Big-Eyed Afraid



(also available through other booksellers)

Big-Eyed Afraid won the 2006 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, judged by Mary Jo Salter. Contemporary Poetry Review named it Best Debut of 2007, writing, “Dexterously rhythmic, with punchy rhymes and inventive style, Erica Dawson’s poems allow her to sing a truly modern song of her herself and persuade the reader to assume what she assumes with every perfectly placed note along the way. This book is a joy to read.”

In Big-Eyed Afraid, a first book of genuine originality, Erica Dawson turns the mirror held up to nature on herself. Both humorous and heart-wrenching, Dawson balances formal adroitness with a 21st-century colloquial idiom modulating between demotic and mandarin registers, a voice all her own. Employing numerous forms, including the rondeau, ballade, rhyme royal and her own adaptation of the In Memoriam stanza, Dawson elevates the self only to see it combust into pieces of broken character, an arch of introspection signaled by the book’s opening and ending series of nickname poems, including “Nappyhead,” “Mommy Dearest,” and “DrugFace,” where contradictions of personal, cultural, and intellectual identities are exposed. In between, Dawson completes the case history, calling on everyone from Freud and Puccini to Rita Hayworth and James Brown while craftily moving between rhyme’s mellifluous voice and that of a frighteningly self-effacing honesty: “…search high for your halo and penance / And a murder of crows and your birthday’s sentence.” Yet for every stanza spent in Dawson’s mind, each page of Big-Eyed Afraid opens up to face and find shade from reality’s “blue leaded sun burning its shine too strong.”

Praise for Big-Eyed Afraid:

“Erica Dawson is the most exciting younger poet I’ve seen in years. What drive and verve! Even in lines under tight control, she can sound reckless. Her dazzling wit informs poem after poem, making each seem like a stiff drink with a dash of bitters. Big-Eyed Afraid is a sensational debut. I can’t recall finding this much energy between two covers since Ariel.” – X. J. Kennedy

“Polished but unvarnished, exquisitely alive, the poems in Big-Eyed Afraid are utterly electrifying. Erica Dawson’s is a name to remember, and these are poems you won’t forget.” – Claire Messud

Big-Eyed Afraid is a fast-paced, breathlessly witty and illuminating riff on the multiple effects of race, sex, biology and social pressure on who we are and how we see ourselves. Dawson’s dazzling rhymes, her perfect pitch for an array of idioms ranging from the smutty to the sacred, and her extraordinary combination of metrical control and jazz-like syntactical elaboration make her work feel at one and the same time chiseled and improvised, traditional and utterly distinct. Brilliantly alert to multiple influences yet irreducibly tied to this particular poet at this particular moment in our collective history, Big-Eyed Afraid is one of the most compelling and entertaining books of poetry I’ve read in I don’t know how long.” – Alan Shapiro



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