An ode to plums


From Traci Brimhall’s “The Unverifiable Resurrection of Adão da Barco,” a poem in the current issue:

First, a tourist finds a poem in the leper colony,
carved in a kapok, ants swarming sap in the cuts.
Then a fisherman uncovers instructions for a rain dance,
an usher discovers recipes for the jubilee.

A riverboat captain comes to town and leads them
to a tree in the north describing the mating habits
of the marabunta, to one in the south with an ode to plums.

[read the poem]


Daily Dickinson

 On Devotional Reading | By Traci Brimhall

Author Photo: Julie Beers

A few months ago, one of my friends and I decided to enter into a five-year relationship with Emily Dickinson. The rules were broad: read an Emily Dickinson poem each day (starting with number one in the volume of Dickinson’s poetry edited by Thomas H. Johnson), and write 50-100 words about it. The observations didn’t have to be critical. What’s noticed in a poem is important, but what’s more important is the devotion, the daily return to someone’s words.


In graduate school, I was an insatiable reader. For two years I tried to read a book a day. There seemed to be so many gaps in my knowledge—gaps I thought I could never fill, gaps that are still there and keep widening—unless I consumed widely and quickly. The hunger grows the more I feed it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with gorging oneself on poetry, but lately I’ve wanted a different kind of relationship with poems.


Sometimes I write this: “Who the hell is this woman and what has she done with Dickinson?” Sometimes this: “I always knew God and math were kissing cousins.” Other days, it is this: “Yes! Yes! I will follow that line anywhere.”


Devotion is difficult. I was never any good at prayer. I always had more questions than praises or complaints.


There are very few novels I’ve read more than once, but most books of poetry on my shelf have been read anywhere from twice to a dozen times. Poetry lends itself to devotion. As a child, I tried to read the Bible all the way through several times, but I always got tangled up in the why of it. Any time I tried to ask how Cain was able to move to a city after being banished from Eden or why Lot was a person worth saving when he offered to let a crowd rape his daughters, I was told I didn’t have enough faith in God’s infinite plan.


Infinity requires devotion, and while I can’t commit to infinity, I have committed to five years of small, daily devotions. When I write tomy friend (the one who has committed to this project with me), I say “you” and I mean her. I say “we” and I mean she and I. I never mean Dickinson, even though she is what we talk about. We are sharing Dickinson, but never at the same time. We have our separate intimacies and then tell them to each other. A writer’s work—and particularly a writer like Dickinson—is so public, so exposed, so excavated, and I want her to be mine, just mine, for a few minutes, for a morning, for five years. I’ve given myself over to a book. I’ve promised myself more questions.


NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Traci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins (W.W. Norton, 2012), winner the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (SIU Press, 2010), winner of the Crab Orchard Series First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Slate, VQR, NER (32.1), and elsewhere. A former Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, she’s currently a doctoral candidate and King/Chávez/Parks Fellow at Western Michigan University. Read Traci Brimhall’s NER poem “Somniloquy.”

NER Congratulates NEA Fellowship Winners

Several poets who have published their work in NER in recent years have won Literature Fellowships in Poetry from the National Endowment of the Arts this year, each receiving an award of $25,000: Traci Brimhall (32.1), Eduardo C. Corral (30.4), Rachel Richardson (29.1), and Jake Adam York (forthcoming, 33.3). Kerrin McCadden, who read in our Vermont Reading Series this past April, also won a fellowship this year. Congratulations!

New Books from NER Authors

Sarah Manguso 

The Guardians

“Manguso’s writing manages, in carefully honed bursts of pointed, poetic observation, to transcend the darkness and turn it into something beautiful.”—Heller McAlpin, Barnes and Noble




Traci Brimhall

Our Lady of the Ruins

Winner of the 2011 Barnard Women Poets Prize, Our Lady of the Ruins tracks a group of women through their pilgrimage in a mid-apocalyptic world.  Exploring war, plagues, and the search for a new God in exile, these poems create a chorus of wanderers haunted by empire, God, and personal trauma.

“…part Dylan Thomas, part saint’s legend and part Tolkien.” —Publishers Weekly Review


Lucia Perillo

Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain: Stories

“Lucia Perillo isn’t just a strikingly original poet; she’s a top-notch fiction writer as well. The stories in this bleakly funny and harrowing collection are reminiscent of both Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson, but the vision than animates them is Perillo’s own, unique and unmistakable.” —Tom Perrotta



On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths

“Perillo’s poetic persona is funny, tough, bold, smart, and righteous. A spellbinding storyteller and a poet who makes the demands of the form seem as natural as a handshake, she pulls readers into the beat and whirl of her slyly devastating descriptions.”—Booklist



Ira Sadoff

True Faith

“Nowhere else in American poetry do I come across a passion, a cunning, and a joy greater than his. And a deadly accuracy. I see him as one of the supreme poets of his generation.”–Gerald Stern




Charles Holdefer

Back in the Game

“(Holdefer’s) funny novel describes a maturing pro athlete’s often bumpy transition from youthful dreams to mainstream American life.” —Publisher’s Weekly



Paisley Rekdal

Animal Eye

“Paisley Rekdal’s quiet virtuosity with rhyme and cadence, her syntactic fidelity to thought and sensation, her analytical intelligence that keeps homing in and in, her ambitious sentences and larger formal structures that try to embody with absolute accuracy the difference between what we ought to feel and what we really do feel—all these make her unique in her generation . . .”—Tom Sleigh


Michael Heller

This Constellation Is a Name: Collected Poems 1965-2010

From his early spare poems written in Spain to the recent ruminative work exploring language, tradition (often Jewish and diasporic) and the self, this book collects four decades of Michael Heller’s “tone perfect poems” as George Oppen described them. Enriched with the detailed landscapes of the phenomenal world and mind, This Constellation Is a Name confirms Michael Heller’s place at the forefront of contemporary American poetry.