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Proxies. (Nightboat Books, 2016; Picador UK, 2017)

*Excerpts in Harper’s, BOMB, Guernica, StoryQuarterly, PEN America, and Brick.

*Winner of a 2016 Whiting Award in Nonfiction
*Finalist for the 2016 Lambda Award for Best Gay Memoir
*Finalist for the 2017 PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction

*Reviewed in The New York Times, The Times Literary SupplementBookforumLA Review of Books, Lapham’s Quarterly, The London MagazineFlavorwireFinancial TimesKenyon ReviewFull Stop, The RumpusHyperallergicThe Bay Area ReporterPublic Books, Lambda Literary, HTMLGiant, TEXTVol. 1 BrooklynMusic & Literature, Entropy, minor literature[s], Electric LiteratureBlue Mesa Review, Tupelo QuarterlyPublishers Weekly (starred review), and BOMB.

*Interviewed on KCRW’s Bookworm with Michael Silverblatt, on KBOO’s Between the Covers with David Naimon, on KWMU St. Louis Public Radio, in the Oxford American, in The Rumpus, in Puerto del Sol, and in Essay Daily.

*Named Book of the Year by Jonathan Lethem in BOMB, by Garth Greenwell in Publishers Weekly, by Sara Jaffe in The Portland Mercury, by Evan Lavender-Smith in HTML Giant, and by Rob Spillman in Tin House.

*Selection for other Best-of-2016 lists at The Guardian, Esquire,  TED: Ideas Worth SpreadingPublic Books, Entropy, The FaderVol. 1 BrooklynBook Riot, Gulf CoastSeattle Arts & Lectures, The Volta, and Powell’s Books

A go-for-broke essay collection, part cultural close reading, part dicey autobiography

Past compunction, expressly unbeholden, these twenty-four single-subject essays train focus on a startling miscellany of topics —Foot Washing, Dossiers, Br’er Rabbit, Housesitting, Man Roulette, the Locus Amoenus—that begin to unpack the essayist himself and his life’s rotating concerns: sex and sexuality, poetry and poetics, subject positions in American labor (not excluding academia), and his upbringing in working-class, Primitive Baptist, central-piedmont North Carolina.

In Proxies an original compositional constraint, a “total suppression of recourse to authoritative sources,” engineers Brian Blanchfield’s disarming mode of independent intellection. The “repeatable experiment” to draw only from what he knows, estimates, remembers, and misremembers about the subject at hand often opens onto an unusually candid assessment of self and situation. The project’s driving impulse, courting error, peculiar in an era of crowd-sourced Wiki-knowledge, is at least as old as the one Montaigne had when, putting all the books back on the shelf, he asked, “What do I know?”

Into what some are calling a new golden age of creative nonfiction lands Brian Blanchfield’s PROXIES, which singlehandedly raises the bar for what’s possible in the field. This is a momentous work informed by a lifetime of thinking, reading, loving, and reckoning, utterly matchless in its erudition, its precision, its range, its daring, and its grace. I know of no book like it, nor any recent book as thoroughly good, in art or in heart. —Maggie Nelson

Proxies: Essays Near Knowing brings a slowed-to-meaning lens to the remembered moments of a life. Blanchfield’s readers wander into his ordinary-extraordinary quotidian—the vulnerable longing of a singular voice expressing a peopled intelligence. Not since Hilton Als’ White Girls have I read anything as interrogative, unsettling, and brilliant. —Claudia Rankine

Brian Blanchfield’s sentences are modern marvels.  They coil, insinuate, embellish—and then land on the tender spot.  If Hart Crane had survived to write a book of autobiographical essays, it would resemble Proxies—but would Hart have given us the low-down on frottage?  Blanchfield is a staggeringly accomplished stylist, whose artful elucidations deserve to be savored, studied, and, yes, worshipped. —Wayne Koestenbaum

Early on his humble and stunning Proxies, Brian Blanchfield asks: “In what kind of place is all the hearing overhearing?” He knows, mostly we eavesdrop on ourselves. We call it thinking. There is no delicacy of mind like that one that moves through the facts of its own errors to arrive at understanding, and here, essay by essay, Blanchfield sifts through the astray archive of his memory to recall all what it is he needs to live. These essays remind us, as they discover inside themselves, the deep virtue of saying, “I don’t know.”  —Dan Beachy-Quick

