Known by Salt by Tina Mozelle Braziel


Winner of the 2017 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry

To say that Braziel’s writing has a conversational ease or that it is salted with the very best of the vivid vernacular of the Southern places it praises, does not fully represent her considerable poetic skill. Her poems elevate burning trash and grit, turning them into treasure and pearls. Even more significant than these transformations is her way of illuminating what is already here: how a woman setting a Formica table with cornbread is comparable to a Greek statue, and the home you have is reason to lay on down, to stay right where you are, and to make an artful life of perceiving it.

           — Rose McLarney, National Poetry Series Winner for “Its Day Being Gone”

Beauty is a rare thing, but this poet finds it everywhere. Tina Mozelle Braziel is the finest Southern poet of her generation. God bless her and her incredible work.

           — Dennis Covington, National Book Award Finalist for Salvation on Sand Mountain

Tina Braziel’s Known by Salt is very much a book of celebrations. One arc of the book is the move from a life in a trailer park to a house that Tina and her husband build with their own hands, stud by stud, window by window. It also is a celebration of Alabama, with its forests, its rivers and lakes, and its creatures: snakes, deer, birds, lizards. Her observations are so keen — “herons lift their backward knees” — that they make me laugh out loud in my own celebration. This attention to detail is what Roethke called long looking, and it is everywhere in these well-wrought poems.”

           — C.G. Hanzlicek, 2017 Judge, Philip Levine Prize for Poetry

House Warming

At dinner parties, my husband knocks on sheetrock
and plaster alike, testing the tensile strength of walls
and the space between studs. When his fingers wrap

around my wrist the way he grasps his hammer,
he will ask what I want: exposed rafters, a skylight,
maybe a transom tilting above our front door.

Once he asked the hostess if her office had been painted
for a nursery. He didn’t mean it as a face-slap.
He meant nothing more than a guy swapping a shoulder slug,

measuring how far he can take what someone gives.
On the drive home, he wished their basement
sunk deeper and the attic beams hoisted higher

as if then, those living there could pack away regret.
If only they widened their sleeping porches
they might rest easy, chins tucked over fists.

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