Honorable Mentions for the 2017 Award for New Poets
After Tyehimba Jess selected his top three, we knew there would be a couple poems that we’d need to share regardless—we had too many good finalists. These two poems, “the neighbor’s house” and “UNDONE”, by Benjamin Hertwig and Brionne Janae, rise above with grace and daring, their words breaking loose and hanging in the mind well past reading.
the neighbor’s house
Benjamin Hertwig‘s fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in the New York Times, the Sun Magazine, NPR, Prairie Schooner, Southword, the Sugar House Review, Geez, and Pleiades, among others. He won a National Magazine Award in 2017, and his debut poetry collection, Slow War, was a finalist for the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award. He is a PhD student at the University of British Columbia.
for Sandra Bland
as if he could will the flood with a whisper
he breathes relax. he’s almost kneeling
his lips at my cunt a plea like the wind
through palm fronds, I respond
only just refusing to be sent over.
there is no way to tell him—I won’t come
undone for you. like all my lovers he is so sure
how many times I’ve watched
as their bodies stole away without a worry
for their return. my therapist says I should try this too
being in my feelings. he says to give yourself to grief when it calls.
I say it calls too often its fingers at my neck like a second skin.
I remember the summer I watched you, Sandra,
how you gave yourself to the boiling heat. your screams
the scream of a freight train or rather the conductor’s
when she knows the brakes are done
and still they talked of how you should’ve been—
how you could’ve avoided being dragged
from the car if you had only kept your mouth shut.
most days I hold my breath till danger passes
till I can turn myself away from you
bruised and alone in jail till I can stop imagining
how grief must have come to you like a lover
with his yoke how he must have willed
you undone with a promise.
Brionne Janae is a California native, poet and teaching artist living in Brooklyn. She is the recipient of the 2016 St. Botoloph Emering Artist award, a Hedgebrook and Vermont Studio Center Alumni and proud Cave Canem Fellow. Her poetry and prose have been published in, The American Poetry Review, Rattle, Bitch Magazine, The Cincinnati Review, jubilat, Sixth Finch, Plume, Bayou Magazine, The Nashville Review, and Waxwing among others. Brionne’s first full length collection of poetry is titled After Jubilee. www.brionnejanae.com