Clarifying the Disorder of Catastrophe: In Conversation with Poet/Playwright Dan O’Brien by Amanda Newell

Clarifying the Disorder of Catastrophe: In Conversation with Poet/Playwright Dan O’Brien by Amanda Newell
December 27, 2022 Newell Amanda

Clarifying the Disorder of Catastrophe: In Conversation with Poet/Playwright Dan O’Brien


My interview with poet and playwright Dan O’Brien took place over several months. I was interested in speaking to him about his hybrid poetry collection, Survivor’s Notebook, due out from Acre books later this year, and also how his work as a playwright informs his poetry. Over the course of our correspondence, I found that our conversation was less interview than it was, as Dan suggests, a kind of communing about the necessity of poetry, “the disasters we’re weathering,” and survival.

—Amanda Newell



AN: Your last poetry collection, Our Cancers (Acre Books 2021), was a lyrical exploration of you and your wife’s near simultaneous cancer diagnoses and the impact that had on your marriage and family. At the time of your wife’s diagnosis, your daughter wasn’t even two years old, which of course compounded the traumas associated with both your illnesses. In your introduction to the collection, you write that the “the consecutiveness of [your] personal disasters . . . was shattering and nearly silencing.” You also explain how your own individual traumas were connected to another disaster:


On the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11—a catastrophe we witnessed firsthand, our apartment on Water Street suffused with the World Trade Center’s carcinogenic dust–my wife discovered a lump in her breast. Six months after her double mastectomy, on the day of her final infusion of chemotherapy, I awoke from my colonoscopy procedure to some bad news of my own. My treatment would consist of intensive chemotherapy and two major surgeries over the next nine months.


Our Cancers is a sparse poetic sequence of 101 numbered fragments. Composed in tercets, there are often only one or two stressed syllables per line. Those stanzas sit on the outer edges of each page juxtaposed both against and within the white space of the page so that the white space feels outsized—but that’s the point, isn’t it? That white space is always there, lurking in the margins, reminding us of the very thing that threatens all of us and which is ultimately inescapable: our own absence.


If, as you have also said, composing Our Cancers was a way of “learning how to speak again,” your forthcoming fifth collection, Survivor’s Notebook (Acre Books, 2023) is perhaps a way of continuing that conversation. Reading the collection, I am immediately struck by how expansive it is in terms of scope, tone, and also by how the poems appear on the page.


As we prepared for this exchange, you described this collection as a memoir-in-prose-poem-sequence—and you have also incorporated some family photos into the manuscript. Since you are both a poet and playwright, I’d like to start by asking you to speak about how Survivor’s Notebook took shape and to what degree your experience as a playwright informed its construction.


DO: Thank you for such a generous introduction, Amanda. It’s a gift to have your clear-eyed perspective on both of these books, as the process of writing them hasn’t always been so self-aware, and it was certainly never premeditated. The poems in Our Cancers, yes, seemed to want to be fragmentary, minimalist and evocative of all that can’t be said surrounding the experience of a life-threatening illness. Your interpretation of the blank space of the page as ever-present and encompassing like our mortality is something I will be sure to borrow—giving credit to you, of course!


Like Our Cancers, this upcoming collection, Survivor’s Notebook, can be considered a hybrid with memoir, in that I’ve made no effort to create any fictional distance between myself and the voice of these poems. (The book is also of course a hybrid work as these are prose poems, and many of my photographs are included as well.) Anyway, this is me—perhaps me as the character of Me, of course, but still me, stumbling out of the seclusion and boredom and terror of my cancer treatment. It’s been my experience that trauma shatters identity, and in its aftermath we reconfigure and rewrite, as it were, the story of who we were and are and maybe will be. And this collection is my way of trying to do that. So these are poems of reemerging and reconnecting with people and places I knew before cancer; of revisiting memories that seemed to have something important to tell me about where I’ve been and where I was going; and lastly these are poems of new experience, engaging in the business of life with a heightened sense of joy (among other heightened senses). These are poems also about how trauma affects a family and a marriage, as my wife and I were grappling with our grief, anger, anxiety; and yet here we were, and are—both survivors. So there is astonishment and gratitude in these poems as well.


