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Cambridge poet awarded Jackson Poetry Prize; Mass. Poetry Festival back in person; Maine poet blends the earthly and the spiritual

Poet Sandra Lim was recently named winner of the Jackson Poetry Prize.Young Suh

Sandra Lim awarded Jackson Poetry Prize

Cambridge-based poet Sandra Lim was recently named the winner of this year’s Jackson Poetry Prize, an annual award given by Poets & Writers recognizing an American poet of exceptional talent, carrying with it an $85,000 purse. Nominees are selected by an anonymous group — poets do not apply for the award — and the final selection is made by a group of poets, this year including Joy Harjo, Carl Phillips, and John Yau. “Isn’t this a relationship with your death, too, to fall in love with your inscrutable life?/ Your teeth will fill with cavities. There is always unearned happiness for some,/ and the criminal feeling of solitude. Always, everyone lies about his life.” The judges cited Lim’s “cool detachment and sly humor” in her “poetry of interrogation, whose fierceness lies, paradoxically, in its quiet steadiness and precision.” Past winners include Claudia Rankine, Henri Cole, Sonia Sanchez, Tony Hoagland, and Arthur Sze. Lim is the author of three collections, including “The Curious Thing” (Norton), “The Wilderness” (Norton), and “Loveliest Grotesque” (Kore). Born in Seoul, she’s a professor of English at UMass Lowell, and on the faculty of the Warren Wilson MFA program. “Exploded out of shelter, the tides come roaring in./ Let in the hoarse Cassandras and the dull pain of the/ storyteller. You’ve needed those eyes all along.”


Massachusetts Poetry Festival gathers in person for first time in five years

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival unfolds — for the first time in-person since 2018 — this coming weekend with a huge array of readings, workshops, and panels, with more than 75 events involving 150 poets. Artist and poet L’Merchie Frazier created a quilt, on view at the Peabody Essex Museum, that features lines from over 200 poets who contributed to Mass Poetry’s “Hard Work of Hope” series, which began in response to the pandemic, and invited local writers to submit poems that offered solace or inspiration for the troubled, unsettled time we entered. The weekend gives much to chew on; a few highlights: Nate Klug, Regina Walton, and Yehoshua November talk “The Bright Field: Exploring Devotional Poetry”; Martha Collins, Mary Buchinger, Danielle Legros Georges, and Donna David explore “Words in Space: Four Poets Share Their Visions”; Lloyd Schwartz, Denise Provost, Gail Mazur, and Robert Pinsky wonder “Can Serious Poems Be Funny? Can Funny Poems Be Serious?”; Enzo Silon Surin, Kevin McLellan, and Cheryl Clark Vermeulen discuss “Body States”; Chen Chen and Sam Herschel Wein give a reading on “Sex as Offering, Liberation, and Honey”; and Ben Berman, Regie Gibson, Allison Adair, and Anna V.Q. Ross discuss “Poets on Parenting,” among an exciting and varied menu of events. And headliners this year include Cameron Awkward-Rich, Andrea Cohen, Mahogany L. Browne, Franny Choi, Katie Farris, Kimiko Hahn, Ilya Kaminsky, Matthew Olzmann, January Gill O’Neil, and Mosab Abu Toha. The festival takes place Friday, May 5-Sunday, May 7 at locations throughout Salem. For more information and a complete schedule, visit masspoetry.org.


A new poetry collection from Audrey Gidman

The poems in Maine-based poet Audrey Gidman’s new collection, “body psalms” (Slate Roof), possess a gentle ferocity, a blood-and-soil connection to the spiritual. “Tell me: where do I put my knees to speak to this god, your god, their/ god, my ancestors’ gods? I bow my head, scars thick with prayer.” There’s a delicacy in Gidman’s lines, on goldenrod, moss, and milkweed, ghosts along the river, and a grappling with inheritance — from people before, from the earth, from the mysteries handed down through time. In the geography of a body, the spine is a “bone puzzle,” a “reaching tower,” and the mouth, the “locket of the body.” Winner of Slate Roof’s Elyse Wolf Prize, the book whispers at what’s holy. “My body moving —/ no different from trees.”


Coming out

“Shy” by Max Porter (Graywolf)

“Written on Water” by Ellen Chang, translated from the Chinese by Andrew F. Jones (NYRB Classics)

“Homebodies” by Tembe Denton-Hurst (Harper)

Pick of the week

Stephanie Heinz at Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine, recommends “A Psalm for the Wild-Built” by Becky Chambers (Tordotcom): " This book has filled my heart to the brim. It imagines a world that is sustained by asking questions and investing yourself in their answers, where companionship is prioritized and the pressures of Being and Knowing can be dismantled. Especially in the context of our current world, we all need to take a moment to step back and ask, ‘What do people need?’”