a collection that erodes the statue Christopher Columbus has erected like a gash in each subjectivity colonized by powerful men. Lawson has given us poems that strike a balance between daring to ask the urgent questions and posing them with the care of one who knows how language often operates as a colonial mode.
Raquel Salas Rivera, author of lo terciario/ the tertiary and while they sleep (under the bed is another country)
We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into Lawson’s collection. This interview was conducted via email by our Blog Editor, Brennie Shoup.
Brennie Shoup: What inspired you to create Gash Atlas?
Jessica Lawson: I had multiple moments of inspiration, or at least motivation, that defined this project for me. The first was the 2016 election, which transformed my previous plans to write a manuscript about maps into a project that was much more directly political. I began to accrue poems about the terror of that current moment, as well as the violent histories informing it. The character of an antagonist emerged, who would later become Christopher Columbus. Then a second defining moment came, this time more quietly but perhaps more powerfully. It was when I realized that my book wasn’t just, or only, about Trump, but was about the complicity of my own speaker in the violence he was performing. The book didn’t really come together for me until I did the difficult work of problematizing the voice through which the book itself is coming, letting the book question its own speaker. The book and its composition, in real time, became about strategies for fighting against a system that imbues one’s own subject position. It’s why I gave the book an epigraph that came from a protest slogan by liberal white women, and attributed it to Columbus. My book is about maps, about violence, about Trump, and about white womanhood, and I realized each of these through the act of writing it.
BS: Your collection includes what’s been described as visual and poetic “maps.” Would you be able to discuss why you used the forms you did in this collection?
JL: Visually experimental literature is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time, and is reflected in a lot of the work I’ve already published. I think there is sometimes a misconception that visual literature, or experimental literature more broadly, is necessarily apolitical, and I’d love to see that change. Visual and hybrid poetry gets associated with a messed-up school of poetic elitism that uses “experiment” as a way of looking down upon any readers who can’t (or don’t wish to) understand it. And while there are absolutely writers who create experimental literature that way (those are the boring ones), there is also a rich history of activist writers who use experimentation to activate their texts and their readers, jolting us out of our seats by demonstrating that this is not business as usual. So, that’s a big part of why the forms of these pieces are so important to me. Sometimes, the political needs of the time necessitate breaking away from the forms we’ve inherited. Sometimes, when the world feels like it’s breaking apart, the pages and words need to break with it.
BS: Gash Atlas examines both past and present atrocities, with a particular focus on Christopher Columbus. Could you describe what your research process looked like?
JL: I was researching for this book long before I ever knew I’d write it. I remember years ago learning that Columbus was a terrible navigator, that he thought that the globe was shaped like a pear (or breast) rather than a sphere, that he wholly mistook the place he landed for an entirely different continent. I didn’t know I’d ever be using those bits of information to write poems, but once I decided to include Columbus in the book, this entire set of trivia flooded back in. From there, most of the other research had to do with the present moment I was writing in. I wrote about the United State’s opposition to the U.N. resolution banning the death penalty for homosexuality as it happened. I felt like my book wasn’t just reaching back into a history I’d already learned, but sprinting frantically forward after history as it was happening. The very last poem I put in the book, days before my draft was due to my press, responded to the January 6 attack on the Capitol. I was scared as I wrote it, both about what had just happened, and about having to let go of the manuscript before Trump left office. In a way, it feels like he never did.
BS: Do you have plans for future poetry collections or novels?
JL: I’m currently working on a second book of poems (though, like Gash Atlas, it includes hybrid elements that sometimes complicate its status as poetry). It’s about the body’s relationship to money, sexuality, and trauma. I’m getting pretty far along: the structure is falling into place, and a substantial portion of the poems have been written. Now I’m working on making the space to really look at it and push it toward completion (which is a challenge to do while I’m teaching four classes and raising three children). I’m excited and scared about it, which makes me think I’m where I need to be.
Author of House on Mango Street and a dozen other books, Sandra Cisneros has published a collection of poems for the first time in twenty-eight years. Woman Without Shame, published by Knopf, details Cisneros’s journey to embracing her identity as a woman and an artist through song, elegies, and declarations. Using both Spanish and English, Cisneros is both blunt and humorous in her collection.