My double-life as a playwright is fundamental to how I think about writing poetry. I suppose I’ve always instinctively applied some dramaturgical notions to my poems, structuring them around the voice’s wants and needs and points of pivot, change, and insight—sometimes even catharsis. Prose poetry is probably not even the most “correct” term for what’s happening in this collection, as the poems flirt with a kind of hybrid with dramatic monologue. As I was returning from my convalescence I felt the need to write with a tension between introspection and conversation. The poems wanted to be chatty, confiding. They followed the tangled tracks of the mind-in-speech. This allowed the poems to be sometimes humorous and strange, in addition to possessing, perhaps, more expected qualities. And through it all I was listening for poetic rhythms and music within the pressurized “monologue box” of text. The process has been, in a certain respect, one of writing poems that are deceptively conversational, and of writing (one-sided) conversation that is, in its essence, at least to me, poetry.


I wonder if I might ask you some similar questions in relation to your chapbook I Will Pass Even to Acheron (Rattle, 2021). The overall project of radical empathy in this collection I found to be tremendously affecting. The poems are written about and for a former student of yours who lost his leg to an IED in Afghanistan. You’re a character in these poems yourself, as a witness and a help in his recovery. These poems made me reflect upon my relationship with the war reporter Paul Watson, the subject of two of my poetry collections—War Reporter and New Life. Did you think of the poems in your collection as “docupoetry”? How did you approach mining your experience and your student’s experience for the material of poetry? And what can poetry convey about your subject as opposed to prose or some other mode of expression?


AN: You’re turning the tables here! First, thank you for so closely reading my own work and for such kind words. Your questions, of course, are the very same ones I want to—and will—ask of you. I’m not sure I really thought of my poems as “docupoetry” at the time—I was not that self-aware, either, in the process of writing them. But I think that’s clearly what they are. Aside from facing the immediate tragedy of what happened to Adam, my student, I was interested in exploring how his story resonated with other war narratives, both real and imagined, in order to interrogate our cultural obsession with war, and the ways in which we are encouraged to, and do, buy into the mythology of war. I also felt it was important to examine my own role as witness from the perspective of teacher, mother, and writer—and to question what “stories” I was telling myself about war, about my own life, even about my motives for writing about Adam.


I actually think about your question quite a bit—what poetry can do that prose and other modes of expression cannot. No matter what I am writing, whether it’s prose or poetry, my primary motivation is to discover something about what’s true. And I’m not talking about what may be factually true. I’m interested in gaining insight about more existential truths, about emotional truths. In terms of my own writing, I think poetry has always been a way of approaching my subject matter sideways. However, in the wake of some devastating and very public family trauma over the course of the last year, I have found it nearly impossible to write poetry about it. I haven’t been able to write more than a line or two at a time—fragments, really.


But a few months ago, I started writing in blocks of prose and aligning my margins sort of arbitrarily to about 3 1/2 – 4 inches on the page, and that has been a productive form. I am beginning to think that’s what the subject matter requires. Because it is so overwhelming and fact intensive, perhaps it requires a more direct approach? Think anything Annie Ernaux, but especially Things Seen. So maybe it’s not so much a question of what one mode of writing can do that another cannot as it is a question of approach as well as personal temperament. The shorter prose blocks seem more manageable to me.


What about you? Do you necessarily know what, or how, you are writing when you sit down to face the page? Do you find the compression of prose poems does similar work as the container of the sonnet? I’m struck, for example, by the opening sentence of “Neighbors.” You write:


When we moved to Los Angeles I cold-called an agent in San Francisco who would die of breast cancer within a few years, asking for permission to write a play about her client, a shell-shocked war reporter; my wife was unemployed on account of the writers’ strike, so I was about to take a teaching gig in Wisconsin alone during a perpetually blizzarding “spring term”—but I’m getting ahead of myself.


Part of what I feel here, is the speed of the mind at work. I think the compression of the prose block certainly helps with that. It also draws attention to syntax, no? I mean, I really enjoy the length of the sentence, how the opening dependent clause sets up expectation that is delayed until the speaker realizes, in real time, that he’s getting ahead of himself.


DO: It’s interesting that your initial response to trauma, in terms of what you could write, was fragmentary, as this has been my experience. And it’s also interesting that you’re now able to explore your trauma in a compressed form of prose. I suspect this may be a common progression for many writers after shocking loss and change: collecting shards in the aftermath, then piecing things together as prose as we seek a new narrative. In both books, Our Cancers and Survivor’s Notebook, linguistic constraint has been crucial to my process. While writing Our Cancers I felt that the language ought to be distilled, almost to the breaking point of evaporation, the final effect being, perhaps, something like prayer or meditation. The prose poems of Survivor’s Notebook have been written with a pressure of constraint as well, but applied in tension with the urge to speak, to make stories, to make connections within myself and with the reader.


