Why I Chose Cameron Awkward-Rich’s Dispatch for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club


In his blurb for Cameron Awkward-Rich’s new collection, Dispatch, Jericho Brown writes “This book’s urgency comes from its understanding that the world it cherishes is a world deteriorating. Yet it is a book of love poems no matter what!” It’s the exclamation point at the end which caught my eye when I turned to the back cover after my first read through this collection, that emphatic gesture, so insistent. It wasn’t what I was thinking of, even though there are three poems in this collection titled “Love Poem,” and an exquisite aubade I’m going to talk about in a minute. But the more I consider these poems, the more convinced I am of Brown’s claim, and even more, of the need for that exclamation point.

Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of Dispatch, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive online chat with Cameron Awkward-Rich, you’ll need to subscribe by October 15!

So, let’s start with the poem I mentioned above, “Aubade.” Traditionally, an aubade is a song sung in the morning from one lover to another when they have to part. There’s a connection to the troubadours and tradition of courtly love in there, and the form has been twisted and molded by every generation since to fit their sensibilities, but the thing that seems to always remain is that it’s a poem of the morning hours. Here’s how Cameron Awkward-Rich starts his:

The cat wakes me up as always
rooting her head between my chest
& chin & failing this, licks the lacy crud
hardening in the corners of my mouth
with her darling tongue, which she lets hang
between her lips as though ponderous
or posing for the camera, at least
when she’s not using it to clean herself
from tail to toe to asshole & then my facehole,
which I know is a kind of favor

At this point I laughed audibly and got the wigglies all over my body because while I love all four of my cats (and my dog), that last bit is the reason why I never let them anywhere near my face. But the affection in those lines is so palpable, both toward and from the cat, that my heart melts when I read it. And the poem stays very much in that vein, closing this way:

But what can I say? I’m still right
here, haven’t moved all morning & who could
be lonely when there’s always this spectral self
to say hello to? Hello you. Darling you. Hello
sentry of my peace. Busy little tongue.

I love it when individual poems in a collection do this, just lean fully into their sentiment. They act as a moment of breathing space amidst the tension of the poems that surround it.

For example, the poem which immediately precedes “Aubade” is titled “Everyone Keeps Talking about Having Children,” and it begins “as if there is no drowning planet / no girl slipping beneath / her mother’s skirt searching / for a door a neon exit” and I think there are few people alive who admit to themselves that there are serious and significant challenges we face as a species who haven’t asked that question of themselves. You can’t read about Kiribati’s inevitable disappearance beneath the rising ocean or look at our current political situation and wonder what kind of world we’re bequeathing to future generations.

And yet, before “Everyone Keeps Talking about Having Children” is the third of three poems titled “Love Poem,” which includes the lines “I suppose I’m grateful / when I can leave myself for long enough // to let a stranger or a love inside me, to be held / open as a tunnel for all the midnight traffic // or only you,” which reads, to me, as ambivalent, even unsure about what love can encompass, and that feels honest to me in a way that most love poems, even when they’re reaching for it, often fall short.

There’s so much more to admire in this collection, and I’m looking forward to talking about it with members of the Poetry Book Club and with Cameron Awkward-Rich in our exclusive online author chat at the end of the month. Subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by October 15 to make sure you don’t miss out. I hope you’ll join us!

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →