Cleveland State University

Poetry Center

Self-Portrait with Crayon
poems by Allison Benis White

Congratulations to Allison Benis White, whose collection, Self-Portrait with Crayon has been named one of the Best Selling Poetry Books for May by SPD, Small Press Distribution! Click here to see more.

Winner of the 2008 Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize, selected by Robert Hill Long
Click here to see an interview with Allison Benis White

“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, author of Ours and The Book of A Hundred Hands

List Price: $15.95 

 


 

 


 

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Allison Benis White’s poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, Ploughshares, and Pleiades, among other journals. Her honors include the Indiana Review Poetry Prize, the Bernice Slote Award from Prairie Schooner, and a Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers. She is currently at work on a second poetry manuscript, “Small Porcelain Head,” which received the 2008 James D. Phelan Literary Award for a work in progress from the San Francisco Foundation. She teaches at the University of California, Irvine.

Click here to read blogs about Self-Portrait with Crayon By Allison Benis White.

 


 

Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando

Don't go, of course, is the definitive feelings. Like a star on a
tree of gasps, we remember what is highest. What is furthest
from our hands. Past the row of windows, a rope draws her up
by her teeth, toward the curved orange ceiling with her head
back. Her gift is to stay attached (if she speaks she will fall),
to cleave in her mouth what is pulling away.

 


 

"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, author of Ours and The Book of A Hundred Hands


“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, author of Some Ether and Blind Huber


"These poems are beautiful, sometimes achingly so. Allison Benis White writes from a unique sensibility, and I admire and am moved by her capacity for sight. I noticed myself holding my breath as I read, for there’s an exquisite tension created in the deftly unfolding juxtaposition of image, meaning and sound. Each of her sentences is a stroke, and her poems gradually sketch stunning works that reward the reader."
Forrest Hamer, author of Rift and Call & Response


“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, author of The Work of the Bow and The Effigies


“Allison Benis White’s work doesn’t just convey sincerity, but is undeniably genuine. Her use of the prose poem form is particularly suited to profundity hidden in the everyday, to a kind of casual brilliance. It strikes me that, more important than being poetic, Ms. White has tried to be a feeling human, and has worked carefully to craft that discipline into beauty.”
Killarney Clary, author of Potential Stranger and Who Whispered Near Me

 


 

From the Virginia Quarterly Review, Fall 2009 Issue

Self-Portrait with Crayon, by Allison Benis White. Cleveland State, May 2009. $15.95 paper
White’s poems are meditations on beauty, specifically the beauty of paintings by Degas, from which they take their titles. But they are less about aesthetic rapture than raw fear, attempts to the escape the harsh realities of separation and death through the “enchanted order” of art: “I want my life stilled inside a frame.” With its opaque autobiography, prose form, and occasionally abrupt shifts of direction, White’s book may draw superficial comparisons to Lyn Hejinian’s My Life. But unlike Hejinian, White is more interested in psychological realism than in linguistic fragmentation. At times, the book suffers from a timid aestheticism, rarely venturing beyond a familiar poetic elegance. But at its best, that studied elegance becomes a hauntingly depersonalized lyricism that captures the elusive, third-person quality of memory: “Just as a house appears in his mind out of nowhere, late at night, lit from inside, trying to remember itself, room by room, as it burns.”
—Morgan Myers

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