The Believer Poetry Award

Editors’ Shortlist

The winner will be announced in the next issue.

This year heralds the third annual Believer Poetry Award. As with the Believer Book Award, each year the editors of the Believer select five recent poetry collections they thought were the finest and most deserving of greater recognition. The finalists for the 2012 award appear below. The winner, along with responses from January’s reader write-in survey, will appear in the May 2013 issue.

The Hartford Book
The Hartford Book by Samuel Amadon by Samuel Amadon (Cleveland State University Poetry Center)
Samuel Amadon’s second collection is a vivid, full-bodied portrait of growing up in Hartford, Connecticut. Amadon describes a world of bulletproof liquor stores, illicit drive-thru drug markets, crackheads on bicycles, busted lawn furniture, broken neon signs, and sketchy—often endearing, at times hilarious—friends as they plot, drink, use, wake up in unexpected places, prank, bitch, and puke. One poem ends: “when // Kenny told me he loved me I told him to hold still / because I had to dab a napkin at / the cut in his scalp where our friend // Sully had stabbed him minutes before.”

Charms Against Lightning
Charms Against Lightning by James Arthur by James Arthur (Copper Canyon Press)
“I love writing about places,” James Arthur has said, “but only places where I don’t belong.” An entrenched strangeness exists in Arthur’s work, derived not from linguistic hijinks but from common observations (the poem “Avocado” begins: “In a bowl, blind as stones”). Arthur is most comfortable in the mode of quiet meditation and carefully studied scenes, and his tone is casual and confident, the effect slightly off-frame or out of focus, yet constantly arresting. “A bus making headway / on a splashing lane; its taillights // smear and bend.”

Goat in the Snow
Goat in the Snow by Emily Pettit by Emily Pettit (Birds, LLC)
The debut collection from Emily Pettit—publisher of jubilat and editor at Factory Hollow Press—shows the poet wearing her particular genius lightly. “I said, I want to be a fly on the wall. / Someone said, Be a goat in the snow.” There is a relaxed dissonance to these coy, casual poems. At each turn Pettit artfully dodges the commonplace and the formerly known. “A vocabulary of alarm stuck in my mouth. / Like a giraffe inside a giraffe, inside a giraffe, / inside of a lion. An arsenal of weather.”

The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail by Gregory Sherl by Gregory Sherl (Mud Luscious Press)
Inspired by a computer game from the early ’70s—and set on the Oregon Trail of the 1840s—Gregory Sherl’s meandering, eminently likable Oregon Trail is populated by temperamental oxen, rusted bullets, thieves, and dysentery, yes—but also by aliens, Walmart, dodgeball, and Match.com. Sherl’s book is saved from being just another clever project, though, by how funny and fresh and irreverent his poems are. “A sign just south of Chimney Rock: / Beware of falling rocks & oxen that crush other oxen, / large children, & even you.

Rough, and Savage
Rough, and Savage by Sun Yung Shin by Sun Yung Shin (Coffee House Press)
In this inspired follow-up to her award-winning debut Skirt Full of Black, Sun Yung Shin presents explosively imaginative poems that are never untethered from experiential reality. It’s Shin’s genius to seamlessly wed the imaginary, the dream-wrought, and the mythical with the historical, the hard and factual. Shin is a collagist by nature, and her poems include redactions from the Metamorphoses and the CIA’s World Factbook alongside references and excerpts from histories, fairy tales, and religious texts.

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