The Black River Chapbook Competition Winner


Publication Date: February 2018


Winner of the Fall 2016 Black River Chapbook Competition

In Reddy’s south Louisiana, gods, saints, and sibyls walk among us. Set against the approach and aftermath of a hurricane, Acadiana‘s swamps and bayous are liminal spaces where the boundaries between this world and the next, between comfort and catastrophe, are porous. In this sometimes lyrical and sometimes sinister polyvocal collection, the sibyls’ oracular voices foretell the approach of the storm and the disaster it leaves in its wake; before her death, the folk-saint Saint Charlene whispers her last invocation to the Lord she can no longer hear; a girl tells the story of being momentarily possessed by the Holy Spirit; and Saint Catherine sits in a lawn chair before a storm, reading the sky for signs: “The sky’s a still and cloudless blue / and tells us nothing. Only certain birds // can guide us. They do not appear.”

By placing the rituals of Catholic faith alongside ancient practices like augury and divination, these poems ask about the role of ritual and faith in warding off and making sense of disasters, both natural and man-made. The collection closes with the stark, oracular pronouncement of the sibyls, after the storm: “Saved and spared are different / and you will learn that now.”


We’re out back in our lawn chairs under the carport
when the air drops and thins as before the storm
that’s said will break us. We divide the sky

into four regions and watch for signs.
As the red dog’s fur sends smoke skyward
to whatever gods may still watch over us,

I sprinkle holy water along the fence posts, place
the blessed palms along the shuttered windows
and above the doorframes. I make of matches a cross

and light them quick to stop the rain.
The sky’s a still and cloudless blue
and tells us nothing. Only certain birds

can guide us. They do not appear.


The poems in Nancy Reddy’s ACADIANA explore the disaster-ravaged Louisiana landscape that exists in “the space of / after.” Ranging in location from the bayous to the levees to the I-10 expressway that cuts through the state, Reddy’s poems meditate on the wreckage of the Gulf Coast and give us its story through the voices of women. How do we live now, she asks in the poem “The Thibodeaux Girl Speaks, After,” “with levees and spillways that hold the river / to its shores, with water / rising yearly in the gulf”? Reddy’s poems reckon with these large questions with eloquence and urgency.


In Nancy Reddy’s ACADIANA, myths walk among us; their favor and their disdain are equally damaging. A woman whom “the god has loved, however briefly” is “sun-split,” and fit now only for prophesy. A sleeping girl might be “still unharmed,” but harm, we know, is coming. These women and girls, touched by the disastrous divine, transform from mortals to sybils and back again, speaking truth with all the destructive power of a storm. Reddy says, “The wrong gods/roar into our lungs now” but doesn’t tell us which ones are the right ones. She knows there is no easy answer.

—Rebecca Hazelton, author of FAIR COPY and VOW

It is Nancy Reddy’s brilliance in ACADIANA to render the natural beauty and hostility of the Louisiana swamp in all its humid detail, while at the same time writing myths that transcend the bayou. These poems resound with zydeco and the howl of hurricanes, but it’s the incantatory rhythms of sibyls and sirens that lead us from mystery to mystery. Here the gods—violent, alluring, electric with unspeakable passions—are never more than a storm, a spell, a spark away.

—George David Clark, author of REVEILLE

The poems in Nancy Reddy’s ACADIANA are brewing with storms & spells, with “swamp teeth,” sirens, sibyls, & sin. The soundtrack is made of wails, howls, screams, & weeping from women, prophets, & gods. These poems are poems of transfixion, tongues, and transformation; girls become women, women become birds, & birds swoop down to eat children. There is no mercy here, just the flooded landscape of sorrow. Reddy teaches us what new & broken worlds sound like, how to make music out of ruin, and how to navigate “the space of / after.” ACADIANA will touch and leave you like a god—unharmed, but gasping.


About the Author

© Nicole Graziano

Nancy Reddy

Nancy Reddy is the author of Double Jinx (Milkweed Editions, 2015), a 2014 winner of the National Poetry Series. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, BlackbirdThe Iowa Review, Smartish Pace, and elsewhere. The recipient of a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and grants from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, she teaches writing at Stockton University in southern New Jersey.

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