reviewed by Laura Eve Engel

“What does the world mean / if you can’t trust it to go on?” The poems in Awkward-Rich’s second collection speak with poised urgency out of profound, enduring fear imposed by impossibly huge forces—climate emergency; centuries of violence against and erasure of Black, trans bodies—and steady themselves, when steadiness seems possible, on the fact of an undiminishable self beyond language. “Somewhere, there’s a room where things go to lose their names. A rose becomes [   ]. A / daughter becomes [   ].” Mourning in particular the ongoing violence against trans women, as well as the world that sanctions it, poems like “Anti-Elegy” interrogate a poet’s ability to give anything back when everything has been lost, when continued loss appears tragically inevitable: “The trouble with elegy / is that it asks the dead // to live […] / & who am I to say rise? […] / Today, someone will walk into the night / & then become it.” Facing a future that’s uncertain at best and at worst certainly doomed, Awkward-Rich finds optimism in motion, in running until he slips the grip of definitions that have done more harm than help: “There’s a dream I have in which I / love the world. I run from end to end like fingers / through her hair. […] / Like you, I was born. Like you, I was raised in the / institution of dreaming.”

This review originally appeared in the Books Noted section of American Poets, Fall-Winter 2019.