A record year for Akron Poetry Prize submissions

Mary Biddinger

What will I be doing for the next two weeks? Reading a grand total of 606 poetry manuscripts for the Akron Poetry Prize competition. This is a record-breaking year for our contest, and we are so excited by the robust response to our call for submissions.

Once the finalists and semifinalists are sent to final judge Oliver de la Paz, I’ll hopefully be back to writing my own poems again. I’m planning to write a poem on each of the even days of July.

Huge thanks to Noor Hindi of Nervous Poodle Poetry for being my second set of eyes on the poetry submissions, and to Oliver de la Paz for judging this year’s contest.

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WORLD OF MADE AND UNMADE, JANE MEAD

“How will you spend / your courage, how // will you spend your life.” – Jane Mead

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photo courtesy of Alice James Books 

Through the collection World of Made and Unmade, poet Jane Mead examines death and the relationship between a mother and daughter during the last and most intimate moments of the mother’s life. While the speaker takes us through a series of short poems that weave together topics of grief and dying, these poems are in no way self-pitying. They surprise readers with touches of well timed humor, and offer a face to the controversy regarding immigration between the U.S and Mexico. World of Made and Unmade takes place at a family vineyard, where Mead’s lyricism and imagery offers readers a pause from the stark imagery of the dying mother.

Balanced with the light humor that makes this collection so personal, the haunting nature of Mead’s imagery makes World of Made and Unmade deeply touching.  In one poem, hospice requests to interview the mother, but the mother says “I’m deaf and I’m blind and I’m not / answering any more questions” (17). The poem ends with the speaker amusingly admitting that “the patient exaggerates.” In another poem, the tumor on the mother’s liver looks as if “there was a plank // and a grapefruit under the covers” (22). Mead’s collection is honest in its depiction of the relationships surrounding the mother. It does not try to dramatize death, but rather shows us the frustrations of trying to care for a dying loved one, the intimate moments of our speaker’s grief, and our never-ending yearning for love. I love the lines “I want to press my body / all along her body – / hold her damp back to me” (34).

There is so much bravery in World of Made in Unmade. There is strength in its vulnerability, and it is blunt in its depiction of the U.S’s failure to acknowledge Mexican refugees and immigrants: “viva viva viva. Mexico // is a house on fire. // Miedo en todas partes. / Fear everywhere” (33). Mead’s poems are a reminder that the world is constantly making and unmaking itself. The ebb and flow of love and pain exist within the most personal relationships we inhabit.

Buy World of Made and Unmade here.

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Alice James Books: “Alice James Books is named after the sister of the famous philosopher William James and novelist Henry James, Alice James. She lived a largely confined and isolated life. The youngest of five children, she never married and lived with her parents until their deaths. Although her four brothers were broadly educated in the US and Europe, Alice’s education was haphazard, reflecting her father’s belief   that “The very virtue of woman… disqualifies her for all didactic dignity. Learning and wisdom do not become her.” Keenly self-aware, she started a journal in 1889, as a way of recording her own understanding of herself. She entrusted it to her friend Katherine Loring, shortly before her death in 1892, of breast cancer. Loring sent copies to her brother Henry and other family members. In 1943 it was published, in incomplete form, by a niece, who called it Alice James: Her Brothers — Her Journal. Not until 1964 was the journal published in its entirety. Alice James has since become somewhat of a feminist icon, in recognition of her struggle for self-expression within the repressive Victorian notion of femininity.” *

Announcement & Review

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courtesy of Bloof Books

Hi friends! Thanks so much for your patience during this break. It was so nice having some time to read for fun, and catch a breath after a busy semester. I’m very excited to jump back into poetry reviews, and I’m in great company with Crawlspace by Nikki Wallschlaeger. Before I start though, I wanted to inform my readers that NPP is going to start doing bi-monthly reviews, rather than the weekly reviews I’ve been doing. The reviews will still post on Sunday, but writing them twice a month rather than four times a month will give me a chance to focus more on interviews. After today’s review of Crawlspace by Wallschlaeger, I’ll be posting the next one on Sunday, June 18. So, reviews will always be posted on the first Sunday of the month, and the penultimate Sunday of the month. Thanks for your understanding during this transition.

During the blog’s break, I spent some time with Crawlspace, which was just released by Bloof Books this past May. Bloof Books consistently publishes some of my favorite work, and Wallschlaeger’s book is no different. As with The Sonnets by Sandra Simonds (also published by Bloof Books), Crawlspace is written as a collection of 14-line poems that call back to the sonnet form. Each poem (55 total) acts as a disruption of the status quo. Our speaker occupies the spaces that oppress people of color, specifically women, and then attempts to rattle these territories through a series of poems that challenge and disturb. Within these poems, rules are established, albeit ironically: “You can only play with squirt guns / in the backyard never the front yard” (sonnet 29, lines 10-11). The language is surprising, and the poems oftentimes interrupt themselves, revealing a level of chaos within the speaker’s mind and the text.

The irony in many of the poems is exaggerated to expose the hatefulness of white supremacy. A few of the poems take place on the beach, where our speaker writes, “I got so much sun long ago that / I’m permanently black the sun gave / me protection from the sun and you / say I am not good JESUS will save me” (62). Each poem is layered with satire, confessional lines such as “I’ve been exhausted my entire life // I hate telling you / how I really feel” (24), and empowerment: “I keep my blackgirl magic protected protected” (48). I loved the mix of humor and juxtaposed images throughout Crawlspace, and I really admire the careful use of sarcasm throughout the collection.

Buy Crawlspace here.

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Bloof Books: Bloof Books is a collective poetry press based in Central New Jersey, publishing perfect-bound paperbacks as well as limited-edition handmade books and chapbooks. Our perfect-bound books are available on our site, at select bookstores, and via online retailers.*