Shelley Puhak, Guinevere in Baltimore



Winner of the eighth annual Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize

Foreword by Charles Simic
(Judge of the eighth Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize)

Paperback edition, 104 pp,  ISBN: 978-1-904130-57-4, £8.99, Publication: 18 November 2013  

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Kindle e-reader edition, ISBN: 978-1-904130-75-8, £5.00, Publication: 20 May 2014

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A note about Guinevere in Baltimore

Selected 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.




Praise for Guinevere in Baltimore


"What 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

"A freakishly brilliant book in its conception, Shelley Puhak’s Guinevere in Baltimore raises the stakes for American poetry of the twenty-first century. Bow down now, Reader, for this maker means forever, and you’re 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 Rekdal






Reviews of Guinevere in Baltimore


Meridian, June 2014

"The sheer audacity of crafting a poetry collection out of so timeworn a narrative as King Arthur lends this Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize winner an acrobatic thrill: how close may Puhak swoop to her source material without crashing into nostalguic territory? ... This is a dazzling work – bold, brilliant, and startlingly familiar with Arthurian literature. Puhak knows her Tennyson and her William Morris, but she veers away from these sources as readily as she pays tribute to them." – Grace Vasington

To read the whole of this review, please click on the link below

When you find yourself on a fiscal cliff,full of participles— going, going, gone—
ashen, cashless, and tempted to trickle down...

Washington Independent Review of Books, 23 January 2014

"Who wouldn’t 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 poet’s saucy imagination. The template is perfect playgrounds for Puhak’s talent and abilities, as poem after poem tell spirited and stirring emotional adventures plus Camelot’s sex in the city. Ignoring this book is not an option ..." – Grace Cavalieri


Baltimore Review, 25 November 2013

"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...
Baltimore City Paper

"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.
      Since Eliot and Pound we have come to expect our poets be smart, erudite even, but hardly sexy. But Puhak’s collection details the physical and emotional conditions of the love triangle involving Arthur, a beleaguered CEO; Lancelot, the company’s top salesman; and Arthur’s 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 one’s neck to stand on edge.
      One doesn’t 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 Berryman’s dream songs about Henry and Mr. Bones." – Baynard Woods


To read the whole of this review, please click on the link below:

From Guinevere in Baltimore


Guinevere, Facing Forty in Baltimore, Writes to Lancelot

Turn it all off. Light a candle to read this
          and then unplug the toaster, unhitch
                    the cable, the WiFi, break the heart

of every circuit, shut it all down.
         The king's satellites are circling,
                    tracking our ambling hearts even here-

not upon stacked Belgian block but
          earlier, actual cobblestones. And
                    the king's satellites are neither hungry

nor lonely. They won't scratch and scratch
          until they scab. But dear, how I itch
                    electric. So I'm on my way, tripping

cobblestones, each ridged like a hipbone.
          I imagine them pitched at my head.
                    Not the crack when they connect

but the wind when they miss. Adulteress.
          Love, his satellites are circling, his cell
                    towers are triangulating. So don't call.

And burn this. Then blow the candle
          out and wait. Wear your armor.
                    What's a little extra weight?



Lancelot, the Microbiology of Us

Here's how I see it: there's a whole bachelor
camp pitching tents on the spongy turf

of your gut, illegals taking noon naps under
the shade of your cilia, department store

salesladies spritzing you fragrant and slinging
pearls of staph about your throat. Trillions

of microbes that weigh more than our brains.
Their three pounds outclasses the soul's measly

twenty-one grams. Here's how I see it:
last night both of us said some things

under their weight – I, the protozoa
that eats by engulfing; you, the amoeba

that slinks sidelong. But three pounds isn't too much
to carry. Guilt weighs far less. If our end feels like

the end of the world, that's because it is. Stay.
I'll love you through the fungus that will come

for us, first unearthed by bulldozers, now
cutting through air with tiny flagella tail,

coming first for the bee, the bat, the frog
and then, obviously, you and me.

This fungus has already felled forests
of chestnuts, elms, pines, threading tentacles

into wood and slurping. It's airborne,
ready to shape-shift into a spore,

ready to wait out the slammed doors.


© Shelley Puhak, 2013


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