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Chelsea Wagenaar

Winner of the 2018 Michael Waters Poetry Prize

The Spinning Place considers the body as the origin of ecstasy and agony, revealing how language—its possibilities and limits—bridges us to one another, but also shatters intimacy. The collection’s three sections examine origin, exile, and the reconciliation of praise and sorrow with lyric precision and the heart of storytelling. The poems ask us to behold the ordinary astonishment of birth, motherhood, and faith: to witness the everyday as though it were sacred.

“Chelsea Wagenaar’s gorgeous new collection, The Spinning Place, examines the body’s gifts and fragilities alongside language’s failure to give a name to our singular experiences. Full of delivery room sacraments, lullabies, bedtime rituals, and stories too true to finish, these poems intimate familial connection and the way words are perhaps not necessary—how sound without meaning can draw someone closer. Wagenaar revives experiences I know but makes language new again, transforming nouns into verbs and giving the body ways to speak, ways for hands to measure the height of sorrow, ways for wounds to have breath enough to sing.”

-Traci Brimhall

“Chelsea Wagenaar’s The Spinning Place excavates an essential question of poetry: How do we express the ineffable? ‘How do we live / what we cannot say?’ What is the word for ‘alluvial silt of tea still warm in the porcelain’? Her high music permeates this collection from everyday objects to the close-mortal, where she collapses battles, stadiums, and classrooms in a wonderfully disjunctive thrall: ‘They absolve midterm dates, / cancel Gettysburg, erode the ribs / of the human skeleton. / They unstack the kindling / of the music staff, halve the half notes, / unconjugate cantar.’ Wagenaar’s ‘primal chorus’ of witness brings poetry back to what matters.”

-Mark Irwin

“Perhaps not since Elizabeth Spires’s Worldling (1995) has a poet written a book about motherhood so eloquent and full of feeling as Chelsea Wagenaar’s The Spinning Place—the womb in which the child turns and stirs, our planet and the means (bicycle spokes, boat propellers) by which we traverse it, and especially the source of language spun toward meaning. ‘If our experience flows through the current / of language,’ Wagenaar asks, ‘then how do we live / what we cannot say?’ Always searching for the precise word to describe her connection to her daughter, her daughter’s connection to the world and, by extension, our connections to each other, Wagenaar moves warily but affirmatively forward, ‘always singing // what we cannot change.’ The Spinning Place pulls us into its orbit through the pleasures and mysteries of its making.”

-Michael Waters

Read sample poems...

Read Amie Whittemore's interview with Chelsea...

The Spinning Place cover artist is Deedra Ludwig.