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CAVE CANEM POETRY PRIZE-WINNING BOOKS

 

2016

Natalie J. Graham
Begin With a Failed Body
Selected by Kwame Dawes
University of Georgia Press (forthcoming 2017)

“[Graham] is constantly searching for something to pull into the body, to feed the body. Her verse is terse, marked by technical compaction, and yet it is simultaneously grandly encompassing and voracious in its interests. In her we have a poet acutely sensitive to the ways of the body, its betrayals, its pleasures, and its unknowable selves.”

— Kwame Dawes


Bestiary, Donika Kelly

2015

Donika Kelly
Bestiary
Selected by Nikky Finney
Graywolf Press

“Bestiary is a first book of poems by an all Black girl who teaches us nothing is all black, or all female, or all male, or all belonging to humans, or all tidy….Donika Kelly whistles and crows her book into a psalm of pure resolve.”

— Nikky Finney


laurentiis, boy with thorn

2014

Rickey Laurentiis
Boy with Thorn
Selected by Terrance Hayes
University of Pittsburgh Press

“Whether in praise songs, appraisals or meditations, the poems of Boy with Thorn embody an ardent grace. Their accomplished structures house a fearless sensitivity. Rickey Laurentiis fills history with his ‘crucial blood,’ his ‘stubbornness,’ his ‘American tongue’; and history, in return, fills him with crucial muses (from Auden to Hayden), stubborn ghosts (such as Emmett Till), and manifold expressions of culture (southern, sexual, spiritual). The result is an extraordinary, and ultimately, irreducible debut. To paraphrase something Einstein once said, the true magic of this book can only be found inside this book.”

—Terrance Hayes


Brown_ZerotoThreeF.indd

2013

Douglas Brown
Zero to Three
Selected by Tracy K. Smith
University of Georgia Press

“These poems lead us from the birth cry in a hospital delivery room, to dusk and revelry in Spain, to modern-day Florida and history-laden Mississippi where Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till were slain. Even when what Brown has set out to do is grieve loss, his lines move with a buoyant, marrow-deep music, percussive and rich. They move like ‘a train, bound to a destination’ and they arrive with ‘the crackle lightning makes when it hits.’ ”

—Tracy K. Smith


booth, scratching the ghost

2012

Dexter Booth
Scratching the Ghost
Selected by Major Jackson
Graywolf Press

“These are poems loyal to their own intrepid logic and reckless plausibility. Yet, lest the reader get too giddy in a fun house of mirrors, here, too, are the melodic laments and remarkable lyric passages of a man who acknowledges the infinite current of melancholy that underlines his journey.”

—Major Jackson


Dutton, If one of us

2011

Nicole Terez Dutton
If One of Us Should Fall
Selected by Patricia Smith
University of Pittsburgh Press

“Nicole Terez Dutton’s fierce and formidable debut throbs with restless beauty and a lyrical undercurrent that is both empowered and unpredictable. Every poem is unsettling in that delicious way that changes and challenges the reader. There is nothing here that does not hurtle forward.”

—Patricia Smith


Pollock, Spit Back a Boy

2010

Iain Haley Pollock
Spit Back a Boy
Selected by Elizabeth Alexander
University of Georgia Press

“Beyond the bracing intelligence in these poems, beyond the surges of joy and trouble, beyond the poet’s awe in this split second, he plunges with imagination into the timeless work of loving witness, resonant with high style and the blues. Wherever Iain Pollock turns, the search is on, in history, art, family, in things on display and hidden in himself.”

—Cornelius Eady


Jackson, Missing You Metropolis

2009

Gary Jackson
Missing You, Metropolis
Selected by Yusef Komunyakaa
Graywolf Press

“Gary Jackson’s Missing You, Metropolis embodies and underscores a voice uniquely shaped and tuned for the 21st century. Playful, jaunty and highly serious… the collection is gauged by a sophisticated heart. Pathos breathes within and slightly underneath the visual comedy, and this quality is the true genius of Missing You, Metropolis.”

—Yusef Komunyakaa


Wilson, Narrative of the Life

2007

Ronaldo V. Wilson
Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man
Selected by Claudia Rankine
University of Pittsburgh Press

“Narrative of the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man is a riveting interrogation of two men in a relationship…Identity, Wilson seems to say, is only a collection of stories—the ones told about us in battle with the ones we tell ourselves. What we have here is palpable consciousness: a stunning achievement.”

—Claudia Rankine


Martin, a gathering of matter

2006

Dawn Lundy Martin
A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering
Selected by Carl Phillips
University of Georgia Press

“A Gathering of Matter / A Matter of Gathering is a long song of bodily bereavement—staccato, bracket studded, gruff, brusque. It maps a stark, disconsolate landscape in which bodied resounds with bloodied, ‘a song no longer a song.’ Jagged vantage, rhythmic aplomb, and an always agile colloquy of image and assertion make for a most auspicious debut.”

—Nathaniel Mackey


bridges, lions don't eat us

2005

Constance Quarterman Bridges
Lions Don’t Eat Us
Selected by Sonia Sanchez
Graywolf Press

“Constance Quarterman Bridges gives readers the gift of the griot’s embodied eloquence, memory working to delicately braid the fibers of a family’s connected lives. The core of the African-American tradition has been waiting for this book.”

—Afaa Michael Weaver


thomas, eye of water

2004

Amber Flora Thomas
Eye of Water
Selected by Harryette Mullen
University of Pittsburgh Press

“Amber Flora Thomas has written one of her generation’s best first books. . .Intensely crafted, Thomas’s poems thrive on multiple levels of truths in myriad angles. They are literally dazzling. Thomas makes a breathtaking debut with this collection.”

