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The Black River Chapbook Competition Winner


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The Branches, the Axe, the Missing

Publication Date: May 2012


Winner of the Spring 2010 Black River Chapbook Competition

Some poetry strives to be more than poetry. And some, like this latest chapbook by Charlotte Pence, succeeds in such an attempt. Speculating on the beginning of language and communal living, this poeticanthropological sequence is as breathtaking in scope as it is in language. Pence’s unexpected imagery and varied forms shape our understanding of her father’s paranoid schizophrenia and homelessness in relation to our specie’s evolutionary story. This collection asks what was that first word we spoke? “We don’t know$$ one poem answers, “But we can speculate it was / Take / As in I Give this to you.”


“Charlotte Pence has written an exquisite narrative charged with lyric force that builds, section by section, into a work of understaed beauty and power.”

-John Skoyles

“In The Branches, the Axe, the Missing, Charlotte Pence goes beyond situating the personal within the contexts of science and history; she instead finely mortises the evolution of the human form with that of her own poetic form.”

-Claudia Emerson

“… A delightful and disturbing read. A flurry of allusions, of histories, of personal disasters, all of it lightened with insight and a sly, sexy humor.”

-Arthur Smith

“I love Charlotte Pence’s electric poems. There’s nothing like emotions under pressure so great they enter the heart like bullets, like water that lies quietly in a pool but leaps from a hose with a force that knocks down doors. Macduff trying not to weep for his slaughtered family, a Bernini statue that seems to want to speak, Keats’s odes: these flood me with joy. And Charlotte Pence’s poems, too.”

-David Kirby

“This poetry is dangerous in the way that we’ve always suspected poetry might be: poetry as truth-teller, poetry as seductress. There’s enough narrative to keep anyone who loves stories hooked; experimental spaces for the innovative reader to co-create in; fierce honesty that does not give way to any trend; lyricism that can be set to music. Once you’ve entered the silken tent of Charlotte Pence’s poetry, you will want to stay inside the intelligence and beauty for a long time, to resist the ordinary.”

-Marilyn Kallet

About the Author

Charlotte Pence

Charlotte Pence’s poetry merges the personal with the scientific. Her first book, Many Small Fires (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), received a Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award. The book explores her father’s chronic homelessness while simultaneously detailing the physiological changes that enabled humans to form cities, communities, and households. Director of the Stokes Center for Creative Writing, she is also the author of two award-winning poetry chapbooks and the editor of The Poetics of American Song Lyrics (University Press of Mississippi, 2012). In May of 2020, Black Lawrence will publish her next book titled Code. Pence is the recipient of awards and fellowships from the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Redden Fund, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Alvin H. Nielson Memorial Fund, the Discovered Voices Award, New Millennium Writing Award, and many others. New poems have recently been published in Epoch, Harvard Review, and The Southern Review.

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