Winner of The 2022 Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize, selected by Taylor Johnson.
J. L. Conrad’s Recovery inhabits a dreamscape filled with fragments of conversation, remembered loved ones, and the profound disorientation that accompanies loss. Written over the span of a week, this poetic sequence invites us to imagine how a body flooded with grief or physical pain becomes self-identified with these sensations: a takeover that Elaine Scarry describes as annihilation, blurring “all that is inside and outside” and knotting them together. If grief is an unreality that parallels dreams—this doesn’t feel real—then poetry, with its heightened awareness, is what brings us back to the world outside the body. The incantatory poems in this sequence offer a way of moving beyond the self at a time when the only way through is through. Or, in the words that Shoshana Felman offers about Paul Celan’s poetry, “To seek reality is both to set out to explore the injury inflicted by it—to turn back on, and try to penetrate, the state of being stricken, wounded by reality [wirklichkeitswund]—and to attempt, at the same time, to reemerge from the paralysis of this state, to engage reality [Wirklichkeitsuchend] as an advent, a movement, and as a vital, critical necessity of moving on.” As Conrad’s poetry provides glimpses into questions of human frailty, loss, and sentience itself, the speaker in Recovery looks not for transcendence but embraces a body marked and wounded, a body trailing ghosts. ... From “Recovery” In my dream we were in a tree and we were suffering. In this case,
suffering with could not alleviate suffering. It proved impossible to overlook
the pits in our stomachs.
The car lurched forward, into the knees of the pedestrian, the line of pilgrims.
About the Author
J. L. CONRAD is the author of the full-length poetry collection A Cartography of Birds and the chapbook Not If But When. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Pleiades, Jellyfish, Sugar House Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and you can find her on the web at www.jlconrad.com.
“‘The lungs are the seat of grief,’ J. L. Conrad’s Recovery begins. I see this brilliant sequence demonstrating a similar process—of flux and transformation, of expansion and contraction, of taking in and letting go—as our speaker embarks on a new journey in the wake of loss. I admire the way Conrad manipulates language to compose and recompose a scene, reminding me of Simone Weil’s declaration that ‘absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.’ These poems skillfully pair the surreal—the wish-fulfillment and diorama-building of dreams—with remnants of the everyday. They turn, they stumble, they play sleight of hand, they startle us awake. With a lyrical vision so precise it reaches wildness, Recovery opens up new realities in the aftermath of loss.” —Gale Marie Thompson
“J. L. Conrad’s Recovery is a Bachelardian exploration of interior space, in particular the doors and walls that lie between dream, memory, and experience. It is also a chronicle of grief, the way deep grief enters the house of self like a draft or a scent and lodges: without our consent, of course, but there is something sibling-like in its presence, a relation we all share to loss. These are luminous poems, dealt out like cards on an oak table in autumn sunlight.” —G. C. Waldrep