Joan Larkin

Winner of the 2011 Shelley Memorial Award



Everyone in it dead now—Dad,
three, in a skirt—and I see her

again, the unnamed woman.  She
is me.  No one to introduce us:

Hello, Me.
 Unruly eyebrow woman,            
eyes sepia but blue—they must be;               

hair pulled slant, frame bent
lensward, skeptical mouth                            

smiling—I know you.  How did you                                    
leash your mind, when you                                                               

looked through the small window                                        
or stared through water                     

at your veined hand?                        


Eileen Myles on Joan Larkin

I've long experienced and admired Joan Larkin as a poet of flashing clarity and intimacy and pitch perfect enunciations. The categories the Shelley prize invites us to consider Genius and Need invites us to reconsider their meaning each time a new poet or pair of them get illuminated by these words. Is Genius antiquated or just the fresh and surprising expression of poetic infancy we need. Each word is young in the hands of the master of accumulated feeling and measure Joan Larkin is tonight. I think we need to honor her particular elegance of thought and feminism and metonymic surety and bravery – a persistent willingness to inhabit a human body and a female one at the same time and there start enunciating existence and knowing, set wide, then swiftly close, an inventory and a musicality that always lands other, but weirdly comforts. A Larkin poem is always an act of natural magic and steeped alchemy. I looked at Joan Larkin's most recent work in order to think about why she needs to stand in the fleeting light of this prize with Rigoberto Gonzalez right now. I say both wow and woof. Her new poems grow springy and layered click click click tiny pictures leaping to a sensual moment: "tell me my nipple/is an eye." Her genius and her need is to tell the human female saga with an ungendered wide eyed and quavering nerviness that always knows exactly when to turn. Reading Larkin I remember that the act of poetry is maybe the only utterly human act – this watching over time and years each spring the shock of waking in body and day and society of lovers, friends, books, trains, trees and always utterly getting it down is Larkin's gift and I'm here to thank her for fulfilling our need to live in a wild and young and aging poetry again and again.


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