Of the winning manuscript, Perdomo writes: “If poetry is a form of prayer, then Black Pastoral is the church, pew, pastor, baptismal site, hymn, and a symphonic archive of our historical silences. This collection of poems is a transcendent appraisal of the blood that was extracted from Black bodies. In the tradition of Richard Mayhew, Ariana Benson challenges and forces us to de-romanticize the American landscape. At once tranquil and reflective, the poems in this collection—structurally innovative, formalistically demanding, lyrically fluid—provoke the reader toward a sublime reckoning.
The milieus in Benson’s poems: a Middle Passage broom jump, a stacking of “things” at Elmina’s Door of No Return, the breaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd meeting in a Rothko painting, are rendered beautifully through luscious aubades, ekphrastic poems that excavate ruins, anti-elegies, an exacting still-life, and alternative approaches to established forms. You will never feel alone in Benson’s landscape of organic belly songs. These poems (read pastorals, read lyrics) have a way of entering your bloodstream, re-birthing your soul, and altering your molecules until a tree is no longer a tree, but a retrospective exhibit of strange fruit bearing witness. Black Pastoral reads like a canvas where one must question goodness in the face of evil, use a swim lesson to transport through America’s violent chronology, and bask in the light of love’s ultimate mercy and grace.”
This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Seth Sprague Educational & Charitable Foundation. This program is also supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
Ariana Benson was born in Norfolk, Virginia. A 2022 recipient of the Furious Flower Poetry Prize and the Porter House Review Poetry Prize, Benson also won the 2021 Graybeal Gowen Prize for Virginia Poets, and an Academy of American Poets Prize from her alma mater, Spelman College. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in POETRY, Copper Nickel, Colorado Review, World Literature Today, and elsewhere. She serves as a Helen Degen Cohen Summer Reading Fellow with Rhino Poetry and a Nonfiction Editor of Auburn Avenue Literary Journal. Benson has received fellowships and support from Poets & Writers, Breadloaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, Palm Beach Poetry Festival, The Seventh Wave, Indiana University Writers’ Conference, Oak Spring Garden Foundation, and others. Through her writing, she strives to fashion vignettes of Blackness that speak to its infinite depth and richness.