The quiet but searing vulnerability in Brian Blanchfield’s writing is as wide and trembling as the wingspan of his otherness. He writes with a beguiling sagaciousness that made me bow my head so many times that I lost count. These are essays about honesty and the revelation of self in which shame and guilt are dissected and anything extraneous scrubbed away. Each sentence is a live wire. Diverse, maybe mismatched styles, genres and topics accrue to great and moving effect, a profound whole made from an unlikely assemblage of parts. He appears to be forging a new genre before your very eyes. —2016 Whiting Award Judges’ Citation

Everyone ought to read Brian Blanchfield’s Proxies immediately. The book is an astounding sequence of essays in the form of exercises in which Blanchfield’s voice uncovers its own discomfort to the point of total anxiety, only to back away, then have another go at the problem from another angle. It raises extraordinary issues of trauma and memory and time, while arousing provocative ideas about our relationship to the “automatic knowledge” provided by the Internet and what it might mean to turn away from the screen. It will change you. —Jonathan Lethem, BOMB

The breathtaking excellence of Proxies, poet Brian Blanchfield’s first collection of personal essays, is an urgent reminder of how shortsighted it would be to take identity politics as the sole measure of value in queer writing. Blanchfield—who is white, male, and gay—does not treat these contours of his life as extraordinary in themselves. He attends instead to the subtlest registers of misfit between a queer self and its world—and with such sensitivity, he provides a startlingly detailed map to a territory we only thought we knew well. Again and again, he finds unexpected grace in grim circumstances: growing up gay in working class North Carolina, struggling to find his vocation in heady millennial New York, reckoning with the diminished economic prospects of the writer’s life…I mentioned grace…and I locate this quality not in the book’s procedure, or even in its charged confessions of shame. The grace is most present in the, yes, poetic way that Blanchfield observes his own darkest qualities mirrored back to him in his surroundings—as perceptual patterns, omens, even blessings. —Christopher Schmidt, Bookforum

I’m not sure how to describe Brian Blanchfield’s Proxies: Essays Near Knowing, a collection of idiosyncratic, candid, devastating essays, except to say that it’s the most brilliant book I’ve read in years. Anyone who has been amazed (and rightly so) by Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (Melville House) should read this book posthaste. —Garth Greenwell, The Guardian

Inspired by the sixteenth-century French philosopher [Montaigne], Blanchfield swithced off the internet, swivelled away from his books to confront the question, What do I know?…[And] at the heart of this unusual book lies another question–Who am I?–and in the process of wrestling with it, Blanchfield produces a string of exhilarating passages.  —Lara Pawson, The Times Literary Supplement

Like M.F.K. Fisher, Blanchfield often begins by standing us at a safe speculative distance, allowing us to consider the complexity of human endeavor without immersing us in its messy physicality, so that when he finally does plunge us into the intimate details of his own autobiography — with excruciating honesty — we are left defenseless. Armed with mind only, our hearts and guts are left vulnerable, and the narrative tears them open…[The technique] seems to arise out of a deep humility in the face of complex emotion, a diffidence that relies on the intellect to prepare both writer and reader for the soul- and body-baring disclosures to follow….This is humility as seduction: you can’t help but trust him and lower your guard. Then you lean forward, listen closely, and follow wherever he leads. —Scott Nadelson, Los Angeles Review of Books

The premise of this autobiographical essay collection is simple: Blanchfield writes from memory alone, without consulting any outside resources to fact check. As the author explains, “I wrote these essays with the internet off.” The result is unlike anything written before. The 24 single topic essays in Proxies are short and focused (topics range from owls to housesitting to frottage), but every single one leads to a more personal revelation or a wider point about the author’s life or the greater world. The conclusions of his writings feel organic and authentic, and the 20+ pages of corrections at the end of the book only validate how powerful writing from memory and relying only upon what’s inside your own brain can be. —Maris Kreizman, Esquire

Brian Blanchfield’s brief, multivalent essays are titled to echo the master of the form, Montaigne. They include “On Withdrawal,” “On Tumbleweed” and “On House Sitting.”…Mr. Blanchfield’s more high-flown reflections [are] slyly used in juxtaposition with the plain-spoken memories of this “working class white boy” from North Carolina….He calls the essays “inroads to disinhibited autobiography.” One becomes acclimated to, and impressed by, the way he transitions from, say, an etymological investigation of billiards terminology to the way his father shot pool. —John Williams, The New York Times

