Sass Brown



Chosen by Adrienne Su as the winner of the 2014 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award. To purchase, visit Southern Illinois University Press, Amazon, or contact your local bookstore.

Early praise for USA-1000

Sass Brown is a poet of insatiable curiosity, sly wit, and a wry wisdom. Imagine Marianne Moore without her inhibitions, and you have an idea of Brown’s sensibility. Like Moore, she draws no distinction between high culture and what others would call kitsch. Hers is a world where the Archaeopteryx comingles with loads of laundry, where Barbies and Hallmark Cards give way to sleaze and more insidious consumerism, and—almost invariably—celebration gives way to elegy. It takes character and craft to describe a world so various and capacious, and Brown has plenty of both. USA-1000 is a scintillating collection by a poet of unusual promise.

—David Wojahn, author of Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems 1982–2004, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

USA-1000 is the number to call if you want to hear all about the sizzling longing at the heart of contemporary American life. Sass Brown, in wry, witty poems flavored with irony and lashed with sadness, knows all about loneliness and loss—how it insinuates itself under the cheerful banter on television, where "there’s so much / there’s almost nothing," and deflates the ordinary objects we depend on for comfort, the soaps, vacuum cleaners, lip glosses and black currant nectar we’ve been encouraged to buy. Brown’s voice in these rich poems is both comic and tender, and reveals the truth about our way of life—that a sweater can mimic an embrace, that a broken hairdryer can equal a broken heart.

—Maura Stanton, author of Immortal Sofa and winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award for Snow on Snow

Starting with a tongue-in-cheek update of Randall Jarrell’s post-mortem elegy The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, Brown’s whip-smart debut is also an elegy to an America whose once-glossy promise—hyped by now-defunct pop icons and faded movie posters—has failed its citizens. Combining humor with pathos, USA-1000 reflects upon lost fathers and fallen idols, ex-lovers, and an American commercial landscape that simultaneously exploits, celebrates, and dismisses young women. It’s a timely, even prescient debut, whose liveliness, humor, and readability belie its darkest undercurrents.

—Paisley Rekdal, author of Animal Eye, winner of the 2013 UNT Rilke Prize, and voted one of the five best poetry collections for 2012 by Publishers Weekly

USA-1000 is aptly named. The title sounds like the tour of a racecar, team, or rock band sponsored by an all-American commercially successful product. These poems make an album documenting the mind stream of a woman’s life in a contemporary colonized world. Brown calls it with her eyes wide open from the dynamic first poem Discarded, which sets in place the yearning for the “missing world” that will eventually emerge from the man-made destruction, to the last poem in which “want” makes a surprise exit. These poems purr with the power of the female vision in a domestic universe.

—Joy Harjo, winner of the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award and author of Crazy Brave

Sass Brown’s poems resonate with knowledge and experience, yet they retain an almost childlike desire for all things to have integrity, to be what they promised. Bridge of Flowers: Shelburne Falls, Mass. opens with one of life’s small betrayals: “I thought it would be made / of flowers.” Letter to the Better Business Bureau starts off: “This time it’s my hair dryer,” then quickly grows larger and more elemental than shoddy manufacturing. Brown’s steadfast refusal to be resigned to the distance between expectation and reality makes USA-1000 an affirmative, yet never sentimental, collection. Even in the face of great loss, such as a father’s untimely death, these poems move through life’s vicissitudes with a persistent, energetic willingness to hope.

—Adrienne Su, author of Living Quarters and Department Chair and Associate Professor of English at Dickinson College

Sass Brown ends her remarkable first book of poems by saying "There’s nothing in this world / I don’t want." Brown’s world is a world of many things, the world given us by commerce, movies, and television, but the book is a record of the distance, often unbridgeable, between wanting and getting. The speaker seems always negotiating the space between ordinary middle class existence and the eerie isolation that is its alternative, half in love with the “normality” she’s lost and half-relieved to be starring in a “Disappearing Act.” The world conjured here is a large one, teeming with life, elusive and funny in the same breath.

—Roger Mitchell, author of Lemon Peeled the Moment Before: New and Selected Poems 1967-2008 and former director of the MFA program at Indiana University–Bloomington