Award Winners

William Carlos Williams Award

G. C. Waldrep


The general grief possesses us,
a desert music.

And the spirit of the frontier?

Pause and remember
the day we struck the movie set,
winter's wet planks.

You can buy
your own Rothko, penance signs.

Capitalism stumbles,
a bit,
in democracy's black chapel.

It sounds better as a duet.

We have created a city
for our best gods.
We have fed it our blue stories.

In the desert,
a honey clings
to isolation's woody branch.

Make your secret
classical, so that the bees
will bear it
out of Plato's cave.

How we select our leaders
faith's broad arroyo
in which a small church stands.

Its door is locked.

Bodies depart
from what is actual, the
molecular tithe.

This is how democracy happens,

on the bridge
the former missile site.

It's a private movie,
playing in the old bank vault

over which
a prisoner of war
has painted a Western landscape.

The myth
is a symbolic anecdote,
Rothko wrote

from inside the war's
broad phylacteries, its distal
tracking shot:

—Christ's many secret deaths.

And do you feel
secure, penance asks
(in its thuggish blackletter).

Let me be gift to the gift-

a praying surface.

My hand among the lilacs,
my hand within the living Art.

Laura Kasischke on G.C. Waldrep

The poems in G.C. Waldrep's collection, feast gently, transcend any fixed ideas one might have about craft: form, technique, style, voice, tone—and makes pointless anything one might say in prose about poetry. In this work, each poem, each line, each choice made seems predetermined, absolute, definitive. Yet, while the decisions are crucial, they're made to seem of no consequence at all. There is no "arbitrary" in this poetry: there is only the evident, which we had never seen until this poet brought it to us from wherever it's been hiding in poetry's purest, most sacred (and sometimes most profane) and elemental, waiting to be drawn out of the all the art's traditions, and refashioned for our time and place, to speak of our wars and hatreds, our loves and wasted hours, our bicycle paths and buddy movies, our impulses to sacrifice right beside our most selfish impulses, our own sparrows in our own gutters.

The very nature of poetry, of what it's for, what it's about, how it communicates with and beyond language, as well as where it comes from—how the first need to express a thought in poetry came into the world, and what the last thought to be expressed in poetry might one day be—is revealed here, and also re-visioned. As G.C. Waldrep writes, "In the cave you can see where the hunters set a fire. / You can't tell what language they spoke." In this work we hear their language in the force of that fire.

Encountering this poetry, readers will be wise to heed the title's warning: feast gently. This is no ordinary meal. It's "a detached wing / left bloody at the turn out." And "…it's what they left behind, neither meat nor death nor trophy."