2017 Iowa Poetry Prize
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“Lisa Wells tests the limits of any fix that religion, drugs, sex, or art might offer in order to “endure this/ apparatus.” Skillfully drawing on high art and pop culture, Wells tracks the development of self that comes with “Every day/ learning how little I know.” Line by line, Wells delivers a brilliant, taut, terrifying debut that renders the parts of the inner and outer world for which there is no real cure.”—Publishers Weekly starred review
“Full and luscious as a grape before wine-making or a moon before love-making, the poems in The Fix live in a roadside space that’s earthy, sensual, erotic, and wild. Lisa Wells writes by feel, shaping, kneading, and bending the line the way a potter builds a ceramic vessel from the bottom up, coiling around a central idea until it’s solid, visible, and ready to be marveled at.”—D. A. Powell
“The Fix is ruthless, sleepless, vigilant, obsessive: a profound work of mystery and matter, of power and pleasure, in which any singular truth is always just a step ahead, a bit beyond reach, below sight line. This new voice is so strange it sounds familiar, like family unforgivable or a lover who’s never over, or like a kind of food only grown on alien soil but that tastes disturbingly like your childhood. Here, every line is a surprise, a curve, a path this visionary poet cut just this moment for you to travel deep and emerge altered by this, her stark dark knowing. You’ll read this brilliant book again and again looking for the way back from it.”—Brenda Shaughnessy, judge, Iowa Poetry Prize
“Wells has shaped The Fix to indicate a pivot point, a leaving-behind for uncertain destinations. . . This is a poetry struggling to peer at what may be coming into view, but also re-estimating the worth of materials collected thus far. Her self-narratives comprise a hybrid of the residue of experience and propelled myth, as if neither memory nor archetype alone are sufficient to offer explanations. A sort of toneless self, created from scratch on the page, allows personal history to merge with cultural sprawl, and a third thing is born from language pared to the bone.”—Ron Slate
“The Fix is perfectly executed. It’s always poetry, yet it never strains to be poetry. It’s flush with nervous and yet confidently directed energy. Its most striking moments are never haphazard, but are surprising and indelible. It doesn’t read like a first book, it reads like a book for life.”—Shane McCrae, author, In the Language of My Captor
“Lisa Wells knows all too well that a fix is just a habitual stay against the moment’s decay, and in these corporeal poems equal parts binge and purge, one can only wonder what rough bitch slouches down low to be reborn in a Paradise as dirty and comfy as a trucker’s blown rig.”—Timothy Liu
Proceeding from Hélène Cixous’s charge to “kill the false woman who is preventing the live one from breathing,” The Fix forges that woman’s reckoning with her violent past, with her sexuality, and with a future unmoored from the trappings of domestic life. These poems of lyric beauty and unflinching candor negotiate the terrain of contradictory desire—often to darkly comedic effect. In encounters with strangers in dive bars and on highway shoulders, and through ekphrastic engagement with visionaries like William Blake, José Clemente Orozco, and the Talking Heads, this book seeks the real beneath the dissembling surface. Here, nothing is fixed, but grace arrives by diving into the complicated past in order to find a way to live, now.
“Woman Seated with Thighs Apart”
Often I am permitted to return to this kitchen
tipsy, pinned to the fridge, to the precise
instant the kiss smashed in.
When the jaws of night are grinding
and the double bed is half asleep
the snore beside me syncs
to the traffic light, pulsing red, ragged up
in the linen curtain.
I leak such solicitous sighs
to asphalt, slicked with black ice, high beams speed
over my body whole
while the drugstore weeps its remedy
in strident neon throbs—
I doubt I’ll make it out.
It’s a cold country. It’s the sting of quarantine.
It’s my own two hands working
deep inside the sheets.