In Wilder—selected by Rick Barot as the winner of the 2018 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry—Claire Wahmanholm maps an alien but unnervingly familiar world as it accelerates into cataclysm. Here refugees listen to relaxation tapes that create an Arcadia out of tires and bleach. Here the alphabet spells out disaster and devours children. Here plate tectonics birth a misery rift, spinning loved ones away from each other across an uncaring sea. And here the cosmos—and Cosmos, as Carl Sagan’s hopeful words are fissured by erasure—yawns wide.
Wilder is grimly visceral but also darkly sly; it paints its world in shades of neon and rust, and its apocalypse in language that runs both sublime and matter-of-fact. “Some of us didn’t have lungs left,” writes Wahmanholm. “So when we lay beneath the loudspeaker sky—when we were told to pay attention to our breath—we had to improvise.” The result is a debut collection that both beguiles and wounds, whose sky is “black at noon, black in the afternoon.”