Dawn Diez Willis
Still Life with Judas & Lightning
2015 Oregon Book Award Finalist
Following “the caravan of mystery” through the point of view of many characters, Dawn Diez Willis’s first collection enacts a pilgrimage into many voices. Ruminating on an everyday darkness, these poems lean toward the light within the fierce vitality of existence. With musical lusciousness and deeply felt images, Still Life with Judas & Lightning unfolds like a peony, the lives like petals forming a single experience of complex beauty.
Publication date: October 1, 2013
Dawn Diez Willis holds an MFA from the University of Oregon, and her poetry has appeared in many journals, including Southern Poetry Review, ZYZZYVA, The Iowa Review, and Dogwood. An Oregon literary Arts Fellow, she teaches poetry residencies through Salem Art Association and is the editor of the OSPOA’s Trooper News. The recipient of an Oregon Literary Fellowship, she was a co-founder of an arts journal for incarcerated youth, Through Our Eyes. She lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and two children.
For more information, please visit her website at www.dawndiezwillis.com.
Praise for Still Life with Judas & Lightning
“Dawn Diez Willis’s Still Life with Judas & Lightning is a quietly startling book and a strong debut. In poem after poem, we are confronted with characters in moments of spiritual agon—a contest between the manifestation of a good in themselves and their admission of an in-dwelling potential for small yet damaging evils as well. In their vividness of scene, their stark presentations of characters stripped down to their souls, these poems put me in mind of Ai’s Cruelty, yet Willis’s book might better be called Mercy for the counterpoint of compassion that radiates in every line she writes. Her characters are daedal birds swerving under judgment from a secular god, pinioned in forgiveness from a sacred one.”
—Garrett Hongo, author of Coral Road
“The social vision of these poems is broad and empathetic—but also precise. The intensity of Diez Willis’s gaze gives Still Life with Judas & Lightning a disarming immediacy.”
—Dorianne Laux, author of The Book of Men
“Each poem carries the clarity of a tragic vision applied to ordinary events, focused with a painter’s eye for depth, texture, and shading. There is a profound sadness mingled with love that glimmers through and between the engagement of lyric with narrative. It is a remarkable, magnificent collection that calls for a certain tough tenderness in the reader, for a love of the beautiful and glorious to be found in all broken and wounded things.”
—Gina Rae Foster, author of heart speech this and Beautiful Laceration
“A smile is a scattering of gulls and palm trees cut the sky with silhouettes. These are just a few of the many images in Dawn Diez Willis’s Still Life with Judas & Lightning that will literally steal your breath. You’ll find here the seething distance of an observer give way to cherished truths, more revealing than any confession. Here are the utterances that make the knowable an intimate encounter with the unknowable.”
—Major Jackson, author of Holding Company
Excerpts from Still Life with Judas & Lightning
YOUNG COUPLE MARRYING IN JULY
On their wedding day: white pellet rain of rice and clear light.
Her cheeks fruited, his smile guileless as bread.
Some life before them the celebrants could taste:
lavender and plum and a third element unnamed.
The community bore gifts in colored bowls and gleaming foil.
The elders fanned flies.
The children gamboled, sugar-fed,
and threw their shoes into the elm-shade and ran
away with shrieks of celebration.
Bride and groom waltzed on a floor laid across summer grass.
Between them, beneath white froth,
beneath pretty girl-fat and viscera,
a spoonful of baby sat at the center.
It was all for her: rice and light, flower and foil,
flies and shrieks and limitless wonder across the grass.