When you’re writing about a writer as deft and decorated as Albuquerque’s Jennifer Givhan, the most sensible thing to do is to throw 10 ingredient words at her, and ask her to cook you something to put in the paper.
List of ingredients: home, entropy, headlessness, bravery, quantum, landscape, intersectionality, love, faith and doom. What she made us:
You’ve asked if everything tends [toward] entropy if in my head[lessness] my mothered faith[lessness] home breaks [open] a cactus-flower jeweled & seeded split in its center [to be loved] by bats & other night creatures one night per year where [we] feast where [we] doom our deserted landscape. Yes. At the quantum of us we are [ghosts]. We flash at the intersection[ality] with all the final[ity] of dying [stars]. Still. Be brave. The only end is end[lessness].
So, now you see why this (local? how?) author of three poetry books and three chapbooks has assembled the following staggering list of accolades: a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry; the Pleiades Editor’s Prize; a PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellowship; the Frost Place Latin@ Scholarship; the Lascaux Review Poetry Prize; and the Pinch Poetry Prize; the Dash Poetry Prize.
You see why poets’ poets such as Patricia Smith, Rigoberto González, Ada Limón and Monica Youn have swooned reading Givhan’s wordsmithery, why, while so many other poets prose-scream their mud-bound words at brewery walls, this one, this poet, this Mexican American mama from the Imperial Valley, with roots in the Laguna Pueblo, is star-falling her stratopheric words into the pages of Ploughshares, Poetry, TriQuarterly, Crazyhorse, Blackbird, Kenyon Review, Best New Poets, AGNI and Best of the Net. All while being a mom to two kids.
All while preparing to release two new books this year. Two.
The first of these is Rosa’s Einstein, which her publisher, the University of Arizona Press, describes as “a Latinx retelling of the Brothers Grimm’s Snow-White and Rose-Red, reevaluating border, identity, and immigration narratives through the unlikely amalgamation of physics and fairy tale.” It will be out in April.
The second is Trinity Sight, due in October, a novel the publisher, Blackstone Publishing, describes as being “rooted in indigenous oral-history traditions and contemporary apocalypse fiction,” that “asks readers to consider science versus faith and personal identity versus ancestral connection.”
There are flashier poets in town. Ones who perform and dress up and shake hands and become household names in all those households whose inhabitants believe in poetry. And then there is Givhan, who, with her MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson College, and her master’s in English from California State University Fulerton (where she got the Graduate Equity Fellowship) is much too much too busy writing and writing and writing, and raising children, and being Jenn Givhan, who says poetry as X-ray vision, looking at our insides through muscle and skin, tracing bone with pen.