The University of Wisconsin Press
The Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry
Winner of the 2013 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry, selected by Terrance Hayes
“About Crows is a comically understated title for a book whose long lines hold the rise and fall of Communism, an alternate history of Massachusetts, suburban mythopoetics, and the Beverly Hills of Korea. (And I’m only referencing titles here: the shiny tip of this poet’s epic imagination.) These poems stretch seamlessly across far and local histories. Family, culture, upheavals, influences—the whole wild world seems tethered to the ‘movement arising from stimuli within the body,’ the motion of scrutinizing empathy. Craig Blais is a tremendous talent. About Crows is a tremendous debut.”
—Terrance Hayes, Felix Pollak Prize judge and National Book Award winner
An unsentimental and at times disquieting first collection, the poems of About Crows excavate self, family, race, location, sex, art, and religion to uncover the artifacts of a succession of traumas that the speaker does not always experience firsthand but carries with him to refashion into some new importance. This is a book of half-states, broken affiliations, and dislocation.
The speaker leads the reader through the fragments of a flooded town that grows increasingly elusive the more one looks for it; through a succession of Seoul “love motels” that further displace the outsider to unclaimed margins transformed into sites of creative invention; through “galleries” of artwork, where movement, color, and image are renewed through ekphrasis; and through the world of the metatextual long poem “The Cult Poem,” where good and bad moral binaries tangle into a rat’s nest of our best and worst spiritual ambitions.
The poems and sequences of About Crows are marked by their artistic balance of the sublime and the profane, of polyphony, syntactical complexity, clashing images, cagey humor, and unsettling sincerity, all trying desperately to connect.
. . . When I tell her I’ve started to write a book ‘about crows,’
she says she’s not certain if there ever was a bar across the street from her
nursery school or whether watermelons were sold from a truck there
for only a dollar. Though she’s been questioned countless times, she’s still
unsure what happened before her mouth learned to stop screaming and worked
only to lick condensation from the brick walls of a padlocked root cellar.
“These haunting, elegant poems are painted with smoke and the colors of the evening sky, and I feel as though I’m peering into rather than merely reading them. Each promises that something is about to happen; the tension they create is irresistible, and as I turn the pages, I find myself drumming my fingers in anticipation and thinking, ‘More, please—more.’”—David Kirby
Craig Blais was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts. His poems have appeared in such literary journals as Bellingham Review, Best New Poets, Hayden's Ferry Review, The Pinch, Sentence, and Spoon River Poetry Review. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida. For more information, visit www.craigblais.com.
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Of related interest:
Winner of the 2012 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry, selected by Jean Valentine
LC: 2012032680 PS
78 pp. 7 x 9
Paper $16.95 t
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“Sly wit glimmers in the dark pools of About Crows (in a fake yurt with a fake fire, a woman ‘paint[s] windburn on her cheeks’) but its greatest power remains its unflinching willingness to stare hard at the inventively surprising ways the world has of turning perilous, from our everyday betrayed intimacies to the public horrors of terrorist attacks. Its wisdom isn’t one of homily and easy answers, but of knowing there aren’t answers in a world compounded of good will, sociopathic confusions, and jeopardy, a world where all of us are ‘knee deep in the rushes and lost completely.’ And yet these masterful poems—so richly original in imagery, so ambitious in their range of reference, so deft in the way their near-invisible formal infrastructures control a rampant energy—have made a great grave beauty from that darkness, alive with the dangerous color of crow-sheen. This is a stunning debut volume and is THE book about hockey rinks, love motels, cemeteries, art museums, strip clubs, airports, cult indoctrination, hospital wards, the Stations of the Cross, Chagall’s Paris, and romantic idylls that you’ve been waiting for!”
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Updated February 18, 2013© 2013 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System