“The 25 essays in this collection from poet Blanchfield (A Several World) are small, highly polished jewels that together form an intricate mosaic. Giving himself the project of following a thought to its uncomfortable edges, in each entry Blanchfield picks a subject—foot washing, authorship, owls—and examines it from several angles until the connection between metaphysical principle and lived experience suddenly crystallizes, often producing an analogy as surprising as it is lovely. Blanchfield will typically betray a glimpse of erudition—a reference to cult cinema, Greek tragedy, or Noam Chomsky—alongside raw confession, balancing ‘a poetics of impersonality’ with ‘disinhibited autobiography.’ Thus, the billiards term ‘leave’ proves connected to his father’s departure, a meditation on ingénues extends to his experience of 9/11, and the story of a dog bite becomes the story of his coming out. The themes of secrets and concealment pervade the collection, as does a “spellbound trade in vulnerability and openheartedness” conjured by Blanchfield’s prose style, with its catch-and-release rhythm—sometimes lyrical, sometimes barbed. The concluding essay ‘Correction,’ which fills in or corrects details for the other selections, offers its own tribute to the processes by which we construct meaning—the real subject of this elegant and astonishing book.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

Blanchfield is best known as a poet, and though poetry shows up here as a subject, this isn’t a poet’s essay collection. Meaning, these aren’t hyperlyric half-prose essays shot with the poetry cannon. This is a book of excellent prose written by someone born to write exactly this…Deft, performing close readings of cultural phenomena and tracking—with great, even heroic care—minor and major emotional transactions and tendencies…Proxies is a book of dynamic, thoughtful, and flat-out moving essays. —Ander Monson, BOMB

Collectively [the essays] constitute a rich and compelling personal account. At its heart is a search for permanence in a life defined by transience, a concern which extends far beyond academia. —Houman Barekat, Financial Times

If you’re interested in what a writer might mean by the movement “from needing to know where I stood to wanting to stand on what I knew,” then this is the essay collection for you….Proxies may indeed be braver than Blanchfield, as he claims in that prefatory note, but the person for whom these essays stand in is someone I’m happy, to paraphrase one of the book’s refrains, to have discovered as though having remembered. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it, in other words. For me, this was it. —Erik Anderson, Kenyon Review

I loved Proxies by Brian Blanchfield. Subtitled ‘Essays Near Knowing,’ each begins with an ostensible topic (tumbleweed, foot washing, frottage) and continues with a wide-ranging, associative investigation that refuses to end until Blanchfield has found a site of his own vulnerability to mine. The self, however, is not an end point—it’s an entry to considering what it means to be a person in a body in the world.” –Sara Jaffe, The Portland Mercury

[These essays] are little wonders of ghosted knowledge. Each entry works like a bridge suspended between feeling and fact…Blanchfield’s approach, his dispositif, affords him the freedom of the self-governed; his erudition and sensitivity to his own life experiences — growing up as a Primitive Baptist in North Carolina, for example — wall his thoughts like a garden. There his apposite selves wander apart, only to meet at the end of the path. What do you find when you allow the poetry of self-trust to guide you? Commonalities — new ways of living. The reanimation of old forms. You could almost call it knowledge. —Jonathon Sturgeon, Flavorwire

It’s a beautiful book, and as the essays move forward chronologically…the voice is immediate, musical, and easily speaks about both theorists like Jose Muñoz and his dad’s truckdriving and barroom hustling. Blanchfield blends the intellectual and the personal projects of the essays, in a form where “lifewriting is indistinct from a kind of free intellection,” as he says of Maggie Nelson and Alison Bechdel. –Michael Sheehan, The Rumpus

Blanchfield’s project pitches us back behind Descartes’ certain subject who doubts only as a step toward knowing to a Montaignian roaming, embodied, feeling consciousness. Blanchfield’s courting of error becomes a brave and radical attempt to rethink the self…Blanchfield’s analyses are keen, and Proxies establishes him as a key thinker in contemporary poetics, queer theory, and cultural criticism. —Nathan Goldman, Full Stop