In response to your previous question, I don’t really like to know “what or how” I’m writing when I sit down to write. Many of these poems came to me in their roughest form when I wasn’t even sitting: I was walking, or running, or teaching my daughter to swim—trying to live my life again, trying to catch the meaning of the moment in the moment as it passed. But when I sit down at my desk I try to not know too much. I want the meaning of what I’m writing to be stumbled upon in the act, as it were. When I teach playwriting I’m always suggesting that playwrights do this: use dialogue and action to move toward moments of surprise, insight, danger (for the characters as well as for the writer); if these moments survive into your final draft, then they deserve to be there and they will most likely elicit in your audience the emotions and thoughts that you discovered as you wrote them. This is probably true in every genre of writing. The reader wants to absorb the high-wire risk of the improvisation of composition.


You say you’re working with blocks of prose now because the trauma you’re writing about “is so overwhelming and fact intensive”; this has been my instinct when I’ve been writing about Paul Watson. I wrote a play about him first, The Body of an American, and when I starting writing it I felt it needed to be a play-in-verse, written in ten-syllable lines that are frequently—only because they are close to conversational—iambic. I wasn’t trying to be lofty or classical; I was overwhelmed by the intensity and breadth of Watson’s decades-long career in war zones, and the ten-syllable line gave me a feeling of focus and control. It also forced a certain heightening of the language—and of the action, I’m sure. That play, as I mentioned, has spilled out into two poetry collections, a chamber opera, and a new play-in-process. In each case the compression of language was necessary in order to clarify the disorder of catastrophe; to find meaning, or truth, as you mention in relation to your poems about your student’s war trauma, even if that truth is only linguistic or theatrical beauty.


How do you relate to the idea of beauty when writing about pain? I’m thinking of your poem “Stoic”:


When I see how swollen and purple it is
and how the skin, like a film of dried glue,
stretches over the bones
of his foot—so clearly now not a foot,
curled as it is like a parenthesis,
already half-afterthought—I wonder if it would be
less painful if it crumbled
onto his white sheets like rain-soaked wood
since it’s just one limb
and no longer, he says, any good to him.


This is a beautiful, painful poem: e.g., “crumbled / onto his white sheets like rain-soaked wood.” Is the beauty of expression somehow compensatory for the pain? Is beauty simply woven in the fabric of the poetic? Do you find yourself consciously choosing to elevate or salvage trauma with language?


AN: I find it so interesting that you use the word, “salvage,” which means to save and/or rescue, and which also implies spiritual redemption. I suppose that is what we are doing when we write about any trauma: we are salvaging what we can of it, and in so doing, we bear witness to the pain. Or maybe it’s actually the other way around? By bearing witness, we are salvaging what we can of the actual experience of trauma, which is destructive by nature—it’s the shipwreck. Writing about the trauma certainly doesn’t make it go away, but I do think it is transformative precisely because, as you pointed out, it helps “to clarify the disorder of catastrophe.”


I’m not sure that the beauty of expression actually compensates for the pain. I’m not sure it’s meant to, or even that it should. I tend to think there is a redemptive quality to beauty, not unlike the interplay between the Apollonian and Dionysian in Greek tragedy. But that’s a little different than saying that beauty compensates for pain. What do you think? You’re the playwright, so I’m not going to embarrass myself by saying too much about the Greeks, here!


You know, some of the most beautiful, lyrical moments in Survivor’s Notebook occur when you are observing your daughter. In “Kite,” you write:


Sirens for somebody. A monarch on a string. Our daughter is racing
beneath its rippling tendrils. “This is the only day,” she reminds us.


I have a couple of observations. First, I again find myself admiring your syntax and how the simplicity of the declarative sentences matches the clarity and truth of her pronouncement. She returns throughout your book, both in prose and in the photographs you have included and is clearly a central figure. Could you speak to the importance of her role in this book and your recovery?


Second, to the extent that you’ve described many of the poems in your book  as hybrid/dramatic monologues, you have also interwoven lyric fragments like the one above throughout your book.  Encountering them as a reader feels a bit like unearthing from the sand a beautiful piece of sea glass. “Fragment,” for example, simply states:


The open parenthesis of birth


These lyric fragments—or shards—strike me as moments of unexpected insight, of beauty and mystery. I also think they do important connective work. How do you view them?


