Award Winners

Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award - 2019

Ari Banias


Atsuro Riley


I was wrong it isn't

suffering that's easy pleasure that's difficult

How is it I have been living this way

holding my piss

a mirror scuffed by distant talk, secretly livid

worried what the dead would think

Someone greets with only the top half of her head

brown curly hair behind a computer monitor

Today for one second a woman is anyone who has a body

and can't forget it

The tight loops of the office carpet start to unhook

Some men are women too

the way a mountain is land and a harbor is land and a parking lot

Refuse the difference between sameness and difference

The ocean is on fire

green flame on the neck of a god

who is a pile of rocks

not apologizing for themselves

Diane Seuss on Ari Banias

Slippery but immutable, quiet but not tranquil, virtuosic without showing off, meditative without droning, quirky but not clownish, mental but not hermetic, these are ultimately poems of an intricate embodiment that hosts a trance-like perception, and not quite like anything I've read before. They do arise out of a range of traditions, not the least of which is the Frank O'Hara-esque "I do this I do that" poem, but more accurately "I see this I see that," or "I think this I think that," though without his kinetic, pinballing attention span. Instead, these poems map, in sentences, an unstable American self in landscapes by turns alienating, bizarre, violent, erotic, absurd, and even beautiful. These are not so much poems that describe; many poems describe. Rather, they engage us in the nature of description, the way consciousness must narrate as a means of remaining emplaced in a precarious out-there. Insights are impactful, but they effervesce: "Today for one second a woman is anyone who has a body/and can't forget it." Likewise, the questions: "Do you just know how to love another person/like someone knew to paint these window frames red?" Still, over time, something palpable accrues—an unimposing self, but a self nonetheless, and one with whom we share an elegant, faltering loneliness, and if not kindness, then the desire to be kind. The best poetry, the most lasting, finds a way to reveal the human impulse behind language's veil. In these poems, all elements of craft serve to unearth that impulse, even as they dramatize the struggle to conceal it, "like a compact, /mirror on one side/powder on the other."