Department of English

Roam ( Southern Illinois University Press, 2006)

Sun, July 6, 2008


“There’s a breathtaking, sly intellect at work in the luscious poems of Roam. Susan B. A. Somers-Willett spins an elegant geography of vast terrains and intricate histories. Her poems make unexpected landings and linkages everywhere. And I’ll bet you want to keep reading “In Memory of a Girl” over and over again as long as you live. I do.”—Naomi Shihab Nye, author of You & Yours


“Susan Somers-Willett’s Roam is not so much a debut as a laying of claim: Poetry is her birthright by virtue of a spiritual bloodline that makes her the child of Whitman and Rukeyser. On these roads of our country, she tells us, the soul is a beautiful thing that can, after so much horror and mischief are unearthed, grid the land with compassion. Championing gnosis rather than decrying lost innocence, her poems balance wit and sobriety, lyricism and the spondees of truth. I am thrilled by the joy she conjures, and the grace of her accomplishment.”—Khaled Mattawa, author of Zodiac of Echoes

“Deftly crafted and threaded with a fierce lyricism, Roam is Somers-Willett’s tour-de-force, a vibrant collection that will stamp the genre with her unflinching signature. A moving cycle of poems chronicling the trial of Joan of Arc provides the pulse for this volume, but the poet goes on to rip the veneer from a varied range of topics. A boxer’s wife bemoans shifts of mind and muscle. Even an interstate highway takes on voice. It’s immensely gratifying to see such a primal connection to the language, to sense light beneath each lean stanza, to witness one woman shout out from the muddle of cookie-cutter poetics. Roam is a revolution.” —Patricia Smith, author of Teahouse of the Almighty, a 2005 National Poetry Series selection.

“Susan B. A. Somers-Willett is a poet of