Half-Hazard: Poems

Kristen Tracy (Project (Un)Popular: Totally Crushed) was raised Mormon in a small Idaho town, lost a brother and sister in their youth in separate car wrecks, worked her way up the academic graduate degree ladder and published a dozen young adult novels. Her remarkably accomplished first collection, Half-Hazard, is the winner of the Poetry Foundation's Emily Dickinson First Book Award for poets over 40. Tracy's personal pain and diligent ambition bring a good deal of ambivalence and perspective to poems that ring with the fresh sounds of a conversationalist and wordsmith. They are blunt, funny, tactile and alive with the wisdom of a woman old enough to know what she's doing--even when she doesn't. As she reflects in "Circus Youth," "My life was going by. Year. Cake. Year. Cake./ And no circus. No clowns.... Who handed me these knives/ to juggle? Who said everything was going to be fine?"

As her title suggests, these are poems about both life's hazards and its twists that turn out to be half this and half that. The poem from which the collection takes its title sings the refrain "Dangers here. Perils there," and concludes with the poet's role: "Endangered. Imperiled. And watch how it goes." Or this equivocation from "Field Lesson": "Lambs in the field. Chops on the plate.... The things/ we kiss good-bye make room for all we kiss hello."

The primarily formal poems of Half-Hazard not only inspire second thoughts, but also startle the ear and eye with fresh images and line breaks. Tracy doesn't miss a thing. Her poems capture the half-empty glass without flinching, but in the end, they come down on the side of half-full. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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