Puhak, Guinevere in Baltimore
of the eighth annual Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize
by Charles Simic
(Judge of the eighth Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize)
edition, 104 pp, ISBN: 978-1-904130-57-4, £8.99, Publication:
18 November 2013
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e-reader edition, ISBN: 978-1-904130-75-8, £5.00, Publication:
20 May 2014
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note about Guinevere in Baltimore
by Charles Simic as winner of the eighth annual Anthony Hecht
Poetry Prize, Guinevere in Baltimore comprises a sequence
of dramatic monologues in which the infamous lovers Guinevere
and Lancelot navigate their doomed affair in our own age of
austerity. The pair examine love in all of its chemical, biological,
political, and technological dimensions, ultimately asking
readers to examine our own infidelities to our ideals.
A note on Shelley Puhak
Shelley Puhak was born in Washington, D.C. in 1975 and grew
up in Maryland. She holds an MFA from the University of New
Orleans and an MA from the University of Delaware. Her first
collection, Stalin in Aruba (Black Lawrence/Dzanc), was
awarded the Towson Prize for Literature. Her poems have appeared
in many journals, including Carolina Quarterly, FIELD,
and Ninth Letter. She teaches at Notre Dame of Maryland
University, where she is Eichner Professor of Creative Writing.
for Guinevere in Baltimore
makes Guinevere in Baltimore work ... is the sheer
brilliance of the individual poems. The finest poetry, the
kind one wants to keep re-reading, mostly comes down to memorable
turns of phrase and vivid detail, and that is what one finds
here. Of course, for a language to come alive for the reader,
one has to hear the voice of whoever is speaking in the poem,
which requires verbal imagination and an exquisite ear for
how different types of people talk. Guinevere in Baltimore
is masterfully crafted, a veritable feast for any lover of
words. Being a story about marital infidelity, its poems are
full of things both intimate and scandalous. And juicy gossip,
as the old Greek and Roman poets knew well, and made sure
to record, will outlast empires and even gods."
from Charles Simic's foreword
freakishly brilliant book in its conception, Shelley Puhaks
Guinevere in Baltimore raises the stakes for American
poetry of the twenty-first century. Bow down now, Reader,
for this maker means forever, and youre the one
in her cross-hairs." Cate Marvin
Good poets return to myth and legend in order to reenact
their gestures, translating rather than adapting these stories,
hoping to siphon something of these ancient tales' former resonance
and power off for their own work. Original poets, however, rewrite
the stories entirely with a fresher eye and a sharper tongue.
They rip our most familiar characters out of their antiquated
context and, by doing so, remind us anew that our heroes and
heroines of yore have never been safe, nor their archetypal
renderings anodyne. This is what Shelley Puhak has done with
the Arthurian legends in her newest collection. In hilariously
acid and completely contemporary language, Puhak gives us a
Lancelot who bickers at Starbucks, an Arthur suffering from
an enlarged prostate, and a Guinevere who finally, fully realizes
the consequence of the betrayals she has initiated, along with
a few others which we all must face disloyalty, disappointment,
the aging of a once-beautiful body and, worse, the realization
that even the strongest passions fade." Paisley
of Guinevere in Baltimore
Independent Review of Books, 23
"Who wouldnt love that title? Shelley Puhak won the
2013 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize judged by Charles Simic. Having
Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere and others in Baltimore is inspired,
unprecedented and indicative of this poets saucy imagination.
The template is perfect playgrounds for Puhaks talent
and abilities, as poem after poem tell spirited and stirring
emotional adventures plus Camelots sex in the city. Ignoring
this book is not an option ..." Grace Cavalieri
"Winner of the 2012 Anthony Hecht Prize, Guinevere in
Baltimore comprises a sequence of dramatic monologues in
which the Arthurian lovers navigate their doomed affair in our
own age of austerity. Charles Simic, who contributed a forward
to the collection, praises the poems' 'sheer brilliance' and
calls the book 'masterfully crafted, a veritable feast for any
lover of words.' Baltimore's CityPaper notes that 'local
reader[s] will delight in the references to Baltimore, as in
"Guinevere, Meeting Lancelot at the Walters Art Gallery"
or the exquisite "Confession for the Bromo Seltzer Tower"'
and declares that this is 'a book easy to fall in love with.'"
