Book Awards | Literary Arts

Michael Lavers, Shanan Ballam, Katharine Coles: Finalists for the 15 Bytes Book Award in Poetry

Michael Lavers, After Earth, University of Tampa Press

If much of contemporary poetry is like a museum full of Rothko paintings, then Michael Lavers is walking in and hanging up a Renaissance painting. If it’s like an aviary, then Lavers’ book After Earth is more like a woodpecker across the street tapping iambics into tree trunks. He works in sonnets and blank verse, end rhyme and internal rhyme, alliteration and allusion, drawing on Shakespeare and the Bible and Greek mythology as much as the cold landscapes of Canada and the American Midwest. In his long poem “Works and Days” — the book’s fifth and final section — the speaker says, “Let’s not wrong Earth / a second time by bungling the elegy.” Lavers doesn’t, there’s no bungling here. Here there is formal control you don’t run into often, and it isn’t all elegiac sorrow either. In one poem, he says about life, “If the next is better, I’ll still miss this world.” In another, he’s celebratory and funny, writing, “The grapes don’t wonder what light is; / the light just lights them, and the grapes grape back.” After Earth is finely crafted, musical, and when you read it, the poems poem back.

Michael Lavers received his MFA from John Hopkins University and his PhD from the University of Utah.He is the winner of the 2016 University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize. He currently teaches poetry at Brigham Young University. 


Shanan Ballam, Inside the Animal: The Collected Red Riding Hood Poems, Main Street Rag 

What kind of mother sends her little girl into the forest with a basket of goodies?  In Shanan Ballam’s Inside the Animal, she is not the stern moralist of the original tales, but someone more dark, even treacherous, sending her daughter “meek, into darkness, twisting.” Roles, motives and personal histories shift and slide in Ballam’s reimagining of the classic fairy tale. Divided into six sections, Inside the Animal circles the original narrative, looking inside and outside the story, fleshing out characters full of longings and dark histories. Wolf is his own, very human character, equally trapped by his personal desires and the gnawing confines of others’ imposed narratives. Grandmother’s rich life is both flush with the the physical world and tinged by remorse. Red Riding Hood is no simple naif, but a complex, growing woman who rejects her role as victim in one poem, while in another says, “I’ll wait / like a tender nectarine, wait for someone to sink / teeth into me.”  With language vivid, and very physical, Balam turns morality tales into mortality tales. Inside the Animal is a collection for children who have become adults.

Shanan Ballam earned her MFA in Poetry Writing from the University of Nebraska, Omaha, and is currently a Senior Lecturer for the Utah State University English Department where she teaches poetry writing and composition. She is also the Internship Coordinator and the Poetry Faculty Advisor for Sink Hollow: An Undergraduate Literary Magazine. She lives in Logan, Utah, where is the city’s Poet Laureate.


Katharine Coles, Wayward, Red Hen Press

Coles’ exquisite minimalist poetry never has a single word out of place. The Notes give a sense of how she absorbs the world into found poetry. She often uses erasures, and subtle wordplay. For instance, the poem “August”  begins  “It is the east, and Juliet.” She erases Shakespeare and trusts the reader to fill it in. Coles’ poems flit between the physical (as in scientific) world, and a kind of magical realism that stems from a collaboration with the artist Maureen O’Hara Ure. These magical elements add a good-humored mysticism, acknowledged by recurring  erasures all titled with the infinity symbol. As Tom Sleigh’s  blurb puts it, “. . . virtuosity coupled with psychological insight can get you closer to the heart of things in ten lines than in a pages-long narrative.” That’s an accurate description of Coles’ art.

Poet, novelist, and editor Katharine Coles earned a BA at the University of Washington, an MA at the University of Houston, and a PhD at the University of Utah. At the University of Utah, Coles has directed the Creative Writing Program; co-directed the Utah Symposium in Science and Literature, with mathematician and biologist Fred Alder; and served as series editor for the University of Utah Press’s Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Book Award. She lives in Salt Lake City.

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