DO: I absolutely agree with you that “[w]riting about the trauma certainly doesn’t make it go away.” Though I do sometimes find myself believing in such a thing while I’m actually writing. Of course afterward, when I’m not writing, it’s clear that the trauma happened, and that I just have to do my best to make sense of it and carry it with me meaningfully in my life. Writing poetry about trauma, it seems to me, is a lot like exposure therapy for PTSD: by approaching the trauma repeatedly, via composition and revision, over time one learns to tolerate, to an extent, the disturbing thoughts, emotions, memories. I’ve found this to be true when I’m writing alone at my desk; once I’m reading the work in public, or if it’s a play then when I’m watching it with an audience, some of that desensitization flies out the window and the trauma feels as raw as it ever did. But then I remind myself that I’m writing about these distressing things in order to connect with people, to give others in a similar situation something like comfort, or solidarity, just as I have been buoyed by the poems, plays, stories, etc., of those who have tried to tell the truth about their struggles.


My daughter is in these poems because she’s at the heart of our story. She was so young when my wife and I were in treatment, as you’ve mentioned. And she’s been growing up fast in the years since our treatments ended. Many of the poems allude to keeping our trauma separate from her awareness—not wanting to burden her with fear or worry. But mostly she’s here in these poems for the joy she brings. It’s been a privilege to reawaken to our lives concurrently with her growing up, with her fundamental awakening to life. She’s nine now, a fact that astounds me. She’s been like our pole star. When we’ve felt overwhelmed by what we’ve been through, we have always returned to her, to finding beauty and purpose with her in the present moment.


As for the shorter, lyrical fragments, I’m glad they communicate to you what I hope they would: “unexpected,” yes; I hope they read like minor epiphanies, caught on the fly. Gifts from somewhere—the subconscious? I don’t know. As this collection is a kind of “notebook,” it felt appropriate that there be some variation between the poems that tell stories, the poems that confide conversationally, and these fragments that may be hard to define and categorize but that hopefully communicate something elusive and mysterious about survival and regeneration.


You have a three-line poem in Acheron that I’d like to spotlight here, as it’s an example of the power of brevity, as well as the poignancy of a young person’s attempt to understand war. The title is “Third-Grader’s Note to Adam Posted on the Wall of Room 438 East, Walter Reed”:


Dear Adam, I’m sorry
you ran over
a mine. They’re well hiden.


War and the adult challenges of living are hidden (or “hiden”) from most children—that is, until they grow and encounter—incrementally, hopefully, and often with surprise or shock—life’s cruelties and injustices. That this child knows instinctively to absolve the victim of blame is quite moving to me.


I wonder if we might wrap up our conversation with some thoughts about the process of writing one’s own trauma versus writing someone else’s. I’ve written a lot about Paul Watson, as I’ve mentioned, and I’ve written about my wife’s cancer experience (which is obviously close to writing about oneself). Your chapbook is focused on Adam’s story, so I’m wondering how you relate to the idea of “docu-poetry” (if you do)? In what ways is it easier to write about someone else’s catastrophe, and in what ways more difficult?


AN:  Well, first, I’m still thinking about how I think about beauty when writing about pain—in Gregory Orr’s Selected Books of the Beloved, from “The Book of Loss and Grief,” he writes, “Not to make loss beautiful/But to make loss the place/Where beauty starts.” That feels right to me. I am still so moved and astounded by the beauty of your daughter’s statement that “This is the only day”—because of course none of us is guaranteed tomorrow, or even the rest of today. You and your wife know this more than anyone, and your daughter knew it (and knows it) in such a deep way, even as you sought to shield her, as you say, from awareness of what was happening.


Your question about “docu-poetry” is a good one, and I’m assuming you mean it primarily in the sense of poetry as witness. I don’t know that writing about someone else’s trauma versus writing about one’s own is necessarily any easier or harder. There are just different considerations and challenges that go along with each, and that has a lot to do with how the writer is situated in relation to their subject. There is risk involved when you write about what happened to someone else—Adam’s story was not my story, and that is something I struggle with in some of the poems. At the same time, my connection to Adam was and is important, and it felt necessary to explore the ways in which what happened to him, and what happened and is happening to so many other veterans, reverberates outward in the community, and in ways we don’t fully appreciate.


