The University of Iowa Press is proud to share the winners of this year’s Iowa Poetry Prize!
The 2020 Iowa Poetry Prize has been awarded to Emily Pittinos’s The Last Unkillable Thing and Felicia Zamora’s I Always Carry My Bones. This year’s judge was Brenda Shaughnessy.
“What will be possible / when I’m no longer sorry?” asks the speaker of The Last Unkillable Thing after the sudden death of a parent. “What do lost daughters burst into?” In this debut collection by Emily Pittinos, the speaker is tasked with relearning the ways of loneliness, family, sex, and wilderness as a person who feels thoroughly and abruptly without. Shaped by both concision and unfolding sequences, The Last Unkillable Thing is a journey across landscapes of mourning where "in [the] periphery, every shadow / is a new dead thing."
The light of these poems takes on the tint of grief, and through that light the speaker reexamines what remains: her changed self, her desire, the midwestern flora, the unyielding snow. Interior and exterior ecologies blur until loss becomes a place of its own, and the only inevitability. “Doesn’t it hurt,” Pittinos writes, “to be human. I’m so human, I could die.”
Emily Pittinos is a Great Lakes poet and essayist currently teaching in Boise, Idaho. A recipient of support from Vermont Studio Center, the Alexa Rose Foundation, and Washington University in St. Louis, where she also served as the senior fellow in poetry, her recent work appears in Beloit Poetry Journal, Denver Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, the Adroit Journal, and the Iowa Review.
I Always Carry My Bones explores how familial history echoes inside a person and the ghosts of lineage dwell in a body. Sometimes we haunt. Sometimes we are the haunted. Pierced by an estranged relationship to Mexican culture, the ethereal ache of an unknown father, the weight of racism and poverty in America, the indentations of abuse, and a mind/physicality affected by doubt, these poems root in the search for belonging—a belonging inside and outside the flesh. Space-making requires a clawing at the atrocities of today’s social injustices. Space-making requires a dismantling of violent systems against brown and black bodies. Home is the place where the horrid and beautiful intertwine and carve a being into existence.
At times, the reaction is recoil: “biomimicry—how I adapt away / from you—biomimicry—as if to chant my way / into something worthy of your affection.” At other times, the reaction is love: “if we fracture a system long enough / our voices build / a neoteric system / with our voices inside.” The voices in these poems are never truly singular. POC, trans/queer individuals, and all marginalized people hold evolutionary revolutions in our cells. In language and elements, we are a collective. Survival held in our adaptation—another action that culls from us. We summon the magic inside of us to create a world in which we see ourselves beyond the death expected of us. We pray to our own tongues to conjure ourselves into existence. This book longs for a sanctuary of self—the dwelling of initial energy needed for our collective fight for human rights.
Felicia Zamora is a poet, educator, and editor living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She’s the author of five books of poetry including Body of Render, Benjamin Saltman Award winner (2020), and Of Form & Gather, Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize winner (2017). She is an assistant professor of English/poetry at the University of Cincinnati, and the associate poetry editor for the Colorado Review.
The Last Unkillable Thing and I Always Carry My Bones will be published in April of 2021. Please visit the University of Iowa Press website for more information about the Iowa Poetry Prize.