Selected by Joy Harjo as the winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets
'Taut, ferocious . . . This is a book about survival, and a welcome, confident debut' New York Times Book Review
Emily Skaja's debut collection is a fiery, hypnotic book that confronts the dark questions and menacing silences around gender, sexuality and violence. Brute arises, brave and furious, from the dissolution of a relationship, showing how such endings necessitate self-discovery and reinvention. The speaker of these poems is a sorceress, a bride, a warrior, a lover, both object and agent, ricocheting among ways of knowing and being known. Each incarnation squares itself up against ideas of feminine virtue and sin, strength and vulnerability, love and rage, as it closes in on a hard-won freedom.
Brute is absolutely sure of its capacity to insist not only on the truth of what it says but on the truth of its right to say it. 'What am I supposed to say: I'm free?' the first poem asks. The rest of the poems emphatically discover new ways to answer. This is a timely winner of the Walt Whitman Award, and an introduction to an unforgettable voice.
Early in this lyrical debut, winner of the 2018 Walt Whitman Award, the speaker notes: "In my new life whatever I claimed/ I didn't feel it was mine." Skaja's poems search for this "mine" as noun, adjective, and verb, exploring experiences of violence in an abusive relationship and their transformation into beauty. In one poem, the speaker names herself "a hairpin curve" and "cyanide stowed away in an apple seed"; in another, she reminds us that "to tell it once is not enough." As the collection unfolds, a Greek chorus of named women appear as support, highlighting the strength found in community and shared experience, as well as the viewer's tension of witnessing a relationship from the outside. In "", one of the book's most moving examples of the complexity of self-making, an encounter with a member of this chorus leaves the speaker filling "my mouth with bees I tried to speak through the bees," to name love and violence together without reducing them to one or the other. Skaja's ability to hold contrasting feelings in relation yields the tenderness and triumph of this book.