Hillary Hansen, Sean McCoy – Mark Baumer Prize, 2021

 

Reeling under pandemic and within portal we may come away from Patricia Locksmith's glib/not-glib version of Mark Baumer's final personal story to judge a prize in his honor. Impossible. The writing in the graduate category was all so good, strikingly good. Yet none of it was ‘Mark.’ Consultation with other powers becomes necessary and a solution is found after brief appreciation of two entries.

 

‘Dear[        ]’ deconstructs the epistolary form in way that is brilliant and unfamiliar. The intimacy of a high-literary love letter to an eminent stranger, although one known to the narrator/letter-writer’s friend is interrupted by footnotes that are expressive, yes, of extra knowledge but also of interior thought and affect that is absent from the text of the letter and its revisions. The footnote conceit is well-known in experimental prose and often comes across as over-weening or knowing. Here, it highlights and punctuates an expressive poetics of thoughtful, aesthetically implicated desire. 

 

‘Black Sheep’ is a miniature tour de force. The formal conceit – recreating the ‘same’ piece with second and third persons swapped – is powerful but is almost unnecessary because the piece itself has been crafted with such care and deliberate ambiguity. There are, amongst others, gendered and sexualized ambiguities which, when combined with the way this narrative episode is sharply situated – in a roadside ‘America’ that we recognize instantly from both life and film – generates the menace underlying disturbing or perhaps merely venal relationships, while the second person, often problematic, renders the reader complicit and possibly at risk in the way that they/she/he needs to be. The formal conceit rubs this in, touches us with its careful composition of abstraction that implicates and situation that menaces. It touched me. I didn’t. You did.