Announcing the Winners of the Fourth Annual TAR Open Chapbook Period
We are so pleased to announce the six winners of this year’s fourth annual open chapbook period. Yes, you read that right. We’re publishing six chapbooks this year. The talent this year was major and we had to cut ourselves off from publishing all the finalists in this year’s competition. Please join me in welcoming to the TAR family Joey De Jesus, Rae Gouirand, Trevor Ketner, Olatunde Osinaike, Shannon Sankey, and Kina Viola. I wanted to share with you some of what I found remarkable in each of these collections, so that you can get yourselves as excited as we are about the selections to come.
I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge just how extraordinary each of the runners-up are. Following the descriptions and bios of the winning chapbook authors, please read all about the powers manifest in runners-up Melanie Marquez Adams, Alaina Ferris, John LaPine, and Helen Betya Rubinstein.
Congratulations to the winners, the runners-up, and the semifinalists! Read on!
—Natalie Eilbert, Editor and Publisher of TAR Chapbook Series
Part of the great mystique of Joey De Jesus’s NOCT: The Threshold of Madness comes in the erasure form under which it was written. Erasure, when done well, exacts as it annihilates meaning. It is the radical synthesis of fixation and intent that drives it. NOCT takes these techniques to eleven by applying erasure to a popular how-to book on black magic. De Jesus employs a visceral silence, keen in its deliverance, and he accesses a manifesto of disrepair to devastating effect. These movements remove electability from our normal dealings with text, even if (and because) its origins espouse to a long-misunderstood magic. As readers, we are shown the extent to which scarcity, absence, absolutes, and other such trappings of mysticism trawl us in the everyday. The poem carries an alternative spell, one whose desires to dismantle institutions and undo hegemonic order pulsate inside and outside the boundaries of text. We love the surges here, that they pulse with incantatory rage. On a personal note, I wrote down so many lines that moved me, that sent me into a frenzy on my couch, in my kitchen, on the streets of this white college town. I found myself repeating "use them use them," convinced that finally, the words might trundle into the real.
Joey De Jesus is a queer nuyorican living in Queens. A 2017 NYFA Fellow in Poetry, Joey edits poetry for Apogee Journal. Joey is a recipient of the 2017 NYFA/NYSCA Fellowship in Poetry. Poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Bettering American Poetry, Barrow Street, Beloit Poetry Journal, Brooklyn Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, and elsewhere. Poems have been performed and installed in Artists Space (2016), The New Museum (2017), Basilica Hudson, and elsewhere.
Rae Gouirand’s The History of Art frames a consciousness of queer femme bodies. So often, when women talk about sex in literature, it is about the traumas, the pain, the trials, and the inevitable subjugation of sex. In The HIstory of Art, a body of work comprising pert lyric essays, the queer femme body celebrates the pleasures and whims of their sexualities. There's a gorgeous intersection of lyricism and the laconic. Gouirand’s world is electric with romantic grandeur, with lines so good they scream-whisper. Those heated settings, whether we're talking about a lizard climbing up a wall or "the intercourse of being picked up" are so affecting. I won't go all the way into saying this is a sex-positive lyric voice, but the sex is empowered often, or, the sex is THERE. Bodies are turned on by other bodies in a non-threatening manner. There's an intertextual exchange with an A. figure, a character that operates as a light in for the readers. There is an inquiry, an exchange. We become aware—as though we weren’t already—that being in the thralls of sexual lust also means being alone with it. Gouirand’s voice is hypnotic and potent.
Rae Gouirand is the author of two collections of poetry, Glass is Glass Water is Water (Spork Press, 2018) and Open Winter (winner of the Bellday Prize, Bellday Books, 2011), and the chapbook Must Apple (winner of the Oro Fino Chapbook Competition, Educe Press, 2018). She lives in northern California and lectures in the Department of English at UC-Davis.
White Combine: a Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg by Trevor Ketner
After reading Trevor Ketner’s White Combine: A Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg, I was left wondering: What does it mean to delete materials in the modern sense? In an era where we can find omissions through metadata and hard drive history, Ketner pushes this question with so much vision and breadth of focus. Throughout this biographical exegesis of Robert Rauschenberg, Ketner leaves redacted space for poems by John Ashbery and Carolyn Forché, as well as deletions of direct and indirect supremacist violences. This process and performance of deleting metabolizes their voices further. We see Ashbery's metaphysical traces and Forché's poetics of witness. We see Ketner’s body, their queer lust that is also their intellectual rigor. Here, absence is evidence—lineage serves to show us edges, ragged and smooth. We experience repetitions on top of deletions: a goat gutted or a goat petted, or a goat displayed as a forever companion of Rauschenberg and his viewers (dead no matter); the self-effacing acts of Rauschenberg behind his curation; the sex behind sex. All provokes a question of intent. It isn't simply that this poem moves in and out of Rauschenberg's biographical and artistic life, but that it is compressed through Ketner’s perception of body, gender, queerness, and white lineage. Erasing is not purity. Whiteness is not purity. To believe it can be erased is to accept a blundered history, the one where one is painted beautifully before they are beheaded before a crowd. This poem makes me almost distrust artifice outright, but then they hit us with such lyric force: "You look into the eyes / of an animal, long dead, / and, even as they are / glass, you see a field / warped with color and light."
Trevor Ketner is the author of Negative of a Photo of Fire (Seven Kitchens Press, 2019) and Major Arcana: Minneapolis (Burnside Review Press, 2018). They have been or will be published in Academy of American Poets' Poem-a-Day, Best New Poets, New England Review, Ninth Letter, West Branch, Pleiades, Diagram, and elsewhere. They hold an MFA from the University of Minnesota and received a fellowship from The Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts.
Speech Therapy by Olatunde Osinaike
Olatunde Osinaike’s Speech Therapy is so nuanced, refined, and complex. Oppositions and inquiries dominate this collection. The lyric voice maintains a careful and satisfying intelligence throughout. It feels major, the pains this speaker takes to be simultaneously complicit of patriarchal violence as he is also viciously aware of being hemmed forever into the margins. The verse, which often manifests itself in couplets, tercets, and other uniform forms, reckons with such paradoxical balance: the veneer of order braces against what Osinaike calls a weaponized convenience. He tells us “Certainty alone has not kept me,” and, in the same poem, invites us into his landscape of opposites: “I invite you to think of when you, too, have stepped / with the realness of your bright tongue amidst this daunting world / pitch-dark and as perfect as desired.” Speech Therapy’s diction marks its energy and intelligence. It accesses high and low registers while maintaining a voice, earnest and saturated in contradiction. The collection is a gift, a wealth, a truth.
Olatunde Osinaike is a Nigerian-American poet and software developer originally from the West Side of Chicago. A Best of the Net, Bettering American Poetry, and Pushcart Prize nominee, he is the author of the chapbook The New Knew (Thirty West, forthcoming). His most recent work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Best New Poets 2018, RHINO, Palette Poetry, Cosmonauts Avenue, Columbia Poetry Review, and elsewhere. He also serves on poetry staff at The Adroit Journal.
We Ran Rapturous by Shannon Sankey
Shannon Sankey’s We Ran Rapturous is an exceptional lyric achievement. It is a book ballasted and inspired by awe and grief. Sankey’s lyrical prowess is deceptively simple and this is because she is economical in her diction. Every word has its place, its history. In We Ran Rapturous, there is an intersection of disease, the lineage and litany of it. The color red stands for irritation, birds, continent, the elegant forms that shatter the heart with their truths and silences. This body of work is an offering. The language is deliberate even as—and perhaps because—it hangs slack. The poems are tightly wound the whole way through. To invert the warning of Yeats, a beautiful terror is born here. Beautiful, beautiful terror. Here it feels more like a dirge than a warning: "To make mother soup. Suck and choke of drain, again, she fills the city wells." Yes.
Shannon Sankey's poems have appeared in Poets.org, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Minnesota Review, Puerto del Sol, Sugar House Review, Barrelhouse, Visible Poetry Project, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a 2017 Academy of American Poets University & College Prize. She holds an MFA from Chatham University, where she was the Margaret L. Whitford Fellow. She is the founder of Stranded Oak Press. www.shannonsankey.com / @shansankey
Darkcutter by Kina Viola
In Kina Viola’s Darkcutter, poems privilege a interior that is often subject to interrogation, denial, self-recrimination, and silence. Victims and survivors understand that the complexity of sexual trauma comes not in the violence of the event, but in the contradictions of violence. We remain forever stuck on the moment when we lay down next to our abusers, confused and aggrieved of that confusion. Viola’s voice is not afraid to confront confusion, to scream at it, to give it hell forever and never relent to whatever rhetoric belongs to the male wokeness that follows violence. There is a gruesome whimsy to this body of work. It compels the systematized orders of society, po'biz, and the business and politics of the book itself. Viola dares us. She asks us if we've tried the dark flesh of the scared steer. She tells us its death came without consent and we eat it. We must eat it. She tells us she butchers the chicken on the counter and we trust in her expertise. She tells us there are birds everywhere, that the birds are cats with sharp teeth, that everywhere a predator waits inside the mouth of its prey. Everything cut reveals a darker meat. These poems make sure of it.
Kina Viola is a poet and bookmaker living in Ithaca, NY. Her work has appeared in Peach Mag, Cloud Rodeo, Small Po[r]tions, Jellyfish, Best of the Net, and others. She is an editor for Big Lucks Books, makes hand-stitched and letterpressed chapbooks for Garden-Door press, and co-runs the Party Fawn Reading Series.
Virgins in Tiny Boxes by Melanie Márquez Adams
Objects come to life in Melanie Márquez Adams’s Virgins in Tiny Boxes. We are housed in Adams’s peculiar elsewhere, where colonies of spiders thrive and drown in the shower as “slender and ethereal ballerinas that twirl and pointe,” cobwebs stitch together inside a woman’s body to restrain and silence her, and the faucet is always blasting hot stinging water. Everything in this collection of short stories writhes and wriggles. A woman’s body is always in the midst of being taken, removed, obliterated. The work follows the tradition of such luminaries as César Aira, Clarice Lispector, Valeria Luiselli, and Lesley Nneka Arimah. We hope it finds a great home, and soon!
To Be Awake Means to Will by Alaina Ferris
This collection is so cool. And by cool, I mean innovative and heartbreaking. Alaina Ferris’s To Be Awake Means to Will hits us on a multimodal level, vacillating between codes (<subdir> and / and other Linux and markdown commands) and a more traditional elegy. The collection embodies action through metamorphosis, as the virgule manifests as a forward slash, the romantic tradition ascends to VR tech, and grief remains grief. The collection maintains a searching quality throughout, so that when you get to the line, within a poem about video games, “I have many memories of landscapes I have never touched,” you might have to rest your head someplace cool and let out a cry. Somebody please publish this!
Counting Softly the Seconds by John LaPine
There is nothing subtle, or soft for that matter, about Counting Softly the Seconds by John LaPine. In these dizzyingly good poems, we see a poet unabashed in their intellectual currency. This chapbook is an elegy to every killed black body and the every survived black body. In one of the more exceptional poems in this chapbook, “A Poem in which No One Dies,” LaPine reverses the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and the countless BLM activists on the streets. The poems hit on so many registers, offering us the silk eggs of turtles as much as they offer us an ode to Frank Ocean and a glorious riff on the song, “Come On, Eileen.” Publishers, GET ON THIS POET!
Because Sex is a Story, & Sex is a Song by Helen Betya Rubinstein
The stories in Helen Betya Rubinstein’s Because Sex Is a Story, & Sex Is a Song enrapture and compel us from the start. The first story in this short collection, “Home of the Harlequin Ladybird,” is among my favorites in the chapbook. This intro paragraph arrests our attention: “At first the ladybugs were pests. I crushed them between squares of toilet paper. I clung to their mummied bodies with uneasy fingers. I learned to dread their metallic smell, and the eerie weightlessness of their shells. I joked that my apartment was the land of single ladies, and planned to dress as one for Halloween, because ladybugs were all I could see.” I read once that ladybugs bleed yellow when they’re afraid, or whatever the equivalent of this is in ladybug. The stories in this collection smear and mummify and crush against us in unique, terrifying ways. There is such authority to these voices, and they engage and electrify us without any promise of redemption—my favorite kind of story. Rubinstein is a force—PUBLISH THIS COLLECTION!
We are also very honored to have read the following manuscripts, which challenged our decision process and drove us to the brink of madness! Thank you for this brinkety brink. You’re all FIRE: