Self-Portrait with Crayon
Allison Benis White is the author of Small Porcelain Head, selected by Claudia Rankine for The Levis Prize in Poetry and named a finalist for the California Book Award and the PEN Center USA Literary Award. Her first book, Self-Portrait with Crayon, received the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Book Prize. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review,Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Her honors include the Indiana Review Poetry Prize, an Emerging Writers Fellowship from The Writer’s Center, and a Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside.
“A fugitive mother haunts these prose poems where absences are presences that ‘briefly in the air crown the shape of what is no longer there.’ Although Degas—another motherless child—provides conceptual armature for Allison Benis White’s portrayals, this book might be A Season in Hell for our times. Its descents, sudden and disorienting, exert enormous pressure; there’s a narcosis of the depths in the voice, a refusal of return to mere surfaces that echoes Rimbaud. Yet White’s poems are also intimate as a box of pins—bright sharps she pricks into the map of orphan-world, to mark each site of betrayal and bewilderment.” –Robert Hill Long
“An oblique conversation with Degas reigns throughout this collection of oddly heartbreaking pieces. Against the backdrop of his paintings and sketches, we find ourselves in an intimate world, coherent but uncanny, where private memory becomes inseparable from the culture we hold in common, and all of it just barely cracked open, riven by interstices through which we glimpse the vivid but unsayable. White has given us a truly exceptional first collection, deeply musical and intricately haunting.” –Cole Swensen
“I found myself thinking of Frost as I read these beautifully disturbing poems—‘The whole great enterprise of life, of the world, the great enterprise of our race, is our penetration into matter, deeper and deeper, carrying the spirit deeper into matter.’ Allison Benis White does just that, pulsing between a childlike wonder at the things of this world, and a seemingly hard-earned self-consciousness at the difficulty in naming them—in these poems a mother is missing, a God is to be feared, the snow is broken, and yet, ‘maybe this is enough: to lose.’ This is an amazing debut.” – Nick Flynn
Cleveland State University Poetry Center
White, Allison Benis, "Self-Portrait with Crayon" (2009). CSU Poetry Center Books. 82.