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.”
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Praise and Prizes
“Claire Wahmanholm channels the singular voice of H. D. as she travels us through a landscape wounded, this time not by the industrial military complex, but by the industrial greed complex. Wahmanholm’s gorgeous, epic lyric breathes across time and place, self and other, blame and consequence.”
“Here we are implicated in a never-ending journey—emerging from the underneath of things, the excavations of the world, the lightless places that lead to the sea. There is an abundance of being lost, of encroaching upon apocalyptic moments, of falling back to burning music. In Wilder, we are feral children left to our own shared devices, led on circular treks through one exquisitely strange illusion after another.”
“Claire Wahmanholm’s Wilder is bewildering and born of collapse. These searing poems spring not only from the end but from the imagined after, excavating from the ruins of this world ‘the birds swooping from the trees to land / beside their own bones, // our bodies reaching down to grab our shadows by the hands.’ I cannot recall a collection of poems that thrilled and devastated me more.”
“Long after I finished reading Wilder, I was in grief that its beauty had ended, and also in grief over the spoiled world it describes. The poems in this book seem like the texts written by an ancient collective—texts that are at once full of wonder and bewilderment, cosmic vision and earthly pain.”