DAILY: January 14, 2020

Yesterday the T.S. Eliot Prize in Britain was awarded to Roger Robinson for his collection A Portable Paradise.  In 2018 it was given to Hannah Sullivan for Tree Poems.   In 2017, Ocean Vuong, whose novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous garnered much praise last year, was awarded the T.S. Eliot Prize for his volume of poems titled Night Sky with Exit Wounds.  We celebrate the three of them today.  Let’s call it T.S. Tuesday.


Ocean Vuong

Essay on Craft

by Ocean Vuong 

Because the butterfly’s yellow wing

flickering in black mud

was a word

stranded by its language.

Because no one else

was coming — & I ran

out of reasons.

So I gathered fistfuls

of  ash, dark as ink,

hammered them

into marrow, into

a skull thick

enough to keep

the gentle curse

of  dreams. Yes, I aimed

for mercy —

but came only close

as building a cage

around the heart. Shutters

over the eyes. Yes,

I gave it hands

despite knowing

that to stretch that clay slab

into five blades of light,

I would go

too far. Because I, too,

needed a place

to hold me. So I dipped

my fingers back

into the fire, pried open

the lower face

until the wound widened

into a throat,

until every leaf shook silver

with that god

-awful scream

& I was done.

& it was human.




An Extract from her Three Poems

All summer the Park smelled of cloves and it was dying.
Now it is Labor Day and you have been sleeping through a rainstorm,
Half aware of the sewage and frying peanut oil and the ozone
Rising in the morning heat, and the sound of your roommate hooking the chain,
Flipping ice cubes into a brandy balloon, pouring juice over them,
Ruby Sanguinello, till they giggle, popping their skins. The freezer throbs.
He has been beating a man he met on Craigslist, he has been dreaming:
Old New York, a James novel, a Greenwich Village Christmas,
A certain kind of frost in the Meatpacking District, and the smell of the carcasses
Dull with the tang of freezing blood beside the skip of the Hudson wind.
You have been thinking of the building opposite at night, the lights
Going off one by one, a diminished Mondrian, one ochre square
Where a woman undresses for the city, stroking her puffy thighs.
You hear him talking on the phone about you, his ‘petite innocente’.
All summer you have been eating peaches from the greenmarket.
Overripe in September they need to rest in the icebox, sitting with their bruises.
All summer you have been dreaming of Fall and its brittle confection of branches.




by Roger Robinson


It becomes clear to you
the night your father asks you
to wake him up to see
his favourite film on TV,
and despite cups of coffee
bright lights and company
he is asleep
with his dark rimmed glasses
tilted on his face
before the opening credits.

And there
hearing the drag of his snore
and watching the uncomfortably
crooked angle of his neck,
you see him at nineteen,
taking care of his four brothers
and one sister and studying
for a scholarship while working
nights pushing dead bodies
at the local morgue, and he’s tired
but he can’t stop because he’ll
be the first in their family
to go to university and he can’t let them down.

At twenty-one
he’s in class at Stirling University
wondering if he can afford the batteries
for his warehouseman’s torch
so he can study on the job tonight.
Nobody told him Scotland
would be this cold, and it’s
so lonely sometimes but he
has to pass these exams
or he’ll be out.

At twenty-two you’re born.
Your mother works the night shift
at the hospital, and he tries to read
between your two a.m. squeals
and he picks you up
in the hand not holding the book
and smiles and rocks you to sleep.

Twenty-five now,
and working late five nights a week
trying to snatch a few promotions,
and somehow he thought
it might be a bit easier with his degree,
and he really needs
to move his wife and kids
into a place of their own.

And for the next twenty years
he battles on his job every day
just so you could be comfortable
and have the space to be what you want.

And then you know
that he’s never had much time for this
for rest, for sleep.
You prop his head with a pillow,
gingerly pull off his glasses
and stare at him
snoring, loudly,

(first published in Out of Bounds: British Black & Asian Poets)





Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question … Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit. In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo …


  • Kevin Sessums is the author of two New York Times bestselling memoirs, Mississippi Sissy and I Left It on the Mountain.

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