Miss Lost Nation by Bethany Schultz Hurst
Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry (2013)
Whenever I judge a work, I am guided by one simple question: "Have I ever heard or seen something like this before?" If the answer is "no" then I know I'm in the presence of something truly unique and worthwhile. Such was my reaction when I sat down to read Miss Lost Nation by Bethany Schultz Hurst. From the very first poem to the last, each is processed by Hurst's unmistakable one-of-a-kind voice, imaginings, and dexterity. I was reminded of the first time I ever read the likes of Elizabeth Bishop, James Wright, and Robert Hass. Hurst's voice is just as undeniable; it leaps off the page with a masterful, complex range that weaves narrative and lyric; subversive wit and true emotional grit; social commentary and deep personal longing. Miss Lost Nation will stay with you, become part of your consciousness. -- Richard Blanco, contest judge
In Miss Lost Nation we follow the voice of a poet through geographies of both place and heart. A woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty outside a local tax business, for example, provides an opportunity to think about where class intersects with poetry. "The lilacs are blooming again / and politicians are trying to convince me / that Jesus would prefer their tax plan," Hurst wryly states. "The best way to claim what isn't yours / is to pretend that it's your destiny / to have it." In this Whitman-esque collection, freshly imagined and carefully rendered, Hurst claims what is hers through the hard work of wrangling language. -- Dorianne Laux
These poems are smart and fun but it's the empathy of Hurst's vision, her warm sense of who we are, that makes this book a marvel and joy. I'm especially pleased by how often she directs her gaze, her compassionate intelligence, at others, which contextualizes the poems' private concerns and makes the world of this book feel very large and generous. Most importantly, even after I had a sense of who this poet is, the poems surprised me -- her voice is expansive and quirky but never gimmicky or forced. Ms. Hurst is off to a great start. -- Bob Hicok
Last spring at the Catholic church, they found
the outline of a bird etched on a window,
glass splintering where the wings had spread
like flames. But there was no blood or feathers,
no light bones crumpled at the sill. It was a miracle
and then the same thing happened at the Lutheran
church down the street. No one took note.
It had been done. Still, that summer birds
exploded in my mind. Those mornings
I awoke to my room on fire for ten minutes:
cut tulips in the vase burning from within.
I worried about bodies, how to touch them,
where they go. If they're just cast out
into the weeds. It's November now and sunlight
has slunk around the south wall, tired of me,
my arrangements of dried leaves. I trace
the patterns of migrating geese. Over and over
they drive a wedge into the sky. It is raining
broken glass. I count every fallen thing.
I have never been this sad before, I say
when my soufflé falls or the leaves or your arm
once around my waist in brief and heartbreaking
orbit of my foreign body. Be careful
with the oven door. Your body flushes
in knowledge of words like exit wound, and mine
in sorrow of dirty clothes, or a burner
on for hours before I remember. How cold
the floorboards as I return to the kitchen
just in time. Before a bee stung me once,
I'd gotten the verb wrong: I've never been bit,
I'd say, but even one sting allows the body
to learn the difference. A bullet passes both
perfect understanding and irrevocably between us.
Those nights the floor became a body
writhing with sleeping bags and blond hair.
Julie, Julie, Ashlee. We whispered about a girl
our age found in only her underwear,
murdered at the reservoir's edge. I was terrified
the parents might hear us talking. It broke
the contract. We pretended all houses
were the same, but that was not my father
sleeping in the next room. I couldn't bear to look
in the bathroom mirror when we chanted Bloody Mary
three times. Which Mary did we even want? Maybe
a different one each time. Some queen. A virgin, a mother.
The moms brought us bowls of chips, and the dads
seemed lost when they wandered into the living room,
surprised somehow that they were dads.
I never slept. I zippered myself into a sleeping bag
bearing the outlined body of a cartoon princess.
That was a refrigerator humming in the kitchen
but it had a different pitch. Outside the yard flooded
with black shapes that had been swingsets and trees,
and beyond that waves and waves of houses, and inside them
you couldn't tell what kind of people were sleeping. Now
those squares of light were bedroom windows
and not just light itself. The bed pushed up
against an opposite wall. The light switch
not where you'd expect.