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Comments From Carol Levin, 2013 Contest Final Judge

“Oh they always say that” I think when I read a judge’s comments explaining how good all the contest work submitted to them was. “Just saying that to make the losers feel good,” think I. I was given a stack of manuscripts culled from the submissions. Rivers I Don’t Live By was the first of the manuscripts I peeked at. By the 4th poem I said to myself “Oh dear this is it! Meets all the criteria I had informally been considering as a guide to evaluation.” Well, the next manuscript knocked my other sock off, then the third shook me. And so forth. They were each unique, incomparable to any other. So I read and re-read and left time between readings in order to catch them again, fresh. Then I caught myself unexpectedly thinking about Nelson’s verses, idiosyncratic in form, how the poems, without mushiness evoked a deep sensation. Her voice shifted something within me.

“The Practice of Female Dispersal,” her first poem, four verses, each with a subheading. Abstract, Methodology, Findings, and Discussion competently provides an unusual introduction to what will follow. The only line that comprises the first stanza: “Two million years ago, males stayed close to home, females radiated.” You get to the word “radiated” and you are dazzled with all the possible meanings of the word. One of my criteria is “do I want to know what happens.” I wanted to know where this would lead and kept wanting to know, as the poems held hands with each other inhabiting place after place, in poem after poem.

These poems like the collection itself are short. They are restless, they describe concisely her themes of geographic dislocation and without saying it outright she zeros in on, what I would term, a universal wish to belong. The wish for family intimacy, a place of our own, connection to our roots. Kelly Nelson has astutely created a form she follows in the majority of poems and gives it authority. A beginning couplet as the first stanza, next, a long lined, or prose-poem second stanza, completed by a last couplet. Because not a word is wasted you begin to trust her ability and enjoy the speed well designed to carry the content springing surprises, leading you to a chuckle. I have favorites. I know you will find favorites of your own for your own reasons. You won’t close this book untouched. It is my pleasure to select Rivers I Don’t Live By for the 2013’s Concrete Wolf Chapbook competition.

   —Carol Levin, Concrete Wolf final judge
      author of Stunned By The Velocity, Red Rooms and Others, and Sea Lions Sing Scat