Iowa Poetry Prize

John Smith, Will Wordsworth

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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Raw Goods Inventory

In Raw Goods Inventory, Emily Rosko gives us a poetic inventory in a virtuosic display of voices and accents. The poems come with sharp elbows and knees; they are nomadic, acquisitive, dispersive, and diffractive. More elementally, Rosko's poems contain the scattered bric-a-brac of the imagination, with goods that range from a dud egg to genetic hybrids, from Marian iconography to pigs at a state fair. She offers honest embodiments of anxiety, awkwardness, and boredom, as she also recasts with wit and grace the standard poetic fare: love, death, and disappointment. Idiomatic, raw, and skewed in the best possible way, Rosko's poetry manages to speak to us---with arresting lyric gusto---of familiar things.

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A Shared Life

The innocence and Keatsian beauty of Euclid's geometry become poignant from a perspective that encompasses all that is non-Euclidean as well as space, time, and the theory of matter. With rare wit and linguistic daring, Waldner opens resonant channels of communication that show there is indeed more than meets the eye—or the mind—in her poems.

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Small Boat

In Small Boat Lesle Lewis's craft rides the waves of the New England landscape both internal and external. If her world is a collage, as she says, then her poems provide the glue that anchors everything from shifts in the weather to world events to a cacophony of thoughts. When two sentences collide, a new relationship begins, and Lewis's poems bring sense to these complex and disparate juxtapositions. Small Boat, in other words, both creates an exciting chaos and provides a soothing faith.

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(some of) The Adventures of Carlyle, My Imaginary Friend

At first glance these poems (which read like one long odyssey) seem sweet and peaceful—like taking a walk in the woods. But then, things turn darker: a storm blows in—and with it some Aliens, Ghost and Ghoul, the Hanging Man. Luckily, Carlyle has a few good friends such as Ruth, the Hag, the Boy, who are staunch and true and faithful. A whistling-in-the-dark suspense alternately stimulates and enervates the witness.

“Carlyle is spore, and mild. / He is swoon &sherbet.” Endearing and kind, if not actually cruel, he is also cold and strange. He shapeshifts, transforming into Magician and Jester, Surgeon and Scientist, Cloud; he studies fire and mirrors and bores holes in his own skull, looking for heaven. Throughout his many adventures, which range from the ludicrous to the life-threatening, he flies into the light and carries the reader with him on his perplexing and fanciful journey.

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something has to happen next

The poems in something has to happen next, if given the chance, might peer down inquisitively from a great height; they speak of quietness, namelessness, the reachlessness of love, the fortune of animals and their silence, apocalypse, abandonment, beginnings, and endings.

Working with brevity and compression, Andrew Michael Roberts first imagines how small he can go with a poem and still maintain some sort of emotional or imagistic center. Then, released from this limitation, the rest of his playful, unexpected poems expand to fill a world with imagery, emotion, and sound.

What Roberts calls “simply a book of small poems” grew out of his obsessions with time and catastrophe and love and abandonment—what is always possible, almost attained, but lost at the last minute. When something ends or when everything ends, something else must always happen next—what will it be, and who will be there to name and love and destroy it?

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Spar

Karen Volkman’s award-winning collection Spar has as its central form a highly compressed, musical variant of the prose poem. Volkman develops a new lyric density that marries the immediacy of image-centered poetry to the rhythmic resources of prose. Her first poem begins, “Someone was searching for a Form of Fire,” and this wild urge to seek form—and thus definition—in the most uncontainable of elements propels the book forward; each poem maps the mind’s evolving positions in response to its variable and perilous encounters. Sometimes the encounter is romantic or purely carnal, a sensual landscape of human relations. At other times, nature itself has an almost humanly emotional connection to the speaker. While very much a living voice, the poems’ speaker is not a consistent self but a mutable figure buffeted by tenderness, terror, irony, or lust into elaborate evasions, exclamations, verbal hijinks, and lyric flights. As its title suggests, Spar embodies both resistance and aspiration, while its epigraphs further emphasize the simultaneous allure and danger of the unknown within the sensual and material worlds and in the mind itself.

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Star Ledger

In this dark but finally redemptive group of poems, the tawdry and the exquisite must coexist: Star Ledger may evoke images of the celestial, but it is also the name of the Newark morning newspaper. Such ironies continually inform Hull’s poetry, which is tough and uncompromising but richly veined with a musicality and a lyrical texture that recall earlier epics of the American city such as The Bridge and Paterson.

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Study for Necessity

JoEllen Kwiatek

“Kwiatek’s poems emit the uncanny luminosities of the artists’ worlds they refer to: those of Caspar David Friedrich, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Odilon Redon. Each is a ‘token of strangeness’ built with delicacy and restraint, embodying, vivifying what the poet calls the mind’s ‘lonesome flourish.’ Like entries in a recondite log, or the etchings, or tracks, of a complex consciousness, this work cannot help but identify its own material and spiritual corollaries: a bridle worn to threadbare, a voyage that ‘grows more & more captivating. More terse.’ It is, as one poem puts it, as if seeing / were a form of radiant / isolation. And yet the presence established over the course of the book is profoundly connective, rich with acute physical apprehension and charge. It moves under pressure toward its singular end, its very ‘necessity.’”—Emily Wilson, judge, 2014 Iowa Poetry Prize

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Sunday Houses the Sunday House

2006 Iowa Poetry Prize winner
In Sunday Houses the Sunday House, Elizabeth Hughey embraces the possibility that we can learn as much from objects as we can from other people, from the inanimate as much as the animate. Each poem descends upon a place and a time, takes a few notes, and then leaves quietly without slamming any doors. Sunday Houses the Sunday House reveals what the world is like when your attention is focused elsewhere, when your head is turned the other way.
    In ineffably beautiful verse, Hughey captures moments in time and place with confidence but without being judgmental. Although it may seem that the scope of these poems is rather small—a good party, a couple of eggs, a housekeeper’s daydream—they reveal  both a deep intelligence and a spirit of whimsy. Gertrude Stein wrote that she wanted to be “drunk with nouns,” and in a sense that is what Hughey has accomplished here.

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System of Ghosts

Lindsey Tigue

In System of Ghosts, Lindsay Tigue details the way landscape speaks to isolation and personhood, how virtual and lived networks alter experience. She questions how built environments structure lives, how we seek out information within these spaces, and, most fundamentally, how we love.

Rooted in the personal, the speaker of this collection moves through society and history, with the aim of firmly placing herself within her own life and loss. Facts become an essential bridge between spatial and historical boundaries. She connects us to the disappearance of species, abandoned structures, and heartbreak—abandoned spaces that tap into the searing grief woven into society’s public places. There is solace in research, one system this collection uses to examine the isolation of contemporary life alongside personal, historical, and ecological loss. While her poems are intimate and personal, Tigue never turns away from the larger contexts within which we all live.

System of Ghosts is, at its core, an act of reaching out—across time, space, history, and across the room. 

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