Sandra Cisneros is currently traveling all over the US, and she will be coming to the Poetry Center in Tucson, AZ, November 9-12. Find a complete list of locations here!
Glorious . . . Cisneros candidly ticks through past lives and lovers with an approach that isn’t concerned with what people will think. . . . As in her former works, Cisneros masters scene-setting, and story, usually with a humorous angle. . . . Woman Without Shame is brave and beautiful.
Meredith Boe, Chicago Review of Books
Sandra Cisneros has won numerous awards throughout her long career as a writer: the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award, the Mountains & Plains Booksellers’ Award, and others. To learn more about her, visit her website.
These lush, narrative-lyrics are written with a vivid wild girl spirit, filled with unbridled love, angst and joy! This book is a page-turner and should not be missed!
Marilyn Chin, author of Portrait of the Self as Nation
Congratulations to Philip Gross for his upcoming poetry collection The Thirteenth Angel, published by Bloodaxe Books. Coming November 17, 2022, Gross’s collection examines patterns in the world around us and also within ourselves. It teeters between the before and after of the pandemic years, focusing in the opening sequences on almost-aerial views of London streets and Europe’s motorways. It ultimately reveals that “if there are angels, they are nothing otherworldly, but formed by angles of incidence between real immediate things.”
Moving from island to island, continent to continent, Between the Islands is concerned with memories, with resonances throughout time, but also with emergent dangers; ecological fears and the rising islands of refuse accumulating in our oceans.
Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Spring 2020 [on Between the islands]
Philip Gross has written over twenty books of poetry and won a number of awards, including the TS Eliot Prize for his book The Water Table. To learn more about Gross, visit his website.
Great poetry is like walking on water. In this paradoxical, humane collection, Philip Gross achieves that miracle.
Congratulations to Eric Tran for his new poetry collection Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke, published by Diode Editions. Winner of the 2021 Diode Editions Full-Length Book Prize, this collection “grieves a lover lost to addiction and also swims in the intoxication of desire.” Tran explores themes of grief, lust, and queerness using a variety of poetic forms. Although not limited to one type of poem or one specific subject, Tran’s poetry remains united to create a cohesive piece. Poems selected for the collection are visceral and candid as Tran dives into his own emotions, writing “I’m lousy and bloated / with love.” His poetry is perfect for those searching for a deep discussion of intimacy.
Wounds, here, are not ornamental. Tenderness, here, is as restless and resilient as pain. The poems refuse transformation, superficial resolutions. Instead, the language—unsparing, striking—attends to addiction and death with grace, awe. The emotional complexity is mirrored structurally: the lines waterfall and halt, a sonnet crown jolts awake the mind, sentences simmer with lyrical momentum. Eric Tran’s second book is heart-rich and deftly written—the poems will stay with you long after you finish reading it.
Eduardo c. corral, author of guillotine
Eric Tran is a queer Vietnamese writer and physician. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon. Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke is his second book of poetry, and his work has appeared in RHINO, 32 Poems, the Missouri Review, and elsewhere. To learn more about Eric Tran, go to his website.
I resent no one / the instinct to run’ writes Eric Tran in his brave and beautiful Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke. But this is a poet who never runs. In fact, he pushes deep into the raw center of desire, admitting ‘I’ve wanted your picked-at / scab, your broken voice through a / morning-night call.’ This is a book of lust and brokenness, of ‘suffering as hot / and clean as a pistol’s mouth.’
David Baker’s new book Whale Fall, published by W. W. Norton & Company, is a poetry collection that operates on both a macro and micro level. As Baker’s poetry delves into global ecosystems, it also delves into his personal life. His masterful ability to blend these themes is apparent even early on in the book. His poem “Mullein,” the second in the collection, relates the scientific names of plants to the intimate nicknames Baker’s father gave to friends and family.
Whale Fall is filled with scientific terminology. In fact, the title itself is the name of a particular phenomenon. As Baker explains in his interview with Renee Shea in World Literature Today, a whale fall is an “oceanographic term that describes three stages of [a whale’s] death and decay.” It can take years for the whale carcass to settle on the ocean floor, and its body can provide nutrients to other organisms for decades.
Baker’s poetry is known for its sense of place and environmental message, and Whale Fall follows this trend. For those looking for beautiful nature imagery grounded in environmentalism and threaded with a personal narrative, Whale Fall is the perfect poetry collection.
A virtuoso of eco-poetry and acoustics, Baker meditates on the nonpareil majesty of the planet with rigorous consideration and reverence… Baker’s careful, captivating writing sinks under the skin, summoning a long-forgotten need for stillness, wonder, and attention to the sacrosanctity of the world.
David Baker has written nineteen books, thirteen of them poetry collections. His work has been published in American Poetry Review, Antaeus, The Atlantic Monthly, and elsewhere. To learn more about Baker, visit his website.
From the shadow of the garfish to the memory of seabed in Ohio sandstone, nothing appears to be too slight or too immense for David Baker’s powers of lyric transformation. In book after eloquent book, his artistry has become more purely his own: pared down to essentials while refining its scope of generous inclusion. Baker’s method, like his subject, is the fine pulse of human encounter: here in its most distillate manifestation.
Linda Gregerson, author of prodigal: new and selected poems and magnetic north
We are excited to share that past contributor Brooke Sahni has a book coming out this November! Before I Had the Word is a poetry collection that explores the confluences of religion and culture in the world. In the poems, Brooke draws on her backgrounds in Sikhism and Judaism to challenge our notions of the self and the divine. Nature, sexuality, and the body, plus the secular and mundane worlds, are thoughtfully questioned.
Before I Had the Word invites us to consider what is essential and what is sacred: language, the body, pleasure, faith. It invites us to consider who we are, how we inhabit ourselves, how words – “words that give and words that take away” – shape our experience. There are poems in this book that are etched in me now. Poems I’ll return to again and again. Poems I’ll teach. Poems I’ll share with my own daughter. This book is a gift.
Maggie Smith, Author of Keep Moving
Before I Had the Word is the 2020 winner of the X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize and is available for pre-order from Texas A&M University Press. Brooke contributed to our Issue 24 and is also the author of the poetry collection Divining. To learn more about Brooke, visit her website or Instagram. Congratulations, Brooke!
Summer 2021 was a fruitful season for our past contributors! We’re back to announce another contributor’s new book: Anna B. Sutton’s poetry collection Savage Flower. Anna’s debut book includes “Postpartum,” which was featured in Issue 13. Savage Flower, winner of the 2019 St. Lawrence Book Award, centers on women in the American South. Reproductive rights, gender, religion, oppression, and family are just some of the timely and weighty topics brought up.
Make no mistake: the poems in Savage Flower will break you open with their beauty, with their unflinching ability to turn and keep the gaze on the moments of life so painful we try not to look at them: death and abandonment, injury and loss. Through Sutton’s work, we see the world as a continual process of loss and gain, of departure and return, in which “like prayer, waves fall back against the earth.” But these poems break you in a way that heals you, that continuously reminds you that despite its deaths and losses, this world still “[a] thing of beauty that / blossoms even as it withers.”
Emma Bolden, Author of House Is an Enigma
Savage Flower is available for purchase from Black Lawrence Press and Anna kindly mentions SR in the acknowledgements. Learn lots more about Anna and her work on her website and Twitter. Congratulations, Anna!
We are excited to share that past contributor Kasey Jueds is releasing a poetry collection, The Thicket, this November. Jueds’ poem “The Tool Shed” was featured in Issue 25. She is also the author of the poetry collection Keeper.
As its name suggests, The Thicket evokes themes of the natural world and poems often center on the less-prominent aspects of nature. Unique to this collection, the reader contends with an undefined force: it may be self, God, both, neither. Advance praise describes The Thicket as timely, serene, and observant.
Long after finishing The Thicket, I felt rocked inside its motion, a music made of wind and river current, blood, breath and wingbeat. In poem after poem Jueds leads us across the natural world, turned fabular by lavishly lyric detail, to passages unseen, through which deer spotted one moment vanish the next. The Thicket is a true beauty of a book, fully awake to the many spells of our existence.
Kathy Fagan, author of Sycamore
The Thicket will be available in November, 2021, from University of Pittsburgh Press. You can pre-order the collection from Pitt or Bookshop. Find more from Kasey on her website and Twitter. Congratulations, Kasey!