—Molly Peacock


dargan, the listening

2003

Kyle Dargan
The Listening
Selected by Quincy Troupe
University of Georgia Press

“What is this phat new thing in your hands? It’s both antithetical and wide, wide open. It’s right as mismatched sneakers: one foot stepping backward, the other forward. Kyle Dargan has built a shelter with the bricks of the best worlds. He’s made a halfway house you won’t be leaving soon. Settle in!”

—Terrance Hayes


smith, the body's question

2002

Tracy K. Smith
The Body’s Question
Selected by Kevin Young
Graywolf Press

“Here’s a voice that can weave beauty and terror into one breath, and the unguarded revelations are never verbal striptease.”

—Yusef Komunyakaa


van clief-stefanon, black swan

2001

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
Black Swan
Selected by Marilyn Nelson
University of Pittsburgh Press

“A series of dramatic portraits: the landscape of a Florida landscape too hot to touch, the mother’s Pentecostal Old Testament law of judgment, a father’s recklessness in the mindless spreading of seed, male malingering with no meaningful work, and little instruction by example….Ecstatic lyric, ritual grace under extreme pressure, realized.”

—Michael S. Harper


jackson, leaving saturn

2000

Major Jackson
Leaving Saturn
Selected by Al Young
University of Georgia Press

“Major Jackson makes poems that rumble and rock. These poems find themselves at home in the mind of Sun Ra or on a Cape Cod beach, in a City Center Disco or the projects of North Philadelphia. Read ‘Euphoria,’ ‘How To Listen,’ ‘Some Kind of Crazy’ and get a jolt of this stuff. Become one of the ‘community of believers.'”

—Dorianne Laux


trethewey, domestic work

1999

Natasha Trethewey
Domestic Work
Selected by Rita Dove
Graywolf Press

“From sonnets and traditional ballads to free verses shot through with the syncopated attitude of blues, the poems in Domestic Work sing with a muscular luminosity. Here is a young poet in full possession of her craft, ready to testify. To which I say: Can we get an ‘Amen?’ And: Let these voices be heard.”

—Rita Dove


CAVE CANEM NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY PRESS POETRY PRIZE-WINNING BOOKS

all-blue-so-late

2016

Laura Swearingen-Steadwell
All Blue So Late
Selected by Parneshia Jones and Jacqueline Jones LaMon
Northwestern University Press

All Blue So Late is a haunting coming of age; a slow and writhing eruption of womanhood through layers of heat, siren and loss. Laura Swearingen-Steadwell has a plaintive, truthful voice that ripples with blues and never wavers towards solipsism. She reckons with an American landscape of Midwestern fluorescence and coastal grit to render poems fused with blistered song.”

—Tyehimba Jess


olympic-butter-gold

2014

Jonathan Moody
Olympic Butter Gold
Selected by Frank X Walker and Parneshia Jones
Northwestern University Press

“These pages open like twin turntables as Moody’s hands serve up a pop-cultural bonanza, mixed with a crown of sonnets, while sampling generous doses of MTV’s Rap City and Radio One number-one hits, Grammy-winning performances and performers on the page as far apart and together as James Brown and 2Pac. You will find yourself singing along and unable to resist these poems. Clearly one generation’s mixtape is another’s MP3 playlist, but both will be singing these pages.”

—Frank X Walker


harris, autogeography

2012

Reginald Harris
Autogeography
Selected by Janice Harrington and Parneshia Jones
Northwestern University Press

“This is poetry that wants to speak to readers and not above them. He walks the streets you walk, sees the people you see, feels…the same heart-breaking despair over the plight of African American males (drugs, violence, AIDS, urban ruin) that you feel. Harris is driving and readers are lucky to be in the passenger seat.”

—Janice Harrington


francis, horse in the dark

2010

Vievee Francis
Horse in the Dark
Selected by Adrian Matejka and Parneshia Jones
Northwestern University Press

“Horse in the Dark is a work of transformation, achieved by looking back and reimagining the past and the present, tied together through a series of poems about horses—the girl-horse of childhood, centaurs, seahorses, and Pegasus—horses that represent personal escape, imaginative possibility, risk-taking, a young girl’s coming of age, and how we as humans are more than the boundaries of body or place or time. Vievee Francis transforms memory into a resonant and unflinching poetry.”

—Janice N. Harrington


Moor, Through the Stonecutters Window

2009

Indigo Moor
Through the Stonecutter’s Window
Selected by Reginald Gibbons, John Keene and Parneshia Jones
Northwestern University Press

“Always in motion, [Moor’s] lines are choreographed to make sense of all that is most elusive in meaning: music, violence, art, love, history, anger, race, belief, desire.”

—Reginald Gibbons


TOI DERRICOTTE AND CORNELIUS EADY CHAPBOOK PRIZE-WINNING BOOKS

I have learned to define a field...cover

2015

Rio Cortez
I have learned to define a field as a space between mountains
Selected by Ross Gay
Jai-Alai Books

“What the rigorous unknowing gives us, time to time, is an impossible opening.  Makes us possible.  Which is what I come here, to poetry, for.  Rio Cortez’s I have learned to define a field as a space between mountains rests restlessly there, in the opening unknowing makes possible.”

— Ross Gay


nickmakoha-520x837

2016

Nick Makoha
Resurrection Man
Selected by Robin Coste Lewis
Jai-Alai Books

“The sheer thrill—that silent moment when new work of exceptional talent steps confidently, carefully out onto the tightrope of a page. And then the World, too, joins in, and neither looks down. This is how I felt reading the poems in Nick Makoha’s exceptional chapbook, Resurrection Man…Life’s relentless heartbeat—without arrogance or apology—is completely palpable on each page.”

— Robin Coste Lewis