Spit Back a Boy

Poems by Iain Haley Pollock

The Cave Canem Poetry Prize: Selected by Elizabeth Alexander


“Beyond the bracing intelligence in these poems, beyond the surges of joy and trouble, beyond the poet’s awe in this split second, he plunges with imagination into the timeless work of loving witness, resonant with high style and the blues. Wherever Iain Pollock turns, the search is on, in history, art, family, in things on display and hidden in himself. What he finds he finds the art to celebrate with tenderness and wisdom.”
—Brooks Haxton, author of They Lift Their Wings to Cry

"If the ear is tuned to catch it, there is music in our blood. Train the eyes for nuance, you can trace the history of our skins. In Spit Back a Boy, his impressive first book, you can read the dance Iain Haley Pollock has had with time, location, family and their various repercussions. A lesser poet would freeze in complaint. If the spirit is generous, and the balance between living and letters match, a fine book of poems sings the author and the reader free."
—Cornelius Eady, Miller Family Chair in Writing and Literature, University of Missouri-Columbia

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Iain Haley Pollock’s poems cover the ground from a woman late to catfish supper to an ancient queen who howls, “Sea, you is ugly,” from the creaking of slave ships launched from Lancaster to gunfire on a contemporary Philadelphia street. Such lyric moments find grounding in stories woven through this book—in one story line, a boy with a black mother and white father wishes he could shed his white skin or carve into what lies beneath: “I flung my almost white self / into my mother’s embrace—that brown / embrace I hoped would swallow me whole / and spit back a boy four shades darker.” Another thread follows a marriage and a woman intertwined with hunger and the blues, a woman who hears a whale song in a refrigerator’s hum, who cries hard like the lonely barking of a fox.

Even when these poems soften, they can’t be complacent about good fortune: for all the maple seedpods and snow fluttering down here, the poems are always aware of wreckage and car bombs there, and they keep conscious of the mustard gas of old wars and the losses of recent ones. Punctuated with lives that end early, such as those of Hart Crane and Mikey Clark, a high-school classmate who once swiped the Communion wine, Pollock’s collection earns its vitality and romance without closing its eyes to violence and sorrow.

from “Rattla cain’t hold me”

. . . And all our sadness will be old Arkansas,
rural and misspoken, its roads smudged
by the fog’s blue prints, its pine board shacks

daubed with mud to keep out mosquitoes
and the cold. The kitchens and porches
where we aren’t will cease to exist. We’ll miss

rain in autumn dousing the fire of the leaves.
Wind writhing like a water moccasin.
Like convicts we’ll sing, Rattla cain’t hold me

Rattla cain’t hold me, while outside the fence,
poplars, stripped by gypsy moths, stand bare.

Cave Canem Poetry Prize

Page count: 72 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.5


List price: $19.95

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Iain Haley Pollock lives in Philadelphia and teaches English at Chestnut Hill Academy. His work has appeared in publications including AGNI, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Callaloo, Drunken Boat, and Indiana Review.