The Black River Chapbook Competition Winner


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ISBN: 978-1-62557-046-8
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Killing It

Publication Date: September 2022


Winner of the Spring 2021 Black River Chapbook Competition

Poet Gaia Rajan’s second short collection is a razor-sharp interrogation of queer Asian American identity, intergenerational trauma, and the detritus of American achievement. Here, lineage is at once redemptive and violent: “Sometimes / when people say I’m killing it I remember everything / exemplary I know or ever will traces back to a small girl / on the floor praying please, please, make them see me.”

In this steely gut-punch of a collection, Rajan’s speakers don’t flinch, even when confronted with their own dissolution. They haunt ghost towns and cheer on bank robbers; they wake in the middle of the night with visceral dreams of a centuries-old genocide, trying to remember “how to coax a howl to eat;” they grasp for myths sturdy enough to hold, emerging empty-handed and furious. Killing It is vibrant, disquieting, a collection that demands to be read with reverence and abandon.



Ghost Town, Ohio

Anything can be a spinning tire or anything can be a dead end
speckled with spit or anything can be a memorial
if you look hard enough. So I name this town, the hunger

of its dogs. I search for scuff marks on the statues,
take them as evidence of the living. Hear the rain against
an abandoned roof and think of the water

on my father’s hands ten years ago, his head bent in the sink
after a day at the hospital, scrubbing and scrubbing
until his skin dissolved. Like him,

I enter the horizon and promise to keep quiet. I circle
the map where my parents grew up, circle the town begging
for someone to reply. I bless the doe sleeping on the road

before I see she’s full of bullets. I whisper my name
in a church and call the echo my ancestor, angel
smacking her lips on the hard syllables. The dogs bark

but do not get up to beg. My father gave me
the posture of a guillotine, ready always
for the war years. I have an accent

in every language. This town doesn’t remember
it was once a town. My father on the phone
wants to know what I’m looking for.


Gaia Rajan’s Killing It deeply considers the ethics of poetic observation: “I worry that to be a poet is to sit and wait for beautiful things / to die. To exploit distance. To steal / flight.” With extraordinary narrative deftness, Rajan guides her reader from phantom water sounds trapped in a knee to the televangelical economy of Ohio with skillful, almost mathematical wordplay and uncanny insight. The speaker multiplies herself in order to gain some omniscient dimensionality, moving from “I” to “She” to “You,” all while exploring how modes of address position our vulnerabilities to our families, the outside world, a beloved, a sister, an ancestor, an editor, a stranger. Rajan understands the part she is meant to play and then gleefully destabilizes the crafted role, creating her own rituals. Of the speaker’s father, she writes: “Unlike him / I am a good man; every time I kill, I bury it.” The poems are not about distance or flight, then, but what is still holy about the proximate and the fallen, what we do with what has already been deemed damned.
—Megan Fernandes, author of Good Boys and The Kingdom and After

In her outstanding new chapbook Killing It, Gaia Rajan explores queerness and the overwhelm of outside reactions to that queerness. “I lived / in a narrow house where every night the ceiling / closed on me like a lid.” Throughout these surreal and vibrant poems, Rajan questions language’s relationship to death and violence, as well as her own relationship to language. In “Inside Every Poem You Can Hear Muffled Screams,” Rajan writes, “I worry that to be a poet / is to sit and wait for beautiful things // to die.” Rajan manages to fit an anthology’s worth of striking images into this chapbook, and I’m already aching to reread it.
—Paige Lewis, author of Space Struck

About the Author

Gaia Rajan

Gaia Rajan is the author of the chapbooks Moth Funerals (Glass Poetry Press, 2020) and Killing It (Black Lawrence Press, 2022). Her work is published or forthcoming in the 2022 Best of the Net anthology, The Kenyon Review, THRUSH, Split Lip Magazine, diode, Palette Poetry, and elsewhere. Gaia is an intern at Poets House, journal editor for Half Mystic, and web manager for Honey Literary. You can find her online at and @gaiarajan on Twitter and Instagram.

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