“The speaker in Shelley Puhak’s Harbinger is no closer to knowing herself than I am, than we are, which is why we trust her. Each similarly titled poem holds a triptych mirror up to the artist and, in so doing, up to us all, so we may better see ourselves as we are. In ever-changing form.” —Nicole Sealey
A stunning meditation on artistic creation and historical memory from the winner of the National Poetry Series, chosen by Nicole Sealey
From “Portrait of the artist, gaslit” to “Portrait of the artist’s ancestors” to “Portrait of the artist reading a newspaper,” the poems in Harbinger reflect the many facets of the artistic self as well as the myriad influences and experiences that contribute to that identity.
“Portrait of the artist as a young man” has long been the default position, but these poems carve out a different vantage point. Seen through the lens of motherhood, of working as a waitress, of watching election results come in, or of simply sitting in a waiting room, making art—and making an artist—is a process wherein historical events collide with lived experience, both deeply personal but also unfailingly political. When we make art, for what (and to whom) are we accountable? And what does art-making demand of us, especially as apocalypse looms?
With its surprising insights, Harbinger, the latest book from acclaimed poet Shelley Puhak, shows us the reality of the constantly evolving and unstable self, a portrait of the artist as fragmentary, impressionable, and always in flux.
Shelley Puhak is the author of Harbinger, a 2021 National Poetry Series selection. Puhak’s second book, Guinevere in Baltimore, was selected by Charles Simic for the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, and her first, Stalin in Aruba, was awarded the Towson Prize for Literature. Her prose has appeared in the Atlantic, the Iowa Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review, and her nonfiction debut, The Dark Queens, was released in 2022.
"The speaker in Shelley Puhak's Harbinger is no closer to knowing herself than I am, than we are, which is why we trust her. Each similarly titled poem holds a triptych mirror up to the artist and, in so doing, up to us all, so we may better see ourselves as we are. In ever-changing form." — Nicole Sealey
“Harbinger is a reminder of something we all too commonly lose track of: the idea of poetry as an art form...Puhak’s grasp here is shocking, reaching across centuries, millennia...[but with] a narrative that is perfectly contemporary, postmodern, and personal...exquisitely well-crafted...Sometimes, a book can surprise you.” — New York Journal of Books
"Ominous and energetic...These poems are fierce and foreboding, proving poetry’s revelatory power." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"These poems share a deep curiosity about and connection to our world, good and bad, majestic and dystopian…A collection that should not be missed.” — Library Journal