Winner of the 2023 APR/Honickman First Book Prize and selected by judge Dana Levin, Public Abstract is an intricate debut that examines illness and recovery, addiction and loss.
Winner of the 2023 APR/Honickman First Book Prize, Jane Huffman’s intricate debut collection, Public Abstract, examines illness and recovery, loss and addiction: the ripples of influence an addict has on their family circle, and vice versa. We watch as a private mind, devoted to its privacy, is laid out on the page and abstracted to become a public revelation. Building an aesthetic of compressed interiority, the speaker’s tension is clear—“From one lung, I tell the truth. / From the other lung, I lie.” Through intimate and meticulous poems, Public Abstract explores the operations of form, sewn together, and the failings of form, ripped apart. Crumbling under its own weight and folderol, form becomes an act of invention and in Huffman’s expert hands, revision becomes a genre.
Jane Huffman is a poet from Michigan. She received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Denver. Jane was a 2019 recipient of the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. She is founder and editor-in-chief of Guesthouse, an online literary journal.
Dana Levin’s newest book of poetry is Now Do You Know Where You Are (Copper Canyon Press 2022), named a “Best of 2022 Book” by NPR. Her first book, In the Surgical Theatre, was chosen by Louise Glück for the 1999 APR/Honickman First Book Prize and went on to receive numerous honors, including the 2003 PEN/Osterweil Award. Copper Canyon Press brought out her second book, Wedding Day, in 2005, and in 2011 Sky Burial, which The New Yorker called “utterly her own and utterly riveting.”
Dana Levin is the author of four collections of poetry. Her debut, In the Surgical Theater, was selected by Louise Glück for the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize. The New Yorkercalled her third book, Sky Burial (Copper Canyon), “utterly her own and utterly riveting.” A Guggenheim and Rona Jaffe Fellow, Levin currently serves as Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at Maryville University in St. Louis.
In Public Abstract, Jane Huffman demonstrates a steely commitment to an aesthetic vision. Form is feeling in these poems: tonally cool, their repetitions and hard turns express, passionately, uncertainty, anxiety, revelation, skepticism, and curiosity. Huffman’s lived experience—with a sick body, a sick brother, disturbances of psyche and society—are the pains from which the book’s formal feelings come. Refreshing the operations of ode, haibun, sestina, and fragment, the poems sometimes teeter on the verge of mannerist madness—what bravery to write them! Completely thrilling to read them. In Jane Huffman’s poems, I feel the impassioned psychic venturing of Emily Dickinson, the wit of Kay Ryan, the fragmented surreal of Jean Valentine, and the playfulness and bravado of Gertrude Stein. Public Abstract is a striking debut. —Dana Levin