Being able to write anything at all in the wake of profound loss and grief feels like an accomplishment to me these days. In a Plume reading recently, Daisy Fried made the observation—and I’m paraphrasing here—that grief is interesting when it’s not busy hammering you. It’s so true! I am also finding that with increasing temporal distance, I am able to sustain my focus on the page a bit more. It’s slow, but hopefully I’m moving closer to that place “[w]here beauty starts.”


What are your own thoughts about writing about one’s own trauma versus someone else’s? I’m wondering if you had—and have—the same kinds of concerns when writing about Paul Watson, perhaps a heightened awareness of your audience with respect to him, in particular? Also, do you think about audience differently when you’re writing a play versus when you are writing poetry?


DO: Writing about Paul Watson’s experiences in war zones was in some ways easier than writing about my own, more everyday trauma. Imagining him as a character, I could place myself in his place, wear his mask; I could take on the role of “Paul Watson” as an actor might. This experience was difficult for me, in many ways, but the mask afforded some protection. Because Paul Watson was not me, it was easier to “see” him as a character and to hear his voice. I agree that writing about someone else’s trauma requires a different set of ethical considerations: making sure that one’s subject is okay with the portrayal, to begin with. I had a unique experience with Paul in that he didn’t want to read my poems about him, or to see my plays about him, due to his PTSD. And yet over a period of many years he would share with me his thoughts and experiences, including the raw material of his audio and video recordings from Afghanistan and Syria, and elsewhere. Early on he chose to trust me, and because of that trust I have felt a great responsibility to consider and reconsider what I write about him.


When writing about myself there are limitations of course, but I have felt comfortable projecting myself as a character, and accepting that my character won’t necessarily be accurate in any objective sense. I use this character of myself as an opportunity to learn about myself, if possible. To make fun of myself, too. To invite vulnerability in the audience or the reader by risking my own vulnerability.


The question of “audience” for a poem versus a play is an interesting one. I don’t think too much about it in any conscious way, but in the background I know that a play tells its story in real time, visually and auditorily, to a large group of people. And my poems I suppose I imagine communicating one-on-one, via the imagined sound of the page, in a magazine or book that one can pick up and put down, etc. There are poetry readings, of course, which are public performances and therefore a kind of theatre-literature hybrid. But for me poetry is intimacy. Even if the overall goal is the same: to do what you and I have been doing here, Amanda, communing about the disasters we’re weathering, finding similarities and differences in our experiences and survival strategies, consoling each other and learning from each other. So thank you, again, for inviting me to have this conversation with you.


AN: And thank you, Dan, for joining me—for your insight, and for your generosity of spirit, which I know our readers will appreciate.



Early Morning


I know the way. The signs are fading. The mall is liquidating. The fire station sleeps. Then turning almost somnambulistically against traffic for the shortcut, I park above ground. Beneath laurel trees. Walk past the Afghan embassy. An old man in track pants is negotiating the stairs, the bandage on his head seeping. Security finds him charming. He sits by my side. “Up before the nurses.” He winks and I reply: “We must be in a hurry.” He’s my father’s age. I feel a twinge of rage that I am here too soon.





