Award Winners

Norma Farber First Book Award - 2021

Taylor Johnson


Ricardo Alberto Maldonado

Jessica Q. Stark

My idea of abstraction is white lightning

My idea of abstraction is white lightning 
                                                                Jack Whitten

Halfway between Gonyon and Ophelia     imminent splendor.     It doesn’t matter what I don’t know.

Clouds creating a blue fissure in the sky,     whose grammar     whose sadness hurries forth?

I want to speak to order: soybeans, corn, wheat rows browned to torpor.

Mercy.     Protozoan, water-shorn,     hotly I listen     in the pines for my green name.     Whoever can

stop reasoning,   stop.     Is it too much to ask     to be remade     I who’ve just begun?

Adagio of light, copper-hued diadem

hanging on twilight’s hem, Virginia sun— I’m yet released from the

sharp language of being: make me another by morning     lest I stay

in this vestibule     wholly unmade.

From Inheritance (Alice James Books, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Taylor Johnson. Reprinted with the permission of the poet.

What I find so stunning about Taylor Johnson’s Inheritance is the way the poems feel at once urgent and ambling. Johnson’s revelry is enacted against oblivion, lush in its bucolic romp, riotous in its push against the landscape of capitalism and patriarchy. “I’d like to be as animal as language Poems are bullshit unless / they’re acres of land,” Johnson writes in “This Sign is Available.” And I am reminded of how Camille Dungy, in her introduction to Black Nature, talks of black poets allowing the natural landscape to signify, heeding “the play of the natural world against the multiple connotations of the words used to describe it.” Beauty turns out to be such a difficult task these days. Joy too easily buttressed by diversion and willful ignorance. But here is a book filled with wander, conjure and hope in the face of materialism and despair. Transition in this book is a vehicle and a philosophy. Here the erotic self is as worthy as the erotic other. In so many ways, I feel like Johnson’s debut is an act of reconstruction. A rededication of desire in order to render the sacred. In this sense, it is such a lush and sensual 21st century pastoral. In “Trans is Against Nostalgia," Johnson says “I’ve picked up the hammer every day and forgiven myself. There is a new language I’m learning by speaking it.” I am utterly encouraged by Inheritance.


Ricardo Alberto Maldonado, The Life Assignment, published by Four Way Books.
Jessica Q. Stark, Savage Pageant, published by Birds, LLC.