Award Winners

Anna Rabinowitz Award

rachel j. atakpa

Finalist

Julian Talamantez Brolaski

rachel j atakpa author photo

Audre Lorde introduces me to political warfare

i have to eat, i realize, upon first
hearing her. my first meal /
is gradual. slow start after nothing
for so long. restriction foregrounded
by famine: insurmountable miles
to mill, traversing the depression,
recession. my father grew gardens,
bountiful and abundant. at home,
where raffia and plantain palms rustle,
and here, too. despite the miles, he grew
so we’d remain, fed in the house where
drought and tilling rustles dust into wind
but a garden alone can’t keep a house
from assimilation. so i learned
english, bible verses, righteousness
as sacrifice, rarefied. rendering away my innards.

when i am filled with Lorde’s word, Wole Soyinka
appears to me. he tells me why he fasts, “I am
denied choice and thus all taste is rendered
non-existent.” i don’t want denial, i want the Struggle
/ of refuse. i escape with my belly. i feed her carrion
to the land and she opens to taste freedom, this flesh
fruit with seed, abates the barrenness. growling
with abandon, knowing now i will grow them full,
a garden, ripe and rendered for emancipation.


Selected by Farid Matuk

Farid Matuk on rachel j. atakpa

Having figured the power of the erotic as a turning toward one’s own work with the same sensual relief of coming to rest in one’s own bed, Audre Lorde prepares us to read rachel j. atakpa’s FITS: a biomythography. But atakpa’s project begins from and exceeds Lorde’s hope of concentrating power by returning sensual ease to one integrated and politicized body. Fits sensitizes the attention in a way that’s all the more political because it disperses itself across a network of inside and out, present and past, body and ghost, landscape and memory. Eager to inhabit simultaneous registers, it’s right that this photographic and textual work should begin with a catalog of the distinct semantic baggage the word “fits” can carry. In word and in saturated, layered photographs, Fits orchestrates tender tremors and finds room for them in moments as quotidian and intimate as taking out the trash or releasing a bug trapped behind one’s glasses. Sometimes revisiting memory through the shared gaze of sisters, these poems are always susceptible to a present tense relation to land and place that achieves nothing less than an anointing. In this blessing, the middle land of this continent becomes a kind of sibling in witness. But there’s no distance here that would organize the world into observer and observed. These poems witness by staying attuned to electromagnetic impulses and pathways coursing intimately under signification, deeper inside at the register of what Hortense Spillers taught us to think of as flesh. atakpa follows these pulses threading through and out of the body toward topography and its geologic archive to inhabit any point along this involute spiral as nest, vantage, and point of gathering.

Special Mention: Song Book by Julian Talamantez Brolaski

I also want to lift up Julian Talamantez Brolaski’s Song Book. The project collects lyrics from the 2019 EP Glittering Forest, made with their band Juan & the Pines, as well as from the more current 2023 solo project It’s Okay Honey. Talamantez Brolaski revisits the folk and ballad traditions that shaped the earliest iterations of what we now call country music with a tender respect and fearless desire for expanding the genre’s imaginary. Through reproductions of handwritten ephemera and its accompanying audio tracks, Song Book forms a site where queer desire and fugitive queer presence can improvise a new music.

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rachel j. atakpa is and changes. rae reads, w/rites, and sows. attuned to color, pattern, and textu/r/ality, atakpa’s making is the practice of the web: iridescent, ecosomatic space-craft. atakpa occurs in myriad forms: lands, publications, and architectures; encounter atakpa/archive @ atakpa.cargo.site

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Julian Talamantez Brolaski (it / xe / them) is a poet and country singer, the author of Of Mongrelitude (Wave Books 2017), Advice for Lovers (City Lights 2012), and gowanus atropolis (Ugly Duckling Presse 2011). Julian is a 2023 Bagley Wright lecturer, a 2021 Pew Foundation Fellow, and the recipient of the 2020 Cy Twombly Award for Poetry. Its poems were recently included in When the Light of the World was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry (2020) and We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics (Nightboat 2020). With its band Juan & the Pines, it released an EP Glittering Forest in 2019; Julian’s first full-length album It's Okay Honey came out in August 2023.