Winner of the 2007 Levis Poetry Prize
selected by Tony Hoagland
What rises—and to what end? Farrah Field’s gripping debut collection, Rising, offers a new Southern poetry in which “your eyes righten to Bayou and moth hum.// Fish bite at talk of Lacan and swim away Jefferson.” Field—who is from Cheyenne, Wyoming, by way of Nebraska, Colorado, Louisiana, Arkansas, Sicily, Belgium, and Brooklyn—interrogates the passion of itinerancy, the ways “the old lust bakes/ and rises, searching for a new home.”
In Rising, Field lets loose a Calamity Jane-like voice loaded with screwball humor: “Knight of slight hiccup,/ Knight of octopus ink-dyed pasta.” “Shake the prongs of kudzu or lose the accent, girl,” advises one brilliantly epigrammatic poem. In poems with titles like “You Eat Like a Pig and Someone Should Tell You” or “Wedding in a Nightgown and Fur Coat,” Field hits her subjects head-on, unrepentant even as she is good-humored. Laughter, though, is all too often not that far from slaughter, and Rising unflinchingly confronts violent loss as well as sensual indulgence: “So much is let out of a face and I read in folk Someone killed your someone too.” Questions about what happened resolve into statements, into a determination to understand murder or divorce and a thirst to know what to do with anger and desire.
Field re-thinks Southern storytelling, turning away from narratives of proud heritage to show that what is alive is closest and most important: how sex rises, how love rises, how a rowboat’s “paddles hit the water: trust, lift, gleam, trust.” Rising’s roving not-quite-South is here-and-now, and Field’s vibrant collection ends in “emphasis and wonder,” “planning Jefferson myth-debunking,” “it’s October and you are happy,” and we know the quality of happiness, traveling through and leaving behind loss.