by JoAnn Hart
Special Guest Judge, Paisley Rekdal
From the very first command of “The Thing Speaks for Itself”—“Look at this, a hand towel”—I am forced into a world of objects suffused with a speaker’s grief for a dead friend. These objects each tell a story of this friend’s life, which I come to feel intimately through the closely observed details of the friend’s household items the speaker examines. But while these objects are themselves lifeless, the piece itself is extraordinarily lively. The syntax crackles with surprising turns of phrase, with beautifully rendered imagery, and with mordant asides. It is astonishing that the writer could pack the history of a long friendship into such a short piece, but by focusing their attention on carefully selected objects from the friend’s life, the speaker is able to lead us through a large sweep of time, and create a portrait not just of their friend, but of a friendship.
Paisley Rekdal is the author of a book of essays, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee; a hybrid-genre photo-text entitled Intimate; and six books of poetry: A Crash of Rhinos; Six Girls Without Pant; The Invention of the Kaleidoscope; Animal Eye, winner of the UNT Rilke Prize; and Imaginary Vessels, which was a finalist for the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Prize, and Nightingale. Her book, The Broken Country, won the 2016 AWP Nonfiction Prize, and her newest work of nonfiction, Appropriate: A Provocation, was published by W.W. Norton in 2021. Her work has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulbright Foundation, the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship Trust and various state arts councils. Her poetry has been included in multiple editions of The Best American Poetry series, and she was guest editor for Best American Poetry 2020. She is Utah’s poet laureate.