Grace Engine (Wisconsin Poetry Series) (Paperback)
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“Words carry the dead like henchmen,” in Joshua Burton’s extraordinary debut volume, Grace Engine. These spare and powerful poems are like pallbearers, like eulogists, like survivors, like battered souls hoping and dreaming for a future that may never be. Grappling head-on with the history of lynchings, mental illness, and the endurance of black bodies and psyches against impossible odds, Burton writes, “I spent so many years being afraid to be black, that now / I am only afraid of silence, / / or the silence that it brings.”
Burton experiments with spaces, absences, and forms in navigating the tensions between shame and accountability, guilt and forgiveness, to understand how one finds the ability to cope under the worst of conditions. With patience and ferocity, he delves into generational and familial trauma to question whether black strength is inherent to blackness and to build a mechanism to survive and heal.
I love all the dead,
both at the moment they unwed
themselves of shame
and before that.
—Excerpt from “Grace Engine”
About the Author
Joshua Burton is a poet and educator from Houston, Texas, and received his MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. He received the Honorable Mention for the 2018 Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize and was a 2020 Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing finalist. His work can be found in Mississippi Review, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus, and more.
“No poet I’ve worked with in forty years’ teaching has wowed me more with his talent & smarts & heart than young Joshua Burton. His first collection, Grace Engine, is destined to be this year’s star debut.”—Mary Karr
“One of the most compelling books I have read this year. But what does that mean? It means that we are invited to enter the landscape where the speaker's ‘been having / a different relationship / with ghosts.’ It means that history is a catastrophe but a grandmother can turn ‘looking into a language, a season / whittled down to degrees.’ It means that the empire corrodes but there is still music which these pages unearth and offer, as a consolation, perhaps, no as evidence: evidence that the soul lives despite the terror of this time. Because Burton knows that ‘wind from a mouth can coax the flame into living,’ Grace Engine is inconsolable and yet consoling. A very beautiful book.”—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa