Tag Archives: Shelley Puhak

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Shelley Puhak

On Having Sex, Grief-Stricken

Summer underfoot: toads,
vipers, adders and serpents,
even ambulances, and in
the eaves, chipmunks, and on
our napes, the rubber paw
of the attending.

Driving home, the car clings
to the yellow line and I will it
to cross over. You pull over
for gas, but can only beat
the car with the pump handle,
over and over, metal on metal.

And somehow—a hotel.
Easy-care earth-toned
bedding, claw-foot
in the corner. We can’t
look at one another.
I straddle you, sobbing.
I’m stunned our bodies
can still screw
together, the threads
can catch: what has
steeled in you winding
up into my wooden.

Poem first appeared in The Pinch (Spring 2012): 110.

Q: What is your writing process?
A: Phrases scribbled on the back of receipts, in the margins of grocery lists, or even texted to myself on my phone. Scraps underlined in scientific journals and the odd biography. Negotiations late late at night when the house is quiet until a draft emerges. Revisions early mornings with a cup of tea.  Many, many mornings.
Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?
A: Lately, I’m on a bit of a Sandra Beasely kick. And just this past week, I discovered both CA Conrad and Francesca Bell.
Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?
A: I’ve been lucky enough, over the course of my MFA, to have studied in Prague, Madrid, northern Italy, and, in the past year, participated in writing conferences in San Miguel and Edinburgh. I’d gladly go back to any of these spots (northern Italy would be first on the list).
If anyone wants to invite me along on a retreat, I’m game to go almost anywhere. But when my own budget allows, I want to strike out for an A-frame in the high Tatras, on the border between Slovakia and Poland. My people started just south and north of here, and I’m struck by its constant castle ruins and sudden canyons, its remote fields and forests, its incessant quiet.
Shelley Puhak is the author of Stalin in Aruba, winner of the 2010 Towson Prize for Literature, and the chapbook The Consolation of Fairy Tales, winner of the 2011 Stephen Dunn Prize in Poetry. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Stalin Gets Some Love

Shelley Puhak’s Stalin in Aruba was recently reviewed by Ashlie Kauffman for JMWW. Here are some of our favorite sections:

Reading Shelley Puhak’s Stalin in Aruba with snow on the ground and the temperature below-freezing certainly helps set the mood for the emotional landscape Puhak portrays: of Soviet winters and Siberian exile; of discoveries of men frozen in the Alps; of imagined lamentations for those who have died; and of the dead themselves lamenting. It also makes the deception of the title hit home—as what seems to suggest the fun and fantastical instead bravely lays way to the grim, biting, and disturbingly and deeply real…

…Mostly all of the poems are focused on character, making flesh and blood of symbols of the past, letting a reader enter their nursing-home rooms and dining rooms and take part in their birthday parties and suicides. The closeness this creates is voyeuristic and exhilarating, the reader joining the writer in being something like the secret police…

There are more great words of praise. You can read them all here.

Stalin in Aruba is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.


Is American Poetry Dead?

Anis Shivani asked exactly this question of a group of prominent poets including Black Lawrence Press author Shelley Puhak. You can read the Huffington Post article here.

Puhak’s collection of poems Stalin in Aruba is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.

Rarely Frivolous, A Consistently Engrossing Read

The good people at Neon have posted a new review of Stalin in Aruba by Shelley Puhak. Here are some of our favorite clips:

For someone for whom the word “historical” has always had connotations of “stuffy” and “boring”, historical fiction has held little interest. Therefore I was expecting Shelley Puhak’s recent chapbook Stalin In Aruba (published by Black Lawrence Press) to be a dull read. In actuality the collection is impressively strong, and conveys a surprising variety of depth and feeling…

…Although to some degree fictionalised, these poems are rarely frivolous. Puhak has done her research. A glance through the notes section reveals several annotations that are almost poems in themselves….

…For its unique texture Stalin In Aruba is a consistently engrossing read. This first collection is a confident debut by a quietly talented writer.

Thanks to Christopher Frost, who wrote the review. You can read it in its entirety here.

Stalin in Aruba is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.

National Poetry Month Wrap-Up

As April draws to a close, we’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the Black Lawrence Press authors who participated in our National Poetry Month feature:

David Rigsbee, “Pilot House
Marcela Sulak, “Pomelo With Fallen Angel
Shelley Puhak, “War
T.J. Beitelman, “The Inciting Incident
Laura McCullough, “The Ellisionist
Jason Tandon, “Work
Abayomi Animashaun, “A New Religion
Carol Guess, “Kicks
Joe Wilkins, “A Roadside Diner in Iowa
Lisa Fay Coutley, “In the Carnival of Breathing
Matthew Gavin Frank, “After Il Sergente Serbo e Sua Moglie
Michele Battiste, “Nobody Leaves
Katharine Rauk, “How Many Weeks are in a Day and How Many Years in a Month?
Brent Goodman, “Another Prayer
Stefi Weisburd, “Behind My Ear is a Little Palace in Broad Daylight
Larry Matsuda, “Arc de Triomphe, 2003 Invasion of Iraq
Sandra Kolankiewicz, “Winter Sonata
Frank Matagrano, “Waiting with Alexandria for Her Mom
Hayden Saunier, “Beach
Kevin Pilkington, “Milk
Michael Hemmingson, “Sedona
Erica Wright, “Reservoir
Keith Taylor, “At the Living Creche
James Reidel, “Ave Maria afarensis
Helen Marie Casey, “Mary Dyer’s Courtship
Brad Ricca, “Workshop
Daniele Pantano, “The Oldest Hands in the World
Julia Cohen, “Panic at My Wilderness
Rachel Galvin, “In Cambium Lucida

And most importantly, thank you to everyone who read, shared, and commented on these poems — you’ve made this event a big success!

Shelley Puhak Wins the Towson Prize!

Shelley Puhak, of Catonsville, Md., is the winner of the 2010 Towson University Prize for Literature. She received the $1,000 prize for her book of poems, Stalin in Aruba, published in 2009 by Black Lawrence Press.

Established in 1979 with a grant from Alice and Franklin Cooley, the Towson University Prize for Literature is awarded annually for a single book or book-length manuscript of fiction, poetry, drama or imaginative nonfiction by a Maryland writer. The prize is granted on the basis of literary and aesthetic excellence as determined by a panel of distinguished judges appointed by the university.

Stalin in Aruba—inhabited by popes and priests, dictators and daughters, Politburo wives and Nazi mistresses—explores how we resist and how we succumb to the banality of evil. Puhak says of her book, “I’m interested in the boundaries we create between ourselves and those involved in large-scale evil: we reassure ourselves that other people, people not at all like us, enabled the Holocaust, the Red Terror, the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides. What might we learn about ourselves if we eliminate that distance?”

Michael Downs, TU professor of English and a member of the Prize for Literature selection committee, described Puhak’s poems as “daring, pushing boundaries of subject, form, language and imagery. They bear re-reading, opening up more and more with each turn, and they never settle for easy truths.”

Stalin in Aruba is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Shelley Puhak


Who can stop thinking of the small things?
Dishes against sink,
small white feet against chilled linoleum,
pucker of scar against skin’s plate,
body against bed, against sleep.

It makes sense how we can live
with a thing like war
when we have been living
with our families so long.
Cards come only at Christmas
and Easter, wishing all the best
to fathers who die to punish their sons,
sons who keep on living
to spite their fathers,
daughters who curl up
in the car on the ride home
and don’t speak for hours.

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: I wish I could write a poem in a day! I tend to work on a poem in spurts and drag out the writing process. But I do remember one afternoon I spent revising this poem in early spring on a hand-me-down tweed couch with my cat curled up against me.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: Stefi Weisburd’s The Wind-Up Gods, which I just finished re-reading.

Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: A bottomless bowl of old school, made-from-scratch pirohy one June afternoon on a visit to Slovakia. Pirohy are boiled stuffed dumplings, fried in fresh butter (think Eastern European raviolis). My great-aunt in Slovakia mixed four different varieties together in a big bowl: potato and cheese, sauerkraut, apples and onions, and sweet jam. It tasted like childhood ought to: butter and dough, sharp and sweet.

Shelley Puhak’s poetry collection Stalin In Aruba is available for purchase from the Black Lawrence Press website.

Shelley Puhak in The Southeast Review

There’s a new(ish) interview with Shelley Puhak, author of Stalin in Aruba, over on The Southeast Review’s site. You can give it a read by following this link.

Stalin in Aruba is available from the Black Lawrence Press website and Amazon.

BLP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Black Lawrence Press will celebrate National Poetry Month by featuring a poem by one of our authors every day on the blog. Each poem will be accompanied by a short Q&A with the author. Participating authors include:

Abayomi Animashaun
Michele Battiste
T.J. Beitelman
Helen Marie Casey
Lisa Fay Coutley
Matthew Gavin Frank
Rachel Galvin
Brent Goodman
Carol Guess
Sandra Kolankiewicz
Frank Matagrano
Lawrance Matsuda
Laura McCullough
Kevin Pilkington
Shelley Puhak
Katharine Rauk
James Reidel
Brad Ricca
David Rigsbee
Hayden Saunier
Marcela Sulak
Jason Tandon
Keith Taylor
Stefi Weisburd
Joe Wilkins
Erica Wright

So be sure to check the BLP blog every day in the month of April for some great reading!

Favorite Poetry Book of 2009: Stalin in Aruba

OK, we know that “Favorite Books” lists got really played out at the end of December/beginning of January. But we don’t care. Why don’t we care? Because one of our books, Stalin in Aruba by Shelley Puhak, made it onto one of those lists. In fact, Ren Powell listed Stalin in Aruba as one of her top four favorite poetry books from 2009.

Stalin in Aruba is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.