Welcome back, Mary Biddinger!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired in 2020. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Mary Biddinger, author of the poetry collection Department of Elegy, which will be published in 2022. This will be Mary’s seventh title with Black Lawrence Press.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

The Author

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.


On Writing Department of Elegy

I was at work on an assortment of small poems about ordinary things. But then I also needed to say a number of goodbyes at once. What resulted was a series of poems that hope to pay tribute to the past and the now, if that is possible, waving to old friends and promising never to forget their stories. Imagine a ballroom filled with goths and ghosts, bulldozed childhood homes, amaretto sours, zippers and bandages, knuckle tattoos, yellow lilacs, a few cats in corners. Perhaps the best elegy is the one that sends you back to the dance floor for one more song.

I had the honor of sharing many of these poems with audiences from Saint Augustine to Portland, from Charleston to Kalamazoo, and many places in between. It almost seemed strange to collect these poems under one roof, since I had written them over the span of six years, but once I let them congregate, it felt right. Gratitude goes out to the Cleveland Arts Prize, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Florida Literary Arts Coalition, for their support. And perhaps most importantly, abundant thanks to Black Lawrence Press for believing in me and my poems.  



Occasionally I pine for a mild disaster
such as a really loud cough of thunder
followed by wind that tears the scarves
off the lawn, throws patio chairs around
and maybe a contaminated lake barfs up
some sensitive documents or a dead hog.
It’s hard not to scream in church, library
map rooms aren’t much better, or the ice
rink where music remains in 1982, nacho
machine on the brink of a calamitous fire
but somehow still producing its cheeses
which I will never be able to eat, thanks
to my ancestors who survived on boiled
stones and shags of grasses and sheep’s
dreams. Real excitement is a hidden bee
in a box of raspberries, putting the car in
a wrong gear, then gunning it. As a child
I had a placemat emblazoned with photos
of nine different types of scat. Sometimes
I recall it as I recline in the dentist’s chair,
pinned down by the lead vestments of joy.

Originally published in Psaltery & Lyre



She wanted to taste the fire inside the corn,
cried over photographs of other people’s cakes.
Once she punched a cake. Those memories
surface often, like a flood of bus stop pigeons.
She hoped to meet an owl before she died,
did nothing at all to further this agenda item
other than looking up. Curious about clocks,
she asked a lot of questions regarding their guts.
Was there an ocean inside them, for example.
How did the first craftsman know where to lodge
the quiet snore of gears? She asked for holy
water to be distilled down into an adhesive seal
that might ride the forehead all week long
the same way she tumbled her bike into hollows
and ravines regardless of weather. Little reek
of the river which was mostly things left behind.
Once she bit a tree. It was softer than expected.
The blossoms remained unchanged or fell like hail.

Originally published in Poetry




Once I figured out the coat was filled with feathers I couldn’t stop
thinking about it. Slid myself into a bright pond to reverse the burn.
Slipped a dental instrument into my pocket for later, ripping just
a peek of a hole, enough to get a sniff of feathers or a cheek-wisp.
I woke strikingly aware of my skeleton and how it was not at rest.
As I slept it pretended to sleep but really left and watched the moon
from our lawn like a restless neighbor. For the New Year, I vowed
I would cease sleeping on my arms. They were mad, and so was I.
Everything kept kicking me over as I crouched. Even the feathers
held a smell that didn’t belong to me or to the house: like eye drops
with a hint of melon rind. Typically I was a fine storyteller, yet now
hardly anyone stuck around long enough for a coffin to creak open.
When I plugged my nose I swore I heard the feathers next to bones
but seams were still intact, the zipper gleam a railway to my chin.

Originally published in The Adroit Journal