Vicky Phan – Academy of American Poets Prize, 2021

"Why is everything built to hurt?" is the surprisingly earnest question at the center of this wise and touching poem. At once both tender and sardonic, this speaker offers up a dark humor in the strange and particular incongruities of grief, "Your funny mother burns plastic in the New Jersey cemetery so your father can have an iPhone in the afterlife," and deftly traverses complicated emotional terrain in long, self-assured lines. In the swirling universe of this poem, the present is tethered to the past, the influence of ancestors is felt and enacted in "Tinder hookups" and in a lover's "thunderous joints," and in death asserting itself "with a vengeance." This is a poet attentive to sonic texture and internal rhyme, and to the ways that disparate voices and persistent questions are carried, in the performance of grief rituals and in acts of love.