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Kai Carlson-Wee

Kai Carlson-Wee is the author of RAIL (BOA Editions, 2018). He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and his work has appeared in Ploughshares, Best New Poets, TriQuarterly, Blackbird, Crazyhorse, and The Missouri Review, which selected his poems for their 2013 Editor’s Prize. His photography has been featured in Narrative Magazine and his poetry film, Riding the Highline, received jury awards at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival and the 2016 Arizona International Film Festival. With his brother Anders, he has co-authored two chapbooks, Mercy Songs (Diode Editions) and Two-Headed Boy (Organic Weapon Arts), winner of the 2015 Blair Prize. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, he lives in San Francisco and teaches poetry at Stanford University.


2017 Eric Hoffer Award Grand Prize Shortlist

2017 Eric Hoffer Award: Chapbook Category, First Runner-Up


"Poetry’s Radical Leap: An Interview with Kai and Anders Carslon-Wee" Cate Lycurgus. 32poems. 2016.

Photo Courtesy of the Author


Mercy Songs

February 2016

This is a wholly unique and powerful collection of poems. The sense of purpose puts one in mind of Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” but the darker need to search for meaning in the American plains and points farther west—a vastness forlorn and almost unknowable—belongs to the shared vision of these two brother-poets. Their journeys through our national ambiguity discover a flicker in our roots, a spark popping from obscurity that rises into the heavens.
—Maurice Manning, author of Railsplitter

Strangers, stragglers, the homeless, and a girl named Saturday who plays the guitar—from Seattle, to Portland, to Bolinas, mercy songs traces our human roots back to the first of us who roamed the earth, back when “We knew there was something important inside the sound.” These brothers speak to one another in a private language made lyric, made public, knowing no matter who they meet along the way, no one will ever know them as intimately as they know one another. A hauntingly beautiful and unusual debut collection.
—Dorianne Laux, author of Only As the Day Is Long

Select Poems from Mercy Songs

“Fire,” “Lodestar,” “Checking for Ticks,” “Finding Scott,” & “King.” Narrative Magazine, 2016.

“Holes in the Mountain,” “Sunshine Liquidators,” ”Jesse James Days,” “Bolinas,” & “The Boy’s Head.” The Missouri Review 37.1 (2014): p. 87-94.

“The Muscles in Their Throats.” The Southern Review (2015).

“Dynamite,” & “The Low Passions.” Ninth Letter 11.2 (2014-15).

“Birdcalls,” “Mercy Songs,” & “Where the Feeling Deserts Us.” Blackbird 14.1 (2015).

“Between Boulders.” Bluestem Magazine (2013).

“Deer Bones.” Linebreak (2011).

Mercy Songs

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