Brian Blanchfield wrote his 2016 book Proxies: Essays Near Knowing using no outside sources. He wrote what he knows in his body. The book contains essays on Owls, Peripersonal Space, Locus amoenus, Sardines, Confoundedness, Tumbleweeds, and Man Roulette…Blanchfield asks what one body, riddled with flaws and holes, knows, then confesses the errors in that knowing, encouraging more questions, more experiments, multiple takes and tries, new ways of reading the evidence. It is rigorous without being adamant. It is humble. It is tolerant of differences. It collects facts broadly…Proxies makes a person feel human again. It’s a corrective for a post-truth, technology-choked era because Proxies is really about what it means to have a body that is mortal, to live with our own damaged selves and the places where we fail. —Samantha Hunt, Lapham’s Quarterly

For a serious take on the venerable form at its most robust, the essay as extreme sport, there’s gay poet Brian Blanchfield’s masterful, boundary-pushing new collection Proxies: Essays Near Knowing…There’s a bit of sex, flirty bar stuff that…ends with a walk home in “jizzy jeans.” But there’s far more about intimacy and its discontents and the homely sacraments in which people in general, and gay men in particular, find meaning.Few writers in any genre come out as deeply, about so much, as Blanchfield does in Proxies —Tim Pfaff, The Bay Area Reporter

[C]reative, meditative reflections that breach the standards required of academic discourse….There is an implicit appeal to the kind of revolution within education that Paul Goodman called for in the 1960s… Blanchfield provides a profoundly brave, unflinching examination of the self. He charts a course “from the realm of savoir to the realm of connaître.” —Michael Amherst, The London Magazine

[These essays] approach “knowing” both from a distance, careful and exacting and lyrical and observant, but also head-on, the heart fully forward, all-in, and achingly involved. These essays are beautiful and heartbreaking and incredibly insightful. —Janice Lee, Entropy

I found solace in Brian Blanchfield’s Proxies; Essays Near Knowing (Nightboat Books), short, smart essays on the poet’s obsessions, from owls to tumbleweeds to confoundedness, chronologically written without fact-checking, then abridged at the end, memory reconsidered. —Rob Spillman, Tin House

The story the essays in Proxies gradually tell would be a compelling one in almost any method of telling. Blanchfield discusses his relationship to his family; the aftermath of his stepfather’s death; his complex and conflicted relationship with his mother, especially as it relates to his sexuality. But for a book that’s this intensely personal, the effect of finding out how Blanchfield remembers certain things can also be illuminating. It’s one thing to write about your life with this kind of candor, but another entirely to essentially provide readers with a map of how your mind works…Deftly written, frequently moving, and narratively compelling.—Tobias Carroll, Vol. 1 Brooklyn

Simultaneously essay and autobiography, Proxies rejects neat categorization, and therein lies one if its greatest charms…One of the most appealing aspects of Proxies is how it functions as confession; an exposure of the author’s “soul”…Surviving in a “barn-cat semi-independent way,” Blanchfield describes how those born under the “specter of HIV” were thrown together, and in that togetherness found a sense of family more authentic than ancestry. Reminiscent of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, the emphasis of such a family’s crucial importance challenges the erasure of queer identities: from the sick to the healthy, the dead to the vibrantly alive, Blanchfield places their bodies defiantly at the fore. —Rosie Clarke, Music & Literature

While Blanchfield may be an extraordinary wordsmith and acute observer, his real talent, his distinctive talent, is in writing things slant. The reader is not looking straight on at an event or a narrative, but rather through several different shafts of light, like a prism of thoughtfulness. —July Westhale, Lambda Literary

Maybe this will be something I can refer to in future years when I have again forgotten how to live in the stance of wonder. —Evan Lavender-Smith, HTML Giant

In 1658, Sir Thomas Browne declared, “Tis time to observe Occurrences and let nothing remarkable escape us.” With Proxies, poet Brian Blanchfield has assembled a collection of essays that are as expansive in their intellectual reach as they are profoundly committed to sounding the tender archive of memory’s embodied afterlife. “Permitting shame, error, and guilt,” Blanchfield’s essays take up owls and abstraction, foot-washing and frottage, and provide us with a vital and vibrant map of the thrill and the pain of contemporary life. To read Proxies is to be pulled along by a mind in the vertiginous thrall of wandering, “ready to be any thing, in the extasie of being ever.” —Patrick Abatiell, Public Books

