Rise and Float

“Masterful … The language, gorgeous in its precision, remains as its own testament of perseverance.”—LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS
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Chosen by Randall Mann as a winner of the Jake Adam York Prize, Brian Tierney’s Rise and Float depicts the journey of a poet working—remarkably, miraculously—to make our most profound, private wounds visible on the page.

With the “corpse of Frost” under his heel, Tierney reckons with a life that resists poetic rendition. The transgenerational impact of mental illness, a struggle with disordered eating, a father’s death from cancer, the loss of loved ones to addiction and suicide—all of these compound to “month after / month” and “dream / after dream” of struck-through lines. Still, Tierney commands poetry’s cathartic potential through searing images: wallpaper peeling like “wrist skin when a grater slips,” a “laugh as good as a scream,” pears as hard as a tumor. These poems commune with their ghosts not to overcome, but to release.

The course of Rise and Float is not straightforward. Where one poem gently confesses to “trying, these days, to believe again / in people,” another concedes that “defeat / sometimes is defeat / without purpose.” Look: the chair is just a chair.” But therein lies the beauty of this collection: in the proximity (and occasional overlap) of these voices, we see something alluringly, openly human. Between a boy “torn open” by dogs and a suicide, “two beautiful teenagers are kissing.” Between screams, something intimate—hope, however difficult it may be.

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Brian Tierney

Brian Tierney is the author of Rise and Float, which was selected by Randall Mann as the winner of the 20-2021 Jake Adam York Prize.

Praise and Prizes

  • “Lyrical and arresting … Tierney’s Rise and Float, about forging ahead despite the burdens that weigh the spirit down, is perhaps the most honest representation of trying to survive in the current state of the world.”

    Rigoberto González
    San Francisco Chronicle
  • “Tierney’s finely wrought debut captures the electric movement of his mind … This powerful collection offers readers a probing, visual, tactile exploration of the past, while allowing space for tenderness and understanding.”

    Publishers Weekly
  • “Tierney’s poems have the shimmering quality of something matured and shaped by the sheer force of time”l

    James Ciano, Adroit Journal
  • Rise and Float, which won the Jake Adam York Prize, pushes back against depression and grief with only the tools at a poet’s disposal: patience, insight and the beauty of a thought perfectly expressed.”


    Ron Charles
    Washington Post’s Book World newsletter
  • “Masterful … The language, gorgeous in its precision, remains as its own testament of perseverance … This is a book that rises despite what it knows, celebrates the float of disbelief that poetic language allows, and mourns the precise place on the linoleum where those mirages fail.”

    Noah Warren
    Los Angeles Review of Books
  • “Nothing short of exquisite … ​​It has been a long time since I’ve read a debut collection that stirred me as deeply as Rise and Float, and I highly anticipate more poems of beauty and truth from this poet.”

    Katya Buresh
    Chicago Review of Books
  • “Tierney shows that the lowest points of human experience also prompt us to view the world in a new light, implying that an unfamiliar but authentic vibrance may be an unintended aftereffect of anxiety, depression, loss, or suffering … Tierney takes a humane approach and tenderly guides his readers toward a settlement with ever-present grief. There’s something comforting about setting aside the quest for ‘wholeness’ in order to step back and take in what, and who, linger all around us.”

    Tryn Brown
    Colorado Review
  • “Brian Tierney’s debut poetry collection, Rise and Float … is a tender and expansive collection that refuses to shy away from the depth of human experience. With a particular focus on the grief that is inextricably tied to living, Tierney showcases his ability to describe even the darkest moments with vibrancy.”

    Marissa Ahmadkhani
    The West Review
  • “Brian Tierney’s Rise and Float is resonant with the desire for rapture and the never-easing reality of loss. How do we go on living, these poems seem to ask, bearing what we must bear? And in lines by turns dolorous and defiant, they answer: We watch, we remember, and we sing.”

    Tracy K. Smith
  • “If the job of the poet is to make our interiority knowable and known, then this book by Brian Tierney triumphs. In this magnificent debut, a poet arrives to us fully formed, and Tierney has found ways to transform the mundane into the mysterious, and the mysterious into the transcendent. Readers will be swept away by the rigors of syntax, the sparse and charged diction, and the voice of these worldly, humane, sophisticated poems.”

    Mark Wunderlich
  • “In these poems of turnpikes, water, and migraine light, filled with grief and life, Brian Tierney tells us it’s all right that ‘we don’t love / living.’ Here, precision is a form of metaphor, language a facet of experience; Tierney writes with a kind of allusive purity and vulnerability—‘each thought a texture’—that I find moving. Rise and Float is that rare thing, a book of one striking poem after another. If I could write something as tender and nearly perfect as ‘You’re the One I Wanna Watch the Last Ships Go Down With’—a lightning strike, Randall Jarrell might have called it—then I’d consider giving up writing.”

    Randall Mann