Winner, 2020 Miller Williams Poetry Prize
In this long poem—almost a novel-in-verse—Jayson Iwen examines the intimate thoughts and feelings of two would-be poets: Roze Mertha, a teenage girl growing up in a trailer park, and William Blud, a veteran navigating age and loneliness in an apartment he shares with an Afghan refugee. Deftly crafting distinct voices for these characters in the upper midwestern terrain they inhabit, Iwen explores the quiet heartbreak and tenderly treasured experiences of two apparently unremarkable people using poetry to understand a world that doesn’t make much space for them.
Supported by the Miller and Lucinda Williams Poetry Fund.
“When I first encountered the story poems of Roze & Blud, I didn’t know what to think, but the shock of recognition I felt when listening to its working-class speakers, the joy—and envy—I felt hearing them speak, believing and not believing that Iwen could craft beauty, create mystery, and evoke genuine wonder from the stuff of these peoples’ lives! Well, it made this working-class-girl-turned-poet weep with happiness, with sorrow over what should have been for Iwen’s characters, and most of all, it renewed my faith in the heart and art of poetry.”
—Kathy Fagan, author of Sycamore
“Roze & Blud is a dialogue of body and soul in gendered and sexual longing, sometimes bitter-funny bildungsroman, ‘silently bleeding in World History,’ then increasingly PTSD humans-compelling-themselves-to-live. Jayson Iwen brings a voice like W. H. Auden’s into trailer parks, war-torn grief, and human love in bodies that are ‘soft beds / where bullets went to sleep.’ A seriously delicate range of sorrowing beauties—and a hard look at America’s state—rage in this tender book.”
—Lisa Samuels, author of The Long White Cloud of Unknowing
“The poems in Roze & Blud so clearly capture life in the Twin Ports that the characters within them seem to be manifestations of the place itself. Roze Mertha and William Blud rise up, poem by poem, remarkable as people and the perfect vessels to deliver Iwen’s profound philosophies. The great discoveries here feel effortless in the presence of these two, Roze and William, two of the ‘Earth’s / many selves, rushing forward into life.’”
—Ryan Vine, author of To Keep Him Hidden and Distant Engines
“Jayson Iwen’s work travels time and distance, and he navigates sorrow and joy, longing and regret, and passion and its extinguishment. Even in the stupid waste of war, even if the living is like dying, even in the exhausting fights, and even in the abandonments and fears of going crazy, Iwen captures a lucid and lasting beauty. It is in the balance, in the between places, and in the gaps that his writing reaches the sublime.”
—Sheila Packa, author of Echo & Lighting, Cloud Birds, and Night Train Red Dust
“Roze & Blud is a study in containment and explosion, as two modern-day, working-class visionaries share their dreams and nightmares of life in the American Midwest. Iwen captures sweet despair and a sense of having traveled, in aloneness, common ground.”
—Julie Gard, author of Home Studies and Scrap: On Louise Nevelson