To retreat to one’s own knowledge as a means to know one’s own mind more deeply is a worthy practice that seems increasingly difficult to enact. It is far easier, it seems, to repeat what others say; to collect and curate rather than to create new ways of knowing. Blanchfield’s bold experiment offers one compelling alternative. —Mary-Kim Arnold, Hyperallergic

I can’t stop thinking about a book called Proxies by Brian Blanchfield…What lives in these essays is a dizzying virtuosity, swerving from high-minded, philosophical explorations of the self to raw, unvarnished anecdotes about growing up gay in the South. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever read. —Omar El Akkad, Goodreads Author Spotlight

I read this book with amazement, with writerly envy, with real and deepening wonder. And also with gratitude, especially in an election year in which a very loud and nearly inescapable public discourse has seemed determined to make genuine thinking—thinking that entertains ambiguity, ambivalence, doubt, those human virtues—impossible. Like his great models, Montaigne and Barthes, Blanchfield tries to clear a space for thinking that’s free of the destructive aggression of intellectual or pseudo-intellectual or entirely unintellectual sparring that has made such a despairful mockery of democratic process this year. And so this is a book we very urgently need. Avoiding the usual measures of mastery, disavowing the need to be right, these essays model a better way of thinking—which is to say, of being human. —Garth Greenwell, on Proxies as Best Book of 2016, Publishers Weekly

 

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A Several World (Nightboat Books, 2014)

*Awarded the 2014 James Laughlin Award by The Academy of American Poets.
*Longlist Finalist for the 2014 National Book Award in Poetry.

*Reviewed in The Iowa Review, in Publishers Weekly, in Lambda Literary, as a Staff Pick at Small Press Distribution, in Galatea Resurrects, in West Branch, and in the Missoula Independent; noted in the Chicago Review and JSTOR Daily.

*Illumined or occluded in interviews: PEN AmericaOmniverseEntropyTremolo, Friends of Writers, and Under a Warm Green Linden.

As in the title phrase—borrowed from a 17th century poem by Robert Herrick—in which “several” is used to individuate, questions of singularity and the plural, of subjectivity and the collective, pervade this dream-quick poetry. In A Several World there are glimpses of an “us down here”—in a city state, in a valley town, in an open clearing, in the understory—and, by various projections, there is frequent attainment of an aerial vantage, a supervisory perspective. The wish to be out of the weeds, to imagine one can see the thing in whole, and, conversely, the wish to be overseen, even to be overlooked, further animate the poetic shuttling between late pastoral and conceptual project. Landscape here is spatial theater and, blowing through like new weather, a choreography recruits certain standalone selves: solidarity beginning in an erotics of attunement, catching likenesses. “Pick me up can also be as frequency and antennae do.”

In Brian Blanchfield’s poetry, ideas, as in his sequence “The History of Ideas,” are constantly crystallizing into words and even letters—“in the gravel was planted some grass/ in sprigs. Sort of Garamond, ornamental, it/ rounded down”—which, in turn, dissolve into thought. The oneness of our physical and spiritual life has rarely been conveyed more accurately. Blanchfield is a talent to watch. —John Ashbery

There’s something miraculous about these poems, which have the igneous surfaces of the work of the Cambridge school but move as liquidly as, say, Auden; it’s what makes them poems of a world. In A Several World, the gracefulness and the complexity collide at least once a poem to give me, at least, a sweet painful glimpse of very bright light. I think a few pages in you’ll start to see it as well — as he writes, in a short riveting poem about the mortality we feel in dark rooms with lit screens, “In poetry too we all face forward.” –Chris Nealon

A Several World situates us between the kissing booth and the photo booth, where the touch of the eye maps the dewiness of a boy’s body as it blends into an American landscape: seeing and longing to be seen. You must slow down to follow the thought in Brian Blanchfield’s complex poems, where image unfolds temporally, and thistle-like syntax betrays a tensed and boxed desire just at the threshold of dream—as if Eliot’s poetics of impersonality had married Crane’s cravings and knots. Quite brilliant. –Jennifer Moxley

