Poetry: 2015 1st/2nd Poetry Book Prize Finalists

This month we feature new work from the five finalists from Omnidawn’s 2015 1st/2nd Poetry Book contest:

Ashley Chambers – The Exquisite Buoyancies
Soham Patel – towards evening:
Joseph Rios – Shadowboxing
Jake Syersak – Yield Architecture
Jason Whitmarsh – The Histories

excerpt from THE EXQUISITE BUOYANCIES: A Sonography

Ashley Chambers


Baby I behold you somewhere doing that fugitive Purple
& the Robe you wear is slaughtered from our shared skin —

                        Yr softshaven noodlenut weeping for milk    I cannot grow
weary w pinched fingers firm enough                               &          my milk

meek,      teat zilch to beckon my own doubtless
                                                                                   pathetic milk   dim
   & dosing                     in departed synonym —

                     my milk
                     my milk
                     my milk
                                          is dead now too died when You died Honey —


Yr mother is yr illest star                            pendulous           & casting into
                                          the wide Earth
again & again & again                                           a black boneless cow —


Baby I am the sorriest I have ever been  I  am  two  women
                                                                                                  at  the  same
time falling down
                             to weep together w out You
                                                                          My Bosomless Birdbrained
Dopey Lame
                      w out You carrying colorless  slaught  nowhere  w  out  You

            I am paltry cow w Very Song

who knee-tarries & shakes & shakes to shook out    No Other Prayer Left
Here to sow belted against bold but blistered airs    except   maybe   baby

please           inside yr Skywide Cavernous Ears   yr    Perfect Weightless

Nauseous Spellbound                      my Let Go mating echoes feralsigh
                                       & you
                                                    answering my mournfilled nil to multiply

       yr very own private High Up Violet Looks —


photo by Joel BrouwerAshley Chambers lives in NYC, where she is a Master of Divinity candidate at Union Theological Seminary. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama in 2015. Her writing appears in or is forthcoming from Prelude, Salt Hill Journal, and The Seattle Review, among others. She was a finalist for the 2014 and 2015 Sawtooth Poetry Contests at Ahsahta Press. Her prose has received honorable mentions in fiction contests at Gulf Coast and Bellevue Literary Review. Her website is ashleyelizabethchambers.com.

excerpt from “drum:”

Soham Patel


Clown faces. I sing in the stout charm of a woman on stilts. Share lengths of silk and saying.
If there were a river canary we work singers would mock its sound. When I sing with them
it’s snakelike. Or the dragon. Snareless, triplets, cymbal, shrill and ritual. The sound has a
structure but I cannot translate to speak in any understandable setting. The boat is made of
wood. Fueled by fire. Rides on the water. In between performances and a rationed
recompense of boiled wheat. I would like to swim in the river—dry off on the shore and
take all I heard into the woods with me. There-silence could serve towards sleep—I won’t
call it a lullaby/will call it a song so the hermit will come to hear. Painted colors on the mask
I wore but every good boy does fine. Fierce is for night sky color. Even if the moon silvers
behind my audience—I see them only and I don’t know if they are here to dance or to stare
but I remember—it’s all an act/their silhouettes when I am alone.


soham patelSoham Patel is the author of two chapbooks from Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs: and nevermind the storm, (2013) and new weather drafts (2016). Her work has been included in Copper Nickel, eleven eleven journal, Denver Quarterly, and various other places. She is a Kundiman fellow and a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee where she also serves as a poetry editor for cream city review.

Ars Poetica, Three Generations

Joseph Rios

Seventy years later a great grandson called Josefo built a treehouse on the
corner of 8th and DeWitt. He laid three, two by four arms across branches and
hammered a wide piece of plywood to make a floor. When he finished, he
sprawled across the board and fell asleep. In his sleep, he rolled off the
platform. For a moment, he saw the branches going by him on all sides. The
few noteworthy events of his life did not suddenly flash through his mind. This
was not a dream. Josefo collided with a limb and tumbled to the grass below.
The fall knocked the wind out of him. He laid there gasping on the lawn. No
one saw him and no one could hear him. When he regained his breath, he got up
and climbed back into the tree. To Josefo, this history is common knowledge. If
you asked him, he would tell you. But you wouldn’t believe him.


unnamedJoseph Rios was born and raised in Clovis, CA. He is the author of The Opening Bell (Achiote Press) and Shadowboxing: Poems and Impersonations (Omnidawn, 2018). He is a recipient of the John K Walsh residency fellowship from Notre Dame and a VONA alumnus. He is the founder of Doña Helen’s, a poet’s residency at his grandparents’ longtime home in the San Joaquin Valley.


Jake Syersak


                                    what’s this ascending
                        my understanding
            of la Nu Descendant
un Escalier?

                        —you & I, trying
to twisty-tie reality’s
eyes refusing to rope. to leaven
      a dream of

ash & ladders. stairs of ash, then. of elocution in quotes


So la-di-da builds itself a ladder. Like the plaid-feel, honey-warmth of sun twines our distance from the stars down in t-shirts. If the landslide of a body is an imprint of what speech forgets, filling, I salute this flow chart & all its suave maneuverings. Meanwhile, I am looking for suspension: our simultaneous airs toward each other braiding, thinking. Speaking we as as & as as we speaking—what loosed, could be likewise of a kiss, twisting affection into definition.


                        …looks into Tōhaku’s pine trees
&, steeping like tea
into sepia                               —his mind is a mind of
                                 “what if the body in quotation’s
                                 an excavation?”

noise has to trust itself to stay noise
                        I know

a housefly, the blackened aspirin
it’s crushed into


            in the alleyway fleshed open by
antique stores—
                                    a lone
                              & leaky
projector oozes blanksticity



                        from a snow)


“Good times come & good times go / I only wish the good times could last a little longer,” so I carried a flapping bucket of Quikrete quick-dry cement down to the creek & wrote a response to Heraclitus, sincerely as I could, in moth-crete. The tl;dr: shut up. I am trying to drill the as in we into a notch, plinth, or stepping-stone, at least. Because if I am bound to laugh through this world I am going to laugh through this world curdled as a chainsaw.


JakePicJake Syersak is currently a PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. His poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Conjunctions, Typo, and elsewhere. He is the author of Impressions in the Language of a Lantern’s Wick (Ghost Proposal). He runs the online literary journal Cloud Rodeo and serves as a contributing editor for Letter Machine Editions.


Jason Whitmarsh

The heart was at first external to the body, and held in the hand, and manipulated by punch cards. Experts trailed the heart as it went into alleys, across yards, through the ravines of crushed velvet. Questions were yes/no and took years to answer. The heart was PVC tubing and quarter-minus and known to be involuntary. The heart was rechargeable in only the most technical sense. Left in the sun, the heart demanded the moon. Left in the moon, the heart demanded the wind. Later, the heart was in the chest, the head, the tips of the fingers. By means of various surgical techniques and dark rooms, by means of water and spooled wire, by means of a sudden and upward motion, the heart that was yours was not yours and then was yours again.


jwhit_photoJason Whitmarsh’s first book, Tomorrow’s Living Room, won the 2009 May Swenson prize. His second book, The Histories, is forthcoming from the Carnegie Mellon Poetry Series in early 2017. He lives in Seattle with his wife and children.