Close Red Water, Emma Aylor


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An intense and haunting debut, Emma Aylor’s Close Red Water is an otherworldly calling, rich with detail, aching with a past that makes its way home to a field, a house, a room, daring to edge ever closer to the present. These poems are deftly crafted, drawing on the intimacies of landscape and nature, not as backdrop, but as characters—crows, ravens, honeycombs, salt-bleached and -broken trees—who interact with close kin, both here and departed. This is an astonishing collection where the ghosts of memory and forgetfulness live most brightly and alive here.
—Tina Chang

It’s fitting that the first phrase in the first poem of this superb first book is “The place I know…” Close Red Water is so authentically and so movingly focused on a single and loved locale that even the occasional poem that begins elsewhere almost always finds its way back to Virginia. And yet, there is always in this collection the sad recognition that one cannot return, not really. Aylor’s poems, to their great credit, are attuned to what can’t be fathomed without sustained and unwavering attention. What a rarity—and what a delight—in our fractured and unfocused age.
—Davis McCombs

In spell-like electrics of language, these poems conjure their own hauntings in their harrowing devotions to the emblematic minutia of a place and its people. Equal parts attention as an act of prayer and tough-minded honesty, Aylor’s poems trouble affection for the hard-bitten world they create. With a unique ear for communal utterance, Aylor writes phrases that could be adages, adages that could be spontaneous speech. Signaling wonders to come from a singular poetic presence, this book is a rare and breathtaking debut.
—Pimone Triplett


We woke up refulgent, the sopped air scrapping
like cicadas up bark, the wild roses
three-glass wine-rosaceal, like cheeks.

This is a sense memory we share:
A city of alfalfa yellow with August. A graveled road
past the swarming pond. A way of aging houses
by counting rings of red mud spoored up
the brick, mortar blushing.

I misunderstand what I need—

waking up in the grass, chest warm
as vined tomatoes, and knowing
what’s that one something I can’t use anywhere.


Emma Aylor’s Close Red Water is the 2022 winner of the Barrow Street Poetry Book Prize chosen by Tina Chang. Aylor grew up in Bedford County, Virginia, next to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her poems have appeared in New England Review, AGNI, Colorado Review, Poetry Daily, the Yale Review Online, and elsewhere, and she received Shenandoah’s Graybeal-Gowen Prize for Virginia Poets. She holds an MFA from the University of Washington and is currently a PhD candidate at Texas Tech University.