The first one cried for me as I embarked upon the retelling of my congenital complaints. Or was she sniffling for herself? remembering her first hurt—what had sat her there in that dark office. Was she crying for her life: divorce? death? I was nineteen and bone dry. So I never went back. The next one was, perhaps understandably, a decade later and she told me she dreamed of me. We were riding a tandem bicycle and I was having trouble pedaling and wouldn’t let her help me and wasn’t that revealing? I never once withdrew a single tissue from her well-positioned tissue box. In the dark office with the barred windows near Washington Square, her desk and coffee table crowded with books about S&M and nymphomania. Because I did not see with my own eyes my brother leaping from the attic window, she asked if it were possible it never happened? Maybe I misunderstood? She suspected my mother had poisoned our dogs. She saw a play of mine and in the lobby after seemed pleasantly disappointed. Then after my parents disowned me she reassured me: I would feel less obliterated, eventually, in about oh five to ten years. The next one helped; the dark office across Broadway from the Ed Sullivan Theater was more or less empty. Her specialty was anxiety, with skills honed at Bellevue. She was the first to inform me: “Your parents did not love you.” She looked unwell, almost translucent. I’d joke with myself: Is she a ghost? Will I arrive next week to find her dark office empty? “It’s been empty since 1997,” a janitor tells me, shushing his broom down the hall . . . Things speed up; I was moving around. A hippie in lengthy purple velveteen in Wisconsin in a building like a bank. In Beverly Hills a Tasmanian having an affair, I was certain, with my wife’s therapist, a sexist German. Another I barely remember save for the mirrored high-rise where we’d meet; all I could think about was earthquakes. The one who told me we were headed for a global plague and I laughed it off. Then the one I referred to as “Dr. Hands,” behind her back, of course, because whenever I spoke, which was most of every session, as it should be, she would stare at my hands. Alarmed, as if they were dripping with blood. I hypothesized she was researching a paper about “the camouflage of gesticulation,” or something like that, and I did begin to notice how frequently I was gesticulating to one side or the other as if pushing, arranging, isolating all of my psychic baggage in the crawlspace of my mind. I tried not to move. I meant to ask her what she saw in my hands, but I never got around to it. I was seeing her when my wife was undergoing chemotherapy. When I mentioned that I had symptoms too, she suggested I call a doctor, but I procrastinated and by the time I was diagnosed with my own cancer I was too ashamed to see her again. Now, I’ll agree there is an elephant in the dark office: so few of my therapists have been men. The truth is I distrust them, though I have tried. One asked me if my father had had any dreams and I’d no idea, and didn’t care, and he went on and on about his thwarted aspiration to be a jazz singer. He wore roller-blades in the dark office and grumbled about his wife. When I stopped calling he wrote a letter saying he hoped I wasn’t leaving therapy altogether, because it was clear I needed help. I never cried for any of them. I suppose I’m usually trying to make them cry. Today I need drugs, so I’m seeing a psychiatrist around my age. Who overresponds, as if making fun of me, could be sarcastically. She’s nervous. Maybe worrying that what has afflicted me will afflict her too? Has it already? She’s angular and ashen. Fragile-faced, exhausted. Saintly yet skeptical: she wants me to make certain I’m not denying myself the “occasional joy” (her words). She fills out my prescription, prints the invoice for insurance—eighty-five minutes will run me five hundred dollars—and as she moves from chair to desk I observe the palsy in her leg. MS? Or something she was born with? Her smartphone case is bubblegum pink so I think of her kids and a life she wisely keeps hidden.





When we moved to Los Angeles I cold-called an agent in San Francisco who would die of breast cancer within a few years, asking for permission to write a play about her client, a shell-shocked war reporter; my wife was unemployed on account of the writers’ strike, so I was about to take a teaching gig in Wisconsin alone during a perpetually blizzarding “spring term”—but I’m getting ahead of myself. That first fall I painted our screened-in porch an accidentally fecal brown and wrote out there at a scratched-up dining table (salvaged from a sidewalk in SoHo before our exodus), on a warped floor listing toward the neighbors, my plays about Henry James and Jesus Christ that no producer would ever touch with a ten-foot pole. And across the walkway was another apartment with a family inside: the pot-bellied father in boxers and sleeveless T, black knee-high socks like Willy Loman, a browbeaten wife like Linda slumping meekly contrite while her husband berated their teenaged son who struck me as autistic; it was hard to tell because I never saw him outside, never saw him do much of anything except play video games on their deep pile shag. My writing time was consistently interrupted by their commotion. I felt distressed, but also, if I’m honest, impressed by how the boy never seemed to care—even to notice the abuse. Maybe he was deaf? We moved. I haven’t thought about them in ages. Until this moment in our house where we wait and we shout and I wonder where they are, and if anything has changed.




Dan O’Brien is a poet, playwright, librettist, and essayist whose recognition includes a Guggenheim Fellowship in Drama and two PEN America Awards for Drama. In 2021 he published his fourth poetry collection, Our Cancers, with Acre Books, and an essay collection, A Story That Happens: On Playwriting, Childhood, & Other Traumas, with Dalkey Archive (US) and CB Editions (UK). His debut poetry collection, War Reporter, received the UK’s Fenton Aldeburgh Prize and was shortlisted for a Forward Prize. In 2023 he will publish a collection of prose poems, Survivor’s Notebook, with Acre Books, and a collection of plays, True Story: A Trilogy, with Dalkey Archive. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, actor and writer Jessica St. Clair, and their daughter Isobel.

Amanda Newell’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Baltimore Review, The Cimarron Review, Gargoyle, Rattle, Scoundrel Time and elsewhere. The recipient of scholarships or fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The Frost Place, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She also holds an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson’s program for writers.