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Catalog Archive / Spring 2023

Grace Engine

Wisconsin Poetry Series
Sean Bishop and Jesse Lee Kercheval, Series Editors
Ronald Wallace, Founding Series Editor

“No poet I’ve worked with in forty years’ teaching has wowed me more with his talent & smarts & heart than young Joshua Burton. His first collection, Grace Engine, is destined to be this year’s star debut.”
—Mary Karr

Grief is a healthy disease / unlike forgetting.

Burton experiments with spaces, absences, and forms in navigating the tensions between shame and accountability, guilt and forgiveness, to understand how one finds the ability to cope under the worst of conditions. With patience and ferocity, he delves into generational and familial trauma to question whether black strength is inherent to blackness and to build a mechanism to survive and heal.

I love all the dead,
both at the moment they unwed

themselves of shame
and before that.
—Excerpt from “Grace Engine”


Joshua Burton. Photo credit, Cindy Trinh. Joshua Burton is a poet and educator from Houston, Texas, and received his MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. He received the Honorable Mention for the 2018 Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize and was a 2020 Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing finalist. His work can be found in Review, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus, and more.




“One of the most compelling books I have read this year. But what does that mean? It means that we are invited to enter the landscape where the speaker's ‘been having / a different relationship / with ghosts.’ It means that history is a catastrophe but a grandmother can turn ‘looking into a language, a season / whittled down to degrees.’ It means that the empire corrodes but there is still music which these pages unearth and offer, as a consolation, perhaps, no as evidence: evidence that the soul lives despite the terror of this time. Because Burton knows that ‘wind from a mouth can coax the flame into living,’ Grace Engine is inconsolable and yet consoling. A very beautiful book.”
—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa

“Wistful, powerful, and unsparing, the poems in Grace Engine defy neat categorization. . . . A definitive example of poetic technical excellence. The duality Burton employs in showing the seen and unseen, the story behind the photograph so to speak, cannot be commended enough.”
Salt Hill Journal

Grace and engine, spirit and machine, divine benevolence and man-made apparatus, the warmth of prayer and the cold injustice of systematic oppression—Burton’s gut-wrenching poems interrogate these half-contradictory intersections as the poet grapples with mental illness, grief, faith, forgiveness, and a history of violence against Black people in the United States. . . . A book that looks long and hard at lynching, suicide, and grief, Grace Engine is no easy read—its subject matter and lyrical density often made me physically tired. But I can’t help but feel that the book is ultimately full of hope, and that heart of the book is survival.”
—Josh Luckenbach, EcoTheo Review

Grace Engine is able to evoke emotion and feelings for a reader, even if they have never experienced some of the themes Burton writes about. Joshua Burton is not just writing for himself, or one group of people, but for everyone to further their understanding and he does it beautifully.”
Glass Mountain



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Table of Contents

The Hearing We Inherit 7
Grace & Pity 10
Death/Machine/Ruin 12
Grace Division 13
To those who count suicide as a spiritual warfare addendum 15
Royal 16
Man in a Hole 17
Death/Machine/Ruin 20
Elegy for Threats with Grace 21
Death/Machine/Ruin 24
Bayou City Season 25
Grace & Separation 28
A Consequence (Passing) 30
Ten Stories 34

The Mirror Myth 37
To those who think I won’t set this country afire with me still in it 42
A Constant Conjunction 43
( )
Giving Jim Grace 47
Prophet Royal Robertson 49
Giving Mary Grace 50
To those who know how to unthreat oneself 52
The Worst Houston 53
Grace Engine 55
Giving Laura Grace 57
Grace as Kin as Sin as Skin 59
A Confession 60
As I Grace Myself into a Rephrasing Freedom 62

Notes 63
Acknowledgments 65


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Book Title

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March 2023
LC: 2022028834 PS
128 pp. 7 x 9

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Paper $16.95
ISBN 9780299341640
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