15 Bytes and its publisher Artists of Utah congratulate Natasha Sajé for her poetry collection “Vivarium” (Tupelo Press) and Braden Hepner for his debut novel “Pale Harvest” (Torrey House Press), winners of this year’s 15 Bytes Book Awards.
Currently in its third year, the 15 Bytes Book Awards is an annual program to celebrate the best Utah books in Fiction, Poetry and Art and are juried by members of the 15 Bytes staff and guest judges. Both winners will receive a modest cash award.
To be eligible for the 2015 15 Bytes Book Award, a nominated book was required to be written by a Utah author and/or have a Utah theme or setting; be published in 2014; be professionally published and bound, and assigned an ISBN. Books are eligible in three categories: Fiction (50,000 words minimum), Poetry (48 pages minimum), Art books (20 pages minimum). No award was given this year for an art book.
Natasha Sajé for Vivarium
The poems follow letters of the alphabet, starting with “Anathema,” written as a curse on the speaker to be cut off from all religion “so that I may live as if I am already dead.” “Z” is the second to last poem that includes lines such as “Praise the striped skin of the wild ass for circling eternity” and “Let these weevils chew cheatgrass.” Vivarium, as the title suggests, is an ecosystem–albeit, not of plants or animals, but of letters and words. As such, the poems move in tone from playful, to curious, to clinical or mournful. In the poem “Notes on Milk River” the speaker is aware of the declining health of her companion even as they both try to console themselves with the potency of water that is “more healing than Vichy.” This poem contrasts with “Alibi,” a clever list poem of justifications for spent time. While “Notes on Milk River” resonates with the story of loss and how one can’t control the inevitable, “Alibi” is simply a riff on the title’s meaning. It is this versatility of tone that creates a sense of surprise in this book. Sometimes the letters are obvious guides, leading to list poems starting with that consonant or vowel; at other times, finding the association with a specific letter is more nuanced. Regardless, the reader follows Sajé’s journey–moving between subjective and objective points of view, hesitant to embrace either perspective, but instead appreciating the dense linguistic ecosystem of these poems.
In addition to her work as a professor of English at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, where she is the curator of the Anne Newman Sutton Weeks Poetry Series, Natasha Sajé is a member of the poetry faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts M.F.A. program. She is the author of three books of poems, a book of poetry criticism, and many essays. Her work has been honored with the Robert Winner and Alice Fay di Castagnola Awards, a Fulbright fellowship, the Campbell Corner Poetry Prize, and the Utah Book Award.
Braden Hepner for Pale Harvest
Hepner instructs the reader on the day-to-day drudgery of a small dairy farm in northern Utah. Jack Selvedge, a young man charged with desire to live larger but cursed with no means works and lives on his grandfather’s farm. From this gray setting a stark beauty emerges in small details like the corral sand tinged with dry manure that fans up from a bucking bull’s stomped hoof as it tries to throw its rider off his back. Jack, himself, seems to be a young bull, whipped with the restraints of routine: Fence mending, tractor repair, feeding, plowing, milking, milking, milking. The forever scent of cattle infuses his skin, sinks into his soul. He carries this load around the landscape with his buddies, a cadre of small town conformists all stamping their boots against the earth looking for a break in the fence. A beautiful young woman comes to town and sets fire to the tedium. At once bleak and pleasingly beautiful the novel grows true from pain, betrayal, loss, love, and pale salvation.
[Read the November 2014 15 Bytes review of Pale Harvest by Larry Menlove here]
Other finalists from which the winners were selected include the following:
Bastard Heart by Raphael Dagold
In the Museum of Coming and Going (New Issues) by Laura Stott
[Read all three poetry citations here.]
A Song for Issy Bradley (Ballantine Books) by Carys Bray
Theories of Forgetting (Fiction 2 Collective) by Lance Olsen
[Read all three fiction citations here.]
15 Bytes thanks its panel of esteemed judges for their dedicated work and salutes the winners of this year’s 15 Bytes Book Awards!
Nominations for next year’s awards (for books published in 2015) will be accepted beginning January 1, 2016.