These poems confront the world, shake it up and plug it in, through a rare braiding of language-loving rumination and sharp-eyed savvy, muscular traction and cardiological care.  The writing is deft, capacious, and brash, as the verses left us by the troubadours are deft, capacious, and brash. —Merrill Gilfillan

Robert Herrick wrote, “Here we are all by day; by night we’re hurl’d / By dreams each one into a several world.” Where Herrick’s several is implicitly separate, Brian Blanchfield’s book examines and contests commonality. That is, A Several World unsettles the world–all and several alike–by reading its associations and memberships with an unnerving exactingness. And, for all that, it’s a very finely-ranging travelogue, though not in the usual senses: “Consider the milieu durance,” Blanchfield invites as the book sets sail, and then responds, in the next line, to his own invitation, “Way out there now.” —C. S. Giscombe, judges’ citation for the 2014 James Laughlin Award

One might miss, in the exquisitely shapely poems of Brian Blanchfield’s second collection, A Several World, how frequently the poems’ brash dazzle gives way to wit…[Or] one might miss, appreciating its humor, the book’s stylized (and appealingly stylish) intelligence, through which its poems can turn on linguistic self-consciousness…and gentle reorientations of genre… “One’s apprehensive / approach can be determinative,” Blanchfield observes, which could serve as an articulation of [his] process, as could his triumphantly deliberate description of a tortoise pulling herself toward a strawberry. One should be glad to be a tortoise to the strawberry of A Several World. —Zach Savich, The Iowa Review

An essential entry point into a new poetics of the queer imagination.  —Tony Leuzzi, Lambda Literary

For sheer joy in the music that words can make in the right order, one might have to go to Hopkins to do better.  —Matthew Ladd, West Branch

 

 

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The History of Ideas, 1973-2012 (Spork Press)
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Not Even Then (University of California Press)
New California Poets #11

“Brian Blanchfield is a poet with a vision, and an important one. He sees in gestural hybridity and the juxtaposition of the narrative “where” (“content”) and the compositional “how” (“form”) a possibility to entertain and delight even as he also implicitly instructs us on “how to go in the dark.” With so much language in the water in contemporary America, we can choose to turn from the communicative altogether (as do certain strains of post-Language poetry), mock the culture that engenders linguistic surfeit (as do certain modes of postmodernist collage), or, like Blanchfield, consider our present excess of language (and excess of language about language, as is often found in creative writing workshops) a starting point for more embodied forms of interconnection…Highly recommended for this reason and a more general one: Artistic excellence, front to back.” –Seth Abramson, Huffington Post

“Like the forebears he acknowledges (John Ashbery, Hart Crane), this clever, busy, anxious, flirtatious poet, with his ‘predilections for predicaments,’ can connect anything to anything else.” –Stephen Burt, The New York Times Book Review

“Blanchfield has a genuine distrust of what Allen Ginsburg called ‘an immediate clarity,’ or language that acts as a transparent window onto its meaning. While many poets have shared this distrust, few have expressed it with such craft and fluidity, vaulting the edge between ‘the European tradition of virtuoso / and the raw desire to articulate,’ a tension suggested by the collection’s first poem, ‘One First Try and Then Another.’ If I may mangle this title and make a suggestion (‘in don’t-think-twice and reverse advice’): give this book one first reading, and then another.” –Paul Killebrew, Crossroads

“Here—from a poet whose language is generous beyond its own constraint—is the welcome news that poetry can expand without being stretched thin, go undeceived without losing its lovingness, and even redeem the future that some of us, otherwise, did not want to enter.”—Douglas Crase
“The infinite prospect of cityscape and water route surrounds us in these poems where ‘sight is what we are within.’ Blanchfield’s vigorous language, his kinetic syntax and his captivating gift for assembling a new world out of surprising images make Not Even Then one of the lustiest, most electric reads since Hart Crane’s White Buildings. In his own words, ‘here is a craft. The kind to ride.’ A most enjoyable ride indeed.”—D. A. Powell
“Lively, intelligent questions of scale and position—of where (& who) the self is vis-a-vis truth—animate the unsteady subjectivity of Brian Blanchfield’s first collection. In gorgeous poems whose slanted insights seem earned and unarguable, ‘meaning’s warning’ is delivered just in time. ‘We said beauty should have to do with us,’ writes Blanchfield: his poems are admirably real and extraordinarily rewarding encounters.“—Laura Mullen