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Winner of 2005 Benjamin Saltman Award

Sparrows. Migration. Borders. Bodies. Blurring languages and metamorphising landscapes.


In Histories of Bodies, Mariko Nagai traces the memory of loss, grief, death and family, seeking to define love in its multifaceted manifestations, each definition shifting, taking flight, then landing, only to be exiled out of the origin. From New York to Amsterdam to Boston to Tokyo, each landscape, whether temporal or  imaginary, is rendered out of memory, then wrought into unsettling language of sorrow. In these poems, the world is consistently shifting, and what remains, at the end, is the temporary migration of a sparrow, suddenly landing, then disappearing into the urban landscape.

Winner of the 2005 Benjamin Saltman Award, with judges James Ragan and Alicia Ostriker. Mariko Nagai's Histories of Bodies carries the reader from the self to blossoms on the water, back through desire to the motel room alone where we lie alone. "We are no more closer to where we started from," she says. It is a collection written in layers. Layers of memory, of beauty, of loss. This is the first Benjamin Saltman Award winner by a writer from outside the United States. Nagai is Japanese, yet her poetry enters China, Japan, summer, winter and loneliness. It is a poem that takes a breath of clear air and gives it back in language, very clean and transparent with the sun shining through to the lines which should be invisible but aren't.

Histories of Bodies is a superb collection. Mariko Nagai creates a richly evocative voice that is both immediate and reflective, connecting the transforming powers of memory with the deep seeds of family identity. As in her exquisite poem "Cranes," there is a hunger for touch, a sense of connecting all identities, both uniquely personal and those in nature, to a "brotherhood of similarity." I have read these intensely perceptive poems with a sense of discovery and delight. --James Ragan

In Mariko Nagai's writing, intensely charged material is controlled by a remarkable poetic intelligence that works through intimacy into something far larger, a kind of apprehension of the powers of the world. Starting from a position that is close to Sharon Olds, she ventures into broader areas closer to Celan's and Lowell's, the words and rhythms firm yet exploratory. Already the winner of important prizes she has the scope of a potential major poet. --George Szirtes

Winner of the 2005 Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award

Published by Red Hen Press, 2007

histories of bodies: poems (2007)

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