Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets

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Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets

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Black Aperture

Poems

Matt Rasmussen

In his moving debut collection, Matt Rasmussen faces the tragedy of his brother's suicide, refusing to focus on the expected pathos, blurring the edge between grief and humor. In "Outgoing," the speaker erases his brother's answering machine message to save his family from "the shame of dead you / answering calls." In other poems, once-ordinary objects become dreamlike. A buried light bulb blooms downward, "a flower / of smoldering filaments." A refrigerator holds an evening landscape, "a tinfoil lake," "vegetables / dying in the crisper." Destructive and redemptive, Black Aperture opens to the complicated entanglements of mourning: damage and healing, sorrow and laughter, and torment balanced with moments of relief.

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Curses and Wishes

Poems

Carl Adamshick

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Floating City

Poems

Anne Pierson Wiese

Anne Pierson Wiese's first collection of poems illuminates the everyday and the lessons to be learned amid life's routines. The poems in Floating City might be called poetry of place. Many are set in New York City, but they simultaneously inhabit a realm in which a mundane physical location or daily exchange can be seen to have human significance beyond the immediate. When one dismisses from one's mind the idea that going to the park, doing the laundry, buying a sandwich, and riding the subway are familiar experiences, one makes room for the actual to ally with the hypothetical by means of the emotions. The result, Wiese eloquently shows, is a form of truth that is silently generated whenever human beings earnestly endeavor to absorb the world.

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Heredities

Poems

J. Michael Martinez

In his award-winning first book, J. Michael Martinez reenvisions Latino poetics and its current conceptions of cultural identity. In Heredities, he opens a historically ravaged continental body through a metaphysical dissection into Being and silence. The hand manipulates a surgical etymology through the spine: the longitude where "history gathers in the name we never are." The poems seek to speak beyond codified aesthetics and dictated identity politics in order to recognize a territory of "irreducible otherness" where the self's sinew may be "reeved through revelation" and where, finally, one finds "obscurity bonded to light." This stunning collection heralds the arrival of an important new voice in American poetry.

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Put Your Hands In

Poems

Chris Hosea

"Exactly a century ago, the Armory Show brought European avant-garde art to New York. We are still experiencing its consequences. Among the works on view was Marcel Duchamp's notorious Nude Descending a Staircase, which a derisive critic wanted to rename 'Explosion in a Shingle Factory.' Both titles come to mind as one reads Chris Hosea's Put Your Hands In, which somehow subsumes derision and erotic energy and comes out on top. Maybe that's because 'poetry is the cruelest month,' as he says, correcting T. S. Eliot. Transfixed in midparoxysm, the poems also remind us of Samuel Beckett's line (in Watt): 'The pain not yet pleasure, the pleasure not yet pain.' One feels plunged in a wave of happening that is about to crest." -- John Ashbery, from his judge's citation for the Walt Whitman Award

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The Same-Different

Poems

Hannah Sanghee Park

Deceptively straightforward and subtly pyrotechnic, the poems in Hannah Sanghee Park's debut collection captivate with their wordplay at first glance, then give rise to opportunities for extended reflection. "If / truth be told, I can't be true," she writes, but her startling juxtapositions of sound and meaning belie that claim, necessitating a search for the truth behind her semantic games.

Here are dozens of brief sentences that can serve as epigrams to undermine our ordinary ways of seeing, as Park's playfully deployed puns recall the sly paradoxes of Oscar Wilde. The Same-Different ranges from the wonders of the natural world to close human relationships, occasioning the kind of explorations offered in "And A Lie": "The asking was askance. / And the tell all told. / So then, in tandem // Anathema, and anthem."

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Science and Other Poems

Alison Hawthorne Deming

“I greatly admire Alison Deming’s lucid and precise language, her stunning metaphors, her passion, her wild and generous spirit, her humor, her formal cunning. I am taken, as all readers will be, by the knowledge she displays and how she puts this knowledge to a poetic use; but I am equally taken—I am more taken—by the wisdom that lies behind the knowledge. I am amazed, and delighted, by her authority and tenacity. She is of this world; she lives in it, and for better or worse, it is the world she settles for; and she understands that, even if she must rage a little, and sometimes more than a little, she is one of its citizens. Like every original poet, she appears to have sprung full-blown—out of Zeus’ head I want to say—but Aphrodite is here as well as Athena, the ocean as well as the mountain. I congratulate her on this fine book.”—Gerald Stern

Alison Hawthorne Deming brings to her first collection of verse the kinds of scrupulous observation and clear-eyed analysis that characterize scientific inquiry as well as a poet’s eye for the telling moment.Science and Other Poems establishes astonishing parallels between the mute, inexorable processes of the physical universe and the dark mysteries of the human heart, parallels so clearly wrought and convincing that we wonder why we had not recognized them before.

“Caffe Trieste” lays bare the unexamined terror and sorrow that underlie the proliferation of faux fifties kitsch, then strips the veil of spacious grace from the decade and reveals it as it was for those who lived it:

. . . bombs spread like bacteria on culture plates,

when the cost of a family staying together might

be Stelanize and

high-voltage erasures. They’re just American—

all shine and no pain.

In the chilling “Alliance, Ohio,” a mother and daughter suddenly find themselves stranded in a world of predators, a poisonous world charged with sexual threat, where every smile, every gesture, drips with sly menace.

Yet moments of dislocation can also be cause for rejoicing, as when a speaker, after surprising a bat in the house, is moved to rapture by the sight of the night sky. Every page of Science and Other Poems is alive with startling juxtapositions, eerie parallels, abrupt shifts of tone, and image after image of crystalline perfection—as in this dazzling evocation of soft-shelled crabs: “their finely stippled bodies that give to the touch, / translucent as Japanese lanterns.”

These poems imbue everything, from the microscopic to the stellar, with wonder. Each instant of illumination, like poetry itself, brings the world alive with “a faithfulness deeper than seeing.”

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The Waker's Corridor

Poems

Jonathan Thirkield

“I had a clock it woke all day,” writes Jonathan Thirkield at the outset of The Waker’s Corridor, a book that charts an assiduous attempt to recover lost time. Housed in elaborate and varied formal architectures, these poems navigate the disorder and gaps left by the violence of loss. All measures of time—psychological, personal, historical, numerical—collide and overlap in intensely lyrical verse. What results is a journey that winds through shifting lands and interiors, across theatrical stages and city streets, into voices and objects that emerge in sudden, vivid relief, and just as quickly disappear. By turns dreamlike and sternly rational, arcane and contemporary, intimate and dramatic, it is a book of blinding, austere, and beautiful awakenings.

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