John Moran - Edwin Honig Memorial Award

I’m struck by the peculiar type of immediacy in these haunting poems. Patently concerned with form, with framing devices and their own making, they teem with life and its contemporary correlatives: toxicity, decay, violence. Queer desire and abjection run through them as if unfiltered, raw. Odd juxtapositions keep me returning to them: “Still Life, Orchestra” is a brilliant arrangement of captivating visual and auditory images that are almost ordinary, yet are transmuted into objects of contemplation by the attention the speaker bestows on them. Menace looms large; the poems, knowingly, offer only provisional respite: “ignorance: what is beyond the barbed wire.” Yet their edges are porous. We’re in America’s here and now (“here comes the random/mass shooter”), where people’s behavior is as determined by virtuous aspirations as by the pressures of call-out culture (“I/had sat by a man/who looked not good/in not good clothes, /to prove my anti-racism”), and then elsewhere, where desire, perhaps, escapes monitoring and commodification: “Friday. Praise Allah and liquor. /Young men are giving free motorcycle rides/to lost queers.” Where is the poem’s edge if it’s elastic enough to include a reader’s commentary on its own imagery? “‘I like the part about pissing,’ he said. […] Then: there was pissing.” The precarious pleasure of pleasing others meets the sting of Eros in “Erotic Slap,” where the smacks on the body-cum-merch (“McLips McZits”) come from all directions: “some hate to make sure we don’t love.” Love and cruelty are curious, if not surprising, bedfellows, and these poems stun in their courage to lie between both.