Welcome, Jeanann Verlee!

During the month of June, we are celebrating the authors that came to us during our last open reading period. Today we bring you Jeanann Verlee, author of the poetry collection prey, which is due out in August of 2018.

The Author

nathan, Jeanann Verlee HarrisJeanann Verlee is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow and the author of three books of poetry: prey (Black Lawrence, 2018), first runner-up for the 2016 Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award; Said the Manic to the Muse (Write Bloody, 2015); and Racing Hummingbirds (Write Bloody, 2010), silver medal winner in the Independent Publisher Book Awards. She is a recipient of the Third Coast Poetry Prize and the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry, and her work appears in Adroit, The Journal, Rattle, and Yemassee, among others. Verlee has served as poetry editor for a number of publications, including Union Station Magazine and Winter Tangerine Review: Fragments of Persephone, and as copy editor for multiple individual collections. For seven years, she was director of the Urbana Poetry Slam reading series and she continues to perform and facilitate workshops at schools, theatres, libraries, bookstores, and dive bars across North America. Verlee collects tattoos and kisses Rottweilers. She believes in you. Find her at jeanannverlee.com.

Author Photo: Jonathan Saunders


On writing prey

I did not intend to write this book. In the aftermath of sexual assault, I began writing—as I have often done—to process the trauma for myself, for clarity. I wrote poems. Lyrical essays. Critical social and political analyses. Poems. Poems. Eventually, I had drafted a chapbook-length collection and thought, perhaps, to be done with it. To move the poems (and thereby, the event) off my shoulders (as if such trauma can be so easily relinquished).
However, as I labored, I knew I was evading a much larger and more daunting truth: I have known and survived a litany of predators. And I am not alone. The more I examined my own experiences in the context of predation, and through innumerable other survivors’ stories I encountered through advocacy work, the more I came to truly understand its pervasiveness. It is epidemic. And its ramifications—both individually and culturally—are boundless.
So what then to do? Face it. Name it. Write it. In my ever-pressing drive to honor survivors’ truths and to shift focus from victim-blame to abuser-blame, I decided to address my own varied and sordid stories. To give them a space to exist outside of my shame. To voice that which I have continually silenced. From this, prey took form. Drawing parallels between human and non-human predators, this collection examines predatory relationships from childhood onward, striving to illuminate the trauma of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse—exploring what it is to become prey.


Ode to My Mother’s Backhand
I loved, as a girl, to help paint your nails,
their perfect almond curve. Longed
for the same smooth knuckles, mimicked
the ritual of cream. I cannot forget the heavy,
honeyed scent you left behind. My elbows,
shoulders—the oily film remaining
after grab and shove. Effortlessly softening
the cruelty of any mood. O dainty left,
clattering with hand-me-down gold,
how I coveted your pitch, your reel.
The sharp bite of your angles. Sensuous
fingering of a cigarette, rocks glass.
Studied you, wrist-deep in the raw mash
of meat, egg, catsup, watered bread;
the whole-hand crush of canned tomatoes;
petite fork-whisk of powdered sugar into milk.
Eucalyptus rub on my congested chest,
your gentle swipe of tears, the intricate fold
and knotting of braids. How, I’m sure,
some part of me remembers your lift of breast
to my infant mouth, calm stroke of my hairless
scalp, the bath, the swaddling after.
Such precision, even in beer-battered rage,
to spin my jaw in whichever direction called.
The hot red blossoms you lured to my cheeks.
Shrill crash of a vase knocked from its shelf,
bowl of cereal struck from my hands.
The blood-tooth launched skyward.
O commander of attention, how I’d seize
at your slow rise from across a room.
Such power. A noiseless siren
wailing, I will come for you, child.
——-Originally published at BuzzFeed Reader——-
Secret Written from inside a Lion’s Mouth
Most days, I stayed quiet as a hunted thing.
Shadowed. Full of worry.
I worried my own rabid hands.
Worried my feral mouth,
my hammering heart, its wildest.
I worried, too, his vodka-sharp tongue.
His unlatched wrath.
I worried, of course, for his joy, his honor.
Fears. Triumphs. Also, his rogue.
But I was rogue, too.
I worried myself mad.
Whispered through each day
cautious as a skittery hooved creature.
Scrubbed. Mended. Served his meals. Nodded.
In this way, we had peace.
I worried most that the worry* would be what finally
did us in. Its slow flame. Me, a tinderbox.
* “The lion and the calf shall lie down together but the calf won’t get much sleep.” (Woody Allen, “The Scrolls,” The New Republic, 1974.)
——-Originally published in Women’s Studies Quarterly——-
Meditation on a Poem about Glass Embedded in the Scalp after a Car Accident
“You live through all of it, the impact,
The moment absorbed in the body”
            —Luke Bauerlein
The poet writes about shards,
how his body kept them, skin
grew over and eventually released
the bits back into the world, something
foreign and useless, and I am
familiar with the effect, having
picked the itchy glass of a Nissan
from my own elbow as a child,
a full year after the Lincoln sped head-on
into our lane, and it isn’t very
different, or different at all,
from how I wake at 3:06 a.m.
every day though it’s been
over three years and his shadow
still rides the length of my body
as if it now belongs to me, how
my skin took in and grew over
his violence and now spits it back
out in small fragments each time
a man stands too close on the subway.
——-Originally published at Muzzle Magazine——-