Literati is pleased to welcome Caroline Harper New in celebration of her collection A History of Half-Birds. She'll be joined in conversation by poets Abigail McFee and Maia Elsner.
About the Book: Selected by Maggie Smith for the 2023 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry, this debut collection of poems explores the aftermath of history's most powerful forces: devotion, disaster, and us.
Rooted in the Gulf Coast, A History of Half-Birds measures the line between love and ruin. Part poet, part anthropologist, Caroline Harper New digs into dark places--a cave, a womb, a hurricane--to trace how violence born of devotion manifests not only in our human relationships, but also in our connections to the natural and animal worlds. Everywhere in these pages, tenderness is coupled with brutality: a deer eats a baby bird, a lover restrains another. "I promised / a love poem," New proclaims, then teaches us about the anglerfish, how it "attracts its mate / and prey with the same lure."
In New's exceptional voice, familiar concepts take on a shade of the fantastic. A woman tastes the earth for acidity, buries lemons and pennies for balance. Limestone "sucks the sea / into little demitasse" and hyacinths "sip the sun / black." A lone elephant wanders into the wilderness of rural Georgia, never to be seen again. But perhaps most arresting about New's work are the truths told by its strangeness, like the ancient fish who "carved their shape" in a mountain's peak, or a mother who wears a lifejacket in the bathtub.
Crafted by New's voracious mind and carried by her matchless lyricism, A History of Half-Birds is a stunning investigation of love's beastly impulses--all it protects, and all it destroys.
Caroline Harper New is the author of A History of Half-Birds, winner of the 2023 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry. She is a poet and visual artist from the Gulf Coast with a background in anthropology, and she holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Michigan. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Cincinnati Review, Palette Poetry, Southern Humanities Review, and Driftwood Press. She is winner of Palette Poetry's 2023 Love & Eros Prize, the Malahat Review's 2023 Open Season Award, the Cincinnati Review's 2022 Robert and Adele Schiff Award, and Bellevue Literary Review's 2022 John & Eileen Allman Prize for Poetry. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Abigail McFee holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan, where she was the recipient of Hopwood Awards in poetry and nonfiction and the Theodore Roethke Prize.
She is the winner of The Cincinnati Review's 2023 Robert and Adele Schiff Award in poetry. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades, Copper Nickel, The Cincinnati Review, and Wildness.
Maia Elsner is a writer from London. Her first collection, Overrun by Wild Boars (flipped eye, 2021) won the Somerset Maugham Award and was listed as one of the top ten books of 2021 by The Telegraph. She has written for film-makers and composers and been widely anthologised. One of the poems included in her new chapbook, Colours of Mourning, forthcoming this March with Guillemot Press, won the 2023 Vivian Shipley Award. She holds an MFA from the University of Michigan and lives in Ann Arbor.