Watermark, by Clayton T. Michaels, was the first-place winner of qarrtsiluni’s 2010 poetry chapbook contest, selected by Ken Lamberton. Read more at the announcement post.
Watermark was simultaneously published here; in a print edition published in collaboration with Phoenicia Publishing in Montreal; and in a qarrtsiluni podcast. Audio players also accompany each poem (if you can’t see them, you need to download Flash).
I was impressed by Watermark’s powerful, vivid images and surprising twists in the language, a sophisticated and intelligent — but not intellectual — use of language that moved me emotionally. It’s this kind of poetry that I find most gratifying; the kind that uses just the right salient concrete images to elicit an emotional response in me, though I may not necessarily understand why I have this response. Furthermore, the surprising juxtaposition of many images gives the poetry a wonderfully controlled surreal and mesmerizing quality.
—Ken Lamberton, judge, qarrtsiluni 2010 poetry chapbook contest
Clayton Michaels’ lines are absolutely spilling over with evidence of beauty and contradiction, a tension that in the end is Romantic, urgent, and wildly hopeful. The pathos he achieves reveals a self stunned into consciousness by the juxtapositions of dark and light the poet finds especially prevalent in music and film and the natural world. Narrative, sometimes conversational (but often full of jump-cuts and associative leaps), Michaels is the poet writing right now who feels as emotionally compelling and unpretentious as James Schuyler. His work is understated, intense, gorgeous, and very moving.
—David Dodd Lee, author of The Nervous Filaments
The images in Watermark are vivid and visceral; the writing superbly succinct; and that something extra — call it gravitas, call it cohesion — that makes a chapbook a work of art as well as a work of literature is present in each of these fine poems. I’m proud to know poems this fiercely intelligent are in the world.
—Pamela Johnson Parker, winner of the 2009 qarrtsiluni chapbook contest
Clayton Michaels’ poems have a way with words, whether it’s in the flow of a sentence or as standalone objects, whether it’s asking “What shape is the closest synonym for lonely?” or stating that chokecherry, though bitter, is “harmless, unlike kiss.” The startling figurative language, from a “Keith Richards death’s-head” to “we will learn to speak / in stones,” weaves humor, loss, and mystery, often in the space of a few lines. With its methamphetamine-selling bait-shops and its hallucinations of saints, Michaels’ unique America is a place I want to learn more about.
—Steven D. Schroeder, editor of Anti-