Bethany Schultz Hurst
Winner of the 2021 Michael Waters Poetry Prize
Grappling with both motherhood and the death of a mother, Blueprint and Ruin explores the juxtaposition of prosperity and loss. Filled with cultural specters manifested in structural ruin—houses built on snake dens, malls with foundations in old landfills, a picture-perfect town designed to be eradicated in nuclear testing—the poems mine what’s buried beneath the façade of the American West.
“Through the relentless and inevitable lyricism of the poems in Bethany Schultz Hurst’s Blueprint and Ruin, the Earth is revealed to be the beautiful, glittering, cold entity we’ve always suspected. It is a place harmful to us only because we insist on plumbing its depths and bringing up the things that were never meant to be brought up—asbestos, mica, helium, oil—letting them into our hearts and lungs and every dark cavernous space we’re always so anxious to fill. While the storytelling in these poems transcends the figures that populate them, this story—of a family shaped by its mining town roots—is a story that Hurst can’t not write. As she says: ‘I tunnel in, headlamp flickering / on strata that’s been mined before.’ But this book is more than a compendium of planetary regrets. Through the power of obsessive writing, Hurst digs toward a place full of the vulnerability that ultimately brings our own humanness and the Earth’s earthiness that much closer: ‘what if ghosts / can only pour themselves // through whatever holes / have been worn through us // through whatever holes / we’ve bored into this world.’ Her poems brilliantly and chillingly locate that truth that so many of us are loathe to admit, that what we’ve excavated is all we have left.”
“Bethany Schultz Hurst’s Blueprint and Ruin caught me off guard. I had expected it to be good; I hadn’t expected it to be as magnificent as it is. I hadn’t expected to discover new favorite poems in it, like ‘Outlook Hazy, Try Again,’ one of the most profound ruminations on memory and the connections between people I’ve read in years, or ‘What Now Have You Been Eating,’ with its Dante-esque transformation of the beloved—in Hurst’s poem, a daughter—into a divine being: ‘and when I catch a glimpse / of something foreign inside / her mouth // I will find in there // the entire world.’ This is a book to be read for years, to be surprised by again and again.”
“Out of a toxic cloud, an abandoned mall, and a pile of decaying insulation, from shipwrecks, hazardous waste storage dumps, and glyphosate-saturated cornfields, emerges the indelible, intimate, shimmering lyricism of Bethany Schultz Hearst’s Blueprint and Ruin. I’m with her in her lonely freak-out as she wishes for a benevolent ghost to soothe her newborn. ‘Clearly, even someone / dead could be a better mother.’ I’m with her as the blade of her wit offers up extravagant apologies: ‘I’m sorry I did not stop by the cornfields to watch the solstice pour its light / through those half-buried Buicks arranged to mimic Stonehenge.’ I’m with her as she jams her face into the ridiculous spring flowers, as she listens for the bird-that-is-her-heart in her chest, hoping that ‘some song is surely spilling out.’ I’m with her, this ‘Queen of No Fun Anymore,’ this Queen of the American Now.”
“‘Prophetless, our next collective trick // is to vanish into dust,’ Bethany Schultz Hurst foretells in her dazzling and troublesome portrait of an America given over to abandoned mines and water parks, where ‘herds of bulldozers / instead of bison’ dot the landscape: ‘I am ashamed to have been so slow // to figure all this beauty… // constitutes / a disaster.’ Still, as she says of a mannequin in a deserted mall, ‘ruin / has made you extraordinary.’ Nabokovian in its empiricism and sly humor and Rilkean in its yearning (‘what is it I could call to / and be granted passage’), Blueprint and Ruin intimates music that ‘could be mistaken for a hymn’ in the ordinary wreckage of our lives.”