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Partial Genius

Publication Date: August 2019


What happens when you finally realize that you are really good, but only at unremarkable things? What value does memory hold when weighed against heavier commodities such as money and time and conventional beauty? The prose poems of Partial Genius build upon the form in a collective narrative, working in unison to craft a larger story. Post-youth and mid-epiphany, Partial Genius ponders the years spent waiting for reconciliation of past wrongs, the acknowledgment of former selves, and the desire to truly fit into one landscape or another.

Listen to Mary Biddinger read from PARTIAL GENIUS // Watch the captioned video on the Black Lawrence Press YouTube Channel


I love this book so much. A work of meticulous craft and profound originality, Mary Biddinger’s newest collection of prose poems is one of the best books I’ve read on our historical moment and the decades that led to it. PARTIAL GENIUS reads like a dossier of the psychological landscape of late capitalist America and the end of empire. In the tradition of John Ashbery, but wholly original in her own vision and voice, Biddinger draws from a deep well of poetic intellect and wit to illuminate the existential threats and imaginative possibilities of our collective self-destruction. In “The Subject Pool” the speaker watches a man tattoo AU COURANT around her thigh. The tattoo artist has no idea. Every poem is chock-full of revelations in every detail. Reading this book felt like sitting by the fire in some secret location with a double agent, smoking her pipe telling tales of all that went down right in front of our collective faces, while we were all driven to distraction by outrage. To paraphrase Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, She’s got it all in this book.

–Heather Derr-Smith

How many days since you began your last panic…?” Mary Biddinger asks in her latest collection. Quirky, imaginative, and wry in tone, PARTIAL GENIUS is a book that thwarts expectation, turns convention on its head, surprises and delights. Within a narrative scaffolded like a twisting stairway or maze-like hall, these fascinating poems feature high school reunions, job interviews, broken dioramas, and birth control pills; they showcase apologies, parlor games, and consolation prizes, intricacies, illusions, and tricks. Comfort is found in a bar of bathroom soap. An assistant manager wonders why a blazer is named for fire. A radio is implanted in the chest as a companion to the heart. Spheres of uncertainty juxtaposed against landscapes of failure create the book’s complex beauty and dangerous edge, as Biddinger claims, “The best part of figure skating was getting cut.” PARTIAL GENIUS comes to us as both a study of despair and a gleaming beacon of hope.

–Jennifer Militello

About the Author

Mary Biddinger

Mary Biddinger is the author of six full-length collections of poetry, most recently Partial Genius: Prose Poems. She teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Akron, and edits the Akron Series in Poetry for the University of Akron Press. Poems and flash fiction have recently appeared in The Adroit Journal, The Laurel Review, On the Seawall, Poetry, Southern Indiana Review, and Waxwing, among others. Biddinger has been the recipient of three Individual Excellence Awards from the Ohio Arts Council, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and the 2019 Mid-Career Cleveland Arts Prize in literature. Her current project is a flash fiction manuscript about the adventures of two graduate school roommates in late 1990s Chicago. Her seventh full-length collection of poems, Department of Elegy, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in early 2022.

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