The Black River Chapbook Competition Winner


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Radio Silence

Publication Date: February 2016


Winner of the Fall 2014 Black River Chapbook Competition

Through vivid and sometimes startling image and music, Radio Silence turns absence into sound. The poems in this new collaborative collection by Philip Schaefer and Jeff Whitney come up against death and pursue its mysteries: its arrival, its damages, and its meaning for those on the periphery. This is a world where “orange trees rise / from the pockets of the dead, / where we burn / hornet nests and keep / watermelons in the well, / where ghosts have a way / of making themselves / found.”

This is a world that hinges on transitions-young boys crawling in the attic become old men opening wrinkled palms; a sky of magpies becomes a sky of crows. The result is a collection of stripped-down, urgent poems that make no clear boundary between the authors’ identities. From this liminal space emerges a third voice that is both and neither and something in-between. “In the forgetting / dark, we take off our names. We become / something like lightning, cracked bone.”


There is a silence as old

as silence. A dead blue jay

flat against a road, sewage

drain where its heart

used to metronome.

This story is a country

folding like a card table,

filled with cigarette burns

and blonde pillow hairs

from an old lover, sequins

along a pretty girl’s arms.

Trees collect kites, moons

swell inside other moons

like oysters unsnapping

beneath the charm of

a necklace, a sea of stars.

Think blood as the past life

of red. What is given and what

was taken. All we clamor for-

a shot at being happy,

a few wars to learn what

we love. The bar to be

as empty as the day it was full.


Philip Schaefer and Jeff Whitney have closed their eyes and listened: weathers, dance halls, bright-and-darkening towns…the blaze of certain silences, “flaring ghosts.” Radio Silence is an exquisite dream of transport.

-Joanna Klink, author of Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy and Raptus

In these collaborative emergency poems, Philip Schaefer and Jeff Whitney remind us that silence doesn’t need to be disconcerting, even “in the chop of a storm/only the future saw coming.” But Radio Silence doesn’t fill in the gaps in transmission. Instead it attends to what emerges from those gaps when one really listens: Silence becomes noise; noise becomes music; music becomes a message-an old friend saying the perfect next thing. “There is the giving and the taking and the taking/back” but what’s more there is what’s left over in the wake of disappearance, the afterglow of vanishment, the haunted present moment. These poems crackle with the notion that we are never alone, if we can only allow ourselves to pay attention (and participate!) with imagination and faith, in awe of the darkness and light that surrounds us.

-Matt Hart, author of Debacle Debacle and Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless

About the Authors

Philip Schaefer

Philip Schaefer is the author of three chapbooks. [Hideous] Miraculous is available from BOAAT Press, while Radio Silence (forthcoming 2016 from Black Lawrence Press) and Smokes Tones (available from Phantom Books) were co-written with poet Jeff Whitney. Individual work is out or due out in Thrush, Vinyl, The Cincinnati Review, Forklift Ohio, DIAGRAM, Sonora Review, H_NGM_N, Guernica and Hayden’s Ferry among others. He tends bar at a craft distillery in Missoula, where he received his MFA from the University of Montana.

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Jeff Whitney

Jeff Whitney is the author of The Tree With Lights In It (Thrush Press, 2015) as well as two other chapbooks. His poems have appeared in journals such as Beloit, BlackbirdCream City ReviewNarrative, Poetry NorthwestSalt Hill, and Verse Daily. He lives in Portland, where he teaches English.

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