The Believer Poetry Award

Editors’ Short List

As with the Believer Book Award, each year the editors of the Believer select five recent poetry collections they thought were the finest and most deserving of greater recognition. The finalists are listed below. The winner will appear in the summer issue, along with responses from reader nominations gathered from subscribers and fans.

The New Testament
by Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon Press)
Jericho Brown’s second collection explores the twinings of African American culture and gay sexual identity through persona poems, meditative lyrics, and contemporary reimaginings of biblical scripture. As in his first collection, Please (winner of the 2009 American Book Award), the poems here are character- and music-heavy, and they are delivered with the same powerful, distinct voice—but now they have become even more muscular, assured, and technically adventurous. In the opening poem, Brown writes, “I am what gladiators call / A man in love—love / Being any reminder we survived.”

ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness
by CAConrad (Wave Books)
In his latest collection of (Soma)tics works—ritualistic exercises and their resultant poems—CAConrad explores the “quiet, feral interior” by looking, first, outward. As preparation and inspiration for his verse, the poet asks passersby on the street about the consistency of their semen, talks to crystals and ghosts, arranges a silent meeting with strangers, and “pollinates” flowers in front of sidewalk security cameras. Far from a gimmick, and introduced with brilliant mini-essays, ECODEVIANCE once again proves CAConrad to be one of our most deeply original—and fearless—ethnographers of contemporary reality.

Everyone I Love Is a Stranger to Someone
by Annelyse Gelman (Write Bloody Publishing)
“Shark, papa, a shark / cries the boy, pointing to a white sail,” writes Gelman in her engaging, delightful debut. Also a musician, visual artist, and filmmaker, Gelman is that most rare thing: a writer comfortable in her own skin. Incorporating anecdotes from childhood and college days, as well as scientific and historical curios, Gelman’s writing contributes an uncommon level of thoughtfulness and erudition (she was the inaugural poet-in-residence at the Brain Observatory at the University of California, San Diego) to the chatty, low-key zeitgeist of today’s millennial poetry. In sum: this is a book that is as smart as it is enjoyable.

Tree Line
by Judy Halebsky (New Issues Poetry & Prose)
Asked to encapsulate her latest collection, Oakland, California, poet Halebsky once responded: “Girl uses dictionary, geology textbook, and Bashō’s travel journal to try to make sense of the world.” Halebsky is a poet who looks outward more often than inward—not necessarily as a reflection of inwardness, but, it seems, out of genuine interest. And unsurprising for the work of a poet so influenced by Bashō, Halebsky’s work is at once enigmatic and plainspoken: “Like a handmade ceramic bowl / uneven, oblong, dripped, bare in spots / Joshua departs for the army at dawn.”

Particle and Wave
by Benjamin Landry (University of Chicago Press)
The forty poems that make up Benjamin Landry’s sophomore collection, each based on an element in the periodic table, roam freely among personal memories, historical anecdotes, scientific observation, stream-of-perception fragments, mis- and multiple-recognitions, and philosophic musings—yet continually return to the natural world of both flora and fauna, and of elementary physical matter. This is a deft and artful volume showcasing poetry of paradox, reversal, and overlap: “It might have been the sound / of soldier ants / clenching their mandibles / in their sleep / … Or // stars, perhaps, / skritching across / night’s chalkboard.”

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