Iowa Poetry Prize

John Smith, Will Wordsworth

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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Thieves' Latin

Peter Jay Shippy

“Ah, writ happens.” Like the con men who rely on thieves' Latin to ply their trade, the poems in Peter Jay Shippy's award-winning collection don't play well with other poems. They are difficult. They rave. They are unsettling and blunt. They crash cars and ride tsunamis and hitch rides on tugs. They also provide a contemporary, ironic, and tender view of America, all the while layering wordplay, cleverness, and sentiment.

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Trace of One

In Trace of One,real geographies merge with spiritual ones, just as details of the speaker’s physical and emotional worlds intertwine with the transcendent realms of science, religion, and myth. Joanna Goodman’s poems share a sense of spatial and temporal displacement—they are love poems to a place, whether it be a field, a room, or a paradise—they celebrate their subjects, but they are also poems of grief and solitude. The poems resonate with ethereal echoes paradoxically emitted by an increasingly demystified world in which mechanical explanations for the workings of the human mind and body bump up against the mystery and obliqueness of the soul.

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Tremulous Hinge

Adam Giannelli

Rain intermits, bus windows steam up, loved ones suffer from dementia—in the constantly shifting, metaphoric world of Tremulous Hinge, figures struggle to remain standing and speaking against forces of gravity, time, and language. In these visually porous poems, boundaries waver and reconfigure along the rumbling shoreline of Rockaway or during the intermediary hours that an insomniac undergoes between darkness and dawn. Through a series of self-portraits, elegies, and Eros-tinged meditations, this hovering never subsides but offers, among the fragments, momentary constellations: “moths all swarming the / same light bulb.”

From the difficulties of stuttering to teetering attempts at love, from struggling to order a hamburger to tracing the deckled edge of a hydrangea, these poems tumble and hum, revealing a hinge between word and world. Ultimately, among lofting waves, collapsing hands, and darkening skies, words themselves—a stutterer's maneuvers through speech, a deceased grandfather’s use of punctuation—become forms of consolation. From its initial turbulence to its final surprising solace, this debut collection mesmerizes. 
 

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Unbeknownst

Julie Hanson’s award-winning collection, Unbeknownst, gives us plainspoken poems of unstoppable candor. They are astonished and sobered by the incoming data; they are funny; they are psychologically accurate and beautifully made. Hanson’s is a mind interested in human responsibility—to ourselves and to each other—and unhappy about the disappointments that are bound to transpire (“We’ve been like gods, our powers wasted”). These poems are lonely with spiritual longing and wise with remorse for all that cannot last.

“The Kindergartners” begins, “All their lives they’ve waited for / the yellow bus to come for them,” then moves directly to the present reality: “Now it’s February and the mat / is wet.” Settings and events are local and familiar, never more exotic than a yoga session at the Y, one of several instances where the body is central to the report and to the net result (“I slip in and fold / behind the wheel into the driver’s seat like a thin young thing: / My organs are surely glistening. This car was made for me.“). These poems are intimate revelations, thinking as they go, including the reader in the progress of their thoughts.

 

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Voices Cast Out to Talk Us In

There is no one else like Ed Roberson—certainly there is no other poet like him. His is an oblique, eccentric, totally fascinating talent. Because of these qualities, it may seem that he is difficult to follow—as Ornette Coleman or Gabriel García Márquez or Romare Beardon seems difficult to track at times. But his strength of vision is always evident; the quickness and inclusiveness of his voice can sweep a reader along into new and refreshing areas.

Roberson's poetic moves are not tricks or affected traits. They are artistic and deeply considered techniques. Reading the two basic cycles of this elliptical and intriguing work could be likened to reading Ezra Pound or a more deliberate and lyrically touched Charles Olson, but with an unanchored allusiveness of things largely American taking the place of the Chinese and the Mayan. Roberson creates that rare combination of sophistication and simplicity which defines truly significant poetry. In this new work he makes the variety of our culture dance from his very special viewpoint.

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The Waiting

In a startling and original poetic voice, Megan Johnson in The Waiting reveals a vigilant young person who has suffered an unmentionable loss and who dismantles and reconstitutes lyric modes in a relentless search for solace. A lyric adventure of grief and search, The Waiting reinvents language from raw materials, driven by intense emotional need.

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