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The Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry

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The Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry

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Autumn Road

Brian Swann’s Autumn Road consists of three interrelated parts: “ghosts/on paper, anonymous, ambiguous, festive—,” from the viewpoint of someone “similar to/who I am, but not me.” There should be no “mistaking flashes” for “heliography.” This poem, “Heliography” and another in Part I, “The Lost Boy,” is set during and after World War II in Northumberland, England, a world of farm, coal mine, family, and relatives. Later, in adolescence, the scene moves to the fen country of East Anglia and focuses on a difficult father and a violent world. Part II centers on “Ars Amatoria” in its various manifestations: marriage, the family and children. Part III, Eschatology,” looks back but also forward. It moves through middle age to “Three Score and Then Some.” What it sees is “the River Jordan spreading across night sands,” friends and family no longer here. It ends with the title poem, set in New York’s western Catskill Mountains: “I look for ecstatic image/here below where the year is dying fiercely.”

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Blood Prism

The poems in Blood Prism span a lifetime. Its three sections, “Memory,” “Politics,” and “Age,” frame meditations on a violence-blotched world with reflections on the author’s childhood and conclusions about a decades-long life of writing. “I’m 60 and still . . . alive in this world, with love and with its palindrome,” one poem says. And the argument of the book turns on that precise puzzle: on evol, invoking as it does both evil and evolve, both human wrong and life as something more than mere survival. In a variety of styles—prose poems, standard and dislocated forms—Hoeppner uses “blood” to represent family and history, his surprising and richly imagistic language rendering the emptiness he calls imagination “into remains. Into what persists.”

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Fair Copy

Fair Copy, byRebecca Hazelton, is a meditation on the difficulties of distinguishing the real from the false, the copy from the original. It is in part an exploration of the disparity between our conception of love as either true or false and the messy reality that it can sometimes be both. If “true” love is not to be found, is an approximation a “fair” substitute? These poems repeatedly question the veracity of memory—sometimes toying with the seductiveness of nostalgia while at other times pleading for the real story. Here, the fairy tale and the everyday nervously coexist, the bride is an uneasy molecule, and happiness comes in the form of a pill. Composed of acrostics from lines by Emily Dickinson, the collection retains a direct and recurrent tie to Dickinson’s work, even while Hazelton deftly branches off into new sonic, rhythmic, and conceptual territories.

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Men as Trees Walking

America’s cities embody some of the central paradoxes involved with modern American life and with human existence: poverty in the midst of plenty; a type of loneliness that is intensified by a crowd; dirty brick smokestacks and disused factories that are nonetheless seen as beautiful. Many of these poems inhabit this paradox, especially where people are involved. “The only madness is loneliness,” wrote the Irish poet John Montague. He was echoing Matthew Arnold’s sentiment on the same matter: “The only sanity lies in those brief, ironic moments of tenderness shared between two people.” Men as Trees Walking dives into this particular strain of madness that afflicts people in cities: exploring it, teasing out the paradoxes, and probing its secrets. Yet, there is a certain beauty in a cityscape, even an abandoned and dilapidated one. Because the underlying element of life is paradox, these poems search for, and find, the beauty—something redemptive, something reassuringly human—in empty lots, in burning gasfields, on crosstown buses, and on desert battlefields.

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The River Won't Hold You

Haunting and haunted, The River Won’t Hold You interrogates loneliness and loss with quiet insistence. In poems fashioned at the difficult intersection of imagination and experience, Karin Gottshall seeks an uneasy solace in the mysterious gaps between them: “I tell myself I can be content with the pleasures / permitted ghosts,” she writes in “Afterlife,” “but my body wakes up / leaking saltwater, and won’t let my ghost-self be.” Poetic structure and the music of language offer a seductive repository for memory, philosophy, and pain. These poems are generous in both their formal approaches and their palettes of sound and silences. But Gottshall never settles for an easy or artificial solution to the questions her poems ask; the beauty of her work comes, instead, from the directness of her gaze and the images that gaze fixes itself upon: “Wide-open, staring eyes of the tiger / I drew and had to destroy because it wouldn’t sleep.”

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Spot in the Dark

Spot in the Dark is a collection of poetry exploring the nuances of human relationship. From new love to extra marital affairs to dating to solitude, the book’s four sections read as a journey on the part of a series of narrators who wrestle through the beginning and middle stages of love, the complications of an affair, the challenges of single life, and finally come to focus on the external world: the beauty and starkness of a winter landscape, the ebullience of spring, the breathtaking loveliness of a sunset. The book’s arc moves from examining the human wish and will to connect to another to presenting the self as part of a larger, richer, and more complicated set of external relationships. Written predominantly in free verse, these sometimes meditative, sometimes cynical, sometimes playful poems sift through the difficulties and pleasures of living in the world.

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