When you find yourself on a fiscal cliff,full
of participles going, going, gone
ashen, cashless, and tempted to trickle down...
"Recasting Arthurian legend so that Camelot is a corporation
located in contemporary Baltimore could be a dreadful conceit,
a two-minute bit of failed sketch comedy. Put it in verse and
the danger is even greater. But Shelley Puhak (who placed in
the City Paper Poetry and Fiction Contest twice) avoids
the potential pitfalls with her smart, sexy, and slyly devastating
Anthony Hecht Prize-winning book, Guinevere in Baltimore.
Eliot and Pound we have come to expect our poets be smart, erudite
even, but hardly sexy. But Puhaks collection details the
physical and emotional conditions of the love triangle involving
Arthur, a beleaguered CEO; Lancelot, the companys top
salesman; and Arthurs wife, Guinevere, in such a way
full of so many surprises and such vivid language that
it causes, as Matthew Arnold put it, the hair on the back of
ones neck to stand on edge.
doesnt need to be from Baltimore ..., to enjoy the freshness
of these poems anymore than one needs to be from Dublin to enjoy
James Joyce. (Indeed, it was former Poet Laureate Charles Simic
who chose the book as the winner of the prestigious Anthony
Hecht Poetry Prize.) For it is in the perfectly allotted proportions
of the sexy, the wry, the sharp, and sly, the economic, the
local, the corporate, and the mythic that this book shines.
Though the poems are ostensibly lyric, their mythical subject
and lack of self-absorption propel them toward the realm of
the epic a modest, modern form of epic, closest, perhaps,
to John Berrymans dream songs about Henry and Mr. Bones."
read the whole of this review, please click on the link below:
Puhaks previous book Stalin in Aruba used the Soviet
dictators propensity for proto-Photoshop (erasing his
enemies from photographs) as a sort of model for her enjambed
juxtapositions. Here, she elevates what was merely clever in
the previous collection to something close to sublime. It is
a book easy to fall in love with and one that makes one want
to memorize dozens of its delicately fierce lines.
Guinevere in Baltimore
Facing Forty in Baltimore, Writes to Lancelot
it all off. Light a candle to read this
then unplug the toaster, unhitch
cable, the WiFi, break the heart
every circuit, shut it all down.
king's satellites are circling,
our ambling hearts even here-
upon stacked Belgian block but
actual cobblestones. And
king's satellites are neither hungry
lonely. They won't scratch and scratch
they scab. But dear, how I itch
So I'm on my way, tripping
each ridged like a hipbone.
imagine them pitched at my head.
the crack when they connect
the wind when they miss. Adulteress.
his satellites are circling, his cell
are triangulating. So don't call.
burn this. Then blow the candle
and wait. Wear your armor.
a little extra weight?
the Microbiology of Us
Here's how I see it: there's a whole bachelor
camp pitching tents on the spongy turf
your gut, illegals taking noon naps under
the shade of your cilia, department store
spritzing you fragrant and slinging
pearls of staph about your throat. Trillions
microbes that weigh more than our brains.
Their three pounds outclasses the soul's measly
grams. Here's how I see it:
last night both of us said some things
their weight I, the protozoa
that eats by engulfing; you, the amoeba
slinks sidelong. But three pounds isn't too much
to carry. Guilt weighs far less. If our end feels like
end of the world, that's because it is. Stay.
I'll love you through the fungus that will come
us, first unearthed by bulldozers, now
cutting through air with tiny flagella tail,
first for the bee, the bat, the frog
and then, obviously, you and me.
fungus has already felled forests
of chestnuts, elms, pines, threading tentacles
wood and slurping. It's airborne,
ready to shape-shift into a spore,
to wait out the slammed doors.
© Shelley Puhak, 2013