2020 Pushcart Prize

Reading List

1

 
From Full-Length Poetry Collections

Wider than the Sky

Nancy Chen Long

$18 / March 2020 / 978-1939728364

The universality and specificity of human experience is profoundly felt in these metaphysical poems, interrogating and celebrating how being persists, “forever/home, forever foreign,” despite subjective and collective erasure –its aberrations, its genetic inheritances, its “scorched language,”— “creating/ourselves as we go.” 

— Rebecca Seiferle

In her second book Wider Than the Sky, Nancy Chen Long grapples with the porous and slippery nature of memory and mind. Through form and content, the poems in the book mimic memory, its recursive and sometimes surreal qualities—how recalling one memory resurrects a different memory, which then jumps to another memory, and then another, each memory connected by the thinnest of wisps—as well as memory’s mutability—conflicting memories among family members, changes in the collective memory of a society, a buried memory that is resurrected when one catches the scent of a forgotten perfume. Wider Than the Sky explores the role of memory in identity, how the physical aspects of the brain impact who we are, and how who we are—both individually and as a society—is, in one sense, a narrative. These poems delve into the mind’s need for narrative in order to make sense of the world and how a society uses stories and myth to help its members remember a lesson, a preferred behavior, or their position in the social scale.

from Wider than the Sky

 

Wordlust

1.
A stranger once told me
a story: In the beginning
was the Word,

and when Word was born,
the first words Word said
formed the first story.

 

2.
                    I can find no people who have no creation
myth. Ex nihilo, big bang, chaos,

earth-diver. We are a race bound by wordlust and scattered

                    by wanderlust. We tarry
in the House of Babel.

 

3.
Raconteur, remind me again of the tale
in which the spring sun is a cherry chandelier

clinging low on the branch,
touching the understory of morning sky.

If your body were a tree that reached the heavens,
a tree overflowing with crystals and notched,

I would perch at the very top of you
and keep watch. No babble would dare enter

our emptiness. No storm cloud
would muffle our morning psalm.

And Winter would be more
than syllabary and cuneiform,

more that just a squinting,
a scant incision of light.

 

4.
                                        Who does not have a tale
of hubris…building a tower to the heavens
          to find a home among the stars—
their place in that mansion
                    of many rooms, daring to think

they can circumvent the inevitable
flood-to-come, only to be smacked down

and sent reeling, cast into the sea,
                                        nothing but stars
and a smattering of words to guide them.

 

5.
The parable that leads out of my small
imprisonment is penned in a book I cannot read,

and the world is a dwelling place
of myths lost. Looking at the winter

constellations, I want to exchange the sky
for a tent, be ever wordless, unrooted.

 

6.
A tent cannot contain the scope of heaven
any more than Earth can be the consort of God.
                    The world is filled

with words. We are a seaward-bound people,
                                                            chasing a flood
of sorrows our stories cannot explain.

"Wordlust" previously appeared in Smartish Pace and was republished in Diode Poetry Journal 13.1

The Ministry of Disturbances

Zeeshan Khan Pathan

$18 / 104pp / March 2020 / 978-1939728357

"This is a book written from unquenchable longing with a full awareness of the lateness of the hour 'as the world folds over like a paper plane.' They are the poems my soul needs."

— Diane Seuss

In his startling debut, The Minister of Disturbances, Zeeshan Pathan interrogates and subverts the calcified notions of identity (whether Islamic or American or human), the rules of citizenship, & the idea of the nation state. Unafraid of blending the lyrical and the political, he dramatizes the inner journey of the poet as his speakers confront world events including global climate change, the Afghan and Iraq wars, political conflicts from Egypt to India, American imperialism, the idea of the surveillance state, the aftermath of global terrorism, medical illness, displacement and exile. In love with Lorca and Thomas James, his poems seamlessly move from the romantic to the devastating. The weather of these poems is bleak and ridden with the pain of expulsion & dislocation. Language, for Pathan, is a means to restoration and reclamation but the speakers never fully arrive at complete healing and perhaps, that is the power of the collection. There is beauty and truth here, as Keats had once famously intimated, all great poetry should have. And not simply pearls of beautiful lies.


The Minister of Disturbances confronts the reader with poems that are both tender and terrifying. Though the poet is interested in beauty and in love with poets like Shelley and Hannah Weiner, “with [his] own rampant mouth”, he tells the story of exile, alienation, and hauntingly describes the innumerable moments of a life lived in the shadows of faraway American wars and the resulting global tumult from the eyes of an American Muslim. Zeeshan Pathan was born in Memphis, Tennessee & he has lived in several major American cities including New York City. In 2016, he moved to Istanbul several months before the advent of the Trump Presidency—having completed his graduate studies at Columbia University. In poem after poem, he seeks a language which can capture the horror of our times but never once forgets that his tongue “is stained by the carnivorous ink of history.”  This necessary collection is at once lyrical as much as it is rampant with ravishment and mournful of irrefutable ruptures.

from The Minister of Disturbances

 

To A Mother Tongue I Can No Longer Pronounce

Protolanguage and despair
You are the da odils given to me —

That I never plucked

From the elds of in nite pain and dire milkweed —

I hold you in my blighted palm

Sometimes at night when the horses

Are running
Feral through the pastures

When the archaeologists are sleeping amiably
Inside their tents, dreaming (with their microscopes) —

And the earthquakes, the earthquakes
Have ceased for a moment

You are the little seed I ponder, the fragment

Of a papyrus scroll, pistachio
Rust in a barrel

A bone of a ziggurat monster, with inscrutable fractures —

The broken tablet of Nimrud, a lamasu’s wings of lapis lazuli

Wedded to Shiva’s seventy-seven imperishable hands —
I cannot decipher you,
Not now, not ever,

No matter how many times
My tongue clenches you like Death Between my two large teeth —
Like an earthen jug in a peasant’s spent

And prostrating arm, you slip away incessantly.

"To A Mother Tongue I Can No Longer Pronounce " first appeared in Poetry Northwest

2

 
From Diode Poetry Journal 13.2

"Invention of the Color Yellow"

Christina Im

Diode Poetry Journal 13.2

Invention of the Color Yellow

a girl is given a bullet and told to throw it / up when she’s ready // a girl is given a season &

nowhere / to empty it into // i can say whatever i want & this is somebody’s greatest fear // a girl is

given a lightbulb and told / her secrets one by one // she holds them / like toy knives // she puts

them away / in my gut // if they come out (and they will come out) / it’s me who’ll bleed to death

// my voice breaking / over diamonds // my voice / like water in a tiny waterfall // cities drowned

in paint / but only when the sun is down // a girl is given / back to her gods when they’ve run out

of worlds to end // i tell her what / -ever can be imagined can be killed // which is why you are

unimaginable // which is why i sit here holding your skin / so you can’t put it on // a girl is given a

reason / not to run // a girl is given feathers & hot glue // the girl is very smart (we were counting

on that) & the only thing she hates / more than her hands / is putting them where no one can see

// i tell her pick them up / make them useful / make them pretty enough to eat / put them in my

mouth so i can starve // looking more like me

"Recovery"

Enshia Li

Diode Poetry Journal 13.2

Recovery

After the quake I gather my remains:

bloody pulp, girl-child, torn Sunday dress

gathered at the knees. I am again

floated white belly-up in the creak

of a bed, its low moans like humming flies,

the warm dark pulpit of another man’s breath.

Yours so familiar in its caress. Not everyone

is that man, you say. Or that. Or those, which,

as boys, pressed their palms to my pink skin

as I learned to accept every hunger

but my own. But your hands, their hardness,

collapses me in prayer, accordion-folds

my spine. If God exists, may He allow me

to yearn this once. Inside your mouth,

let me not think of my breasts rounding to glass

or stone. Let me believe in my skin & its softness,

sharpened to light. Let me believe, this once,

in the warm lurch of your body into mine.

3

 
From Diode Poetry Journal 13.1

"Aquaphobia"

Allison Joseph

Diode Poetry Journal 13.1, first published in The Last Human Heart (Diode Editions, 2020).

Aquaphobia

In my dreams I am always drowning,

always that scared girl, toes curled over

the edge of a public pool, suit straps

sliding off my shoulders, fearful

 

all the boys will see her flat chest,

ruffled two-piece suit soggy, sweaty.

Always the water churns an ugly

blue, chlorine gagging my breathing,

 

making me turn my head and cough

like at the doctor’s, except no kindly

nurse hands me a sucker here.

Instead, I’m the sucker—so afraid

 

of sinking that I’m ripe for any

troublemaking boy to trip and push

me into that city pool where the signs

above say NO RUNNING

 

NO HORSEPLAY     NO SPITTING

Swim At Your Own Risk

And before I can say no,

I’m a sunken stone, heavy

 

but flailing, a skinny bag

of bones, terribly uncute.

Is it any wonder now, adult,

I cannot even float,

 

that the swim instructor, baffled,

wonders aloud how can you run

and bike but not swim?

I laugh, tell her I don’t trust water,

 

and really, I don’t—it lies about

how deep it is, comes crashing

uninvited into basements,

aids and abets hurricanes.

 

No one should trust anything

that beautiful that causes

that much damage, anything

 

capable of bloating you up,

soaking you dead, leaving

you wasted on the shore.

"Poem Without Myself In It"

Jane Zwart

Diode Poetry Journal 13.1

Poem Without Myself In It

To say these words without breathing on them,

to give them to the page unbranded by the hand—

how can such a thing be done? Think of the widow

 

who covers her face with a man’s winter coat.

Think of the phantom whose shape will fill

that jacket for years and years, even after the scent

 

pulls loose from its quilting. How quickly a man

can clone his ghost just by being missed. How dutifully

absence can ransack a closet of disused clothes,

 

putting every outfit on. To invent and smite a man,

to push his widow’s nose into the smell of loss—

how can there be a poem without someone to blame?

© 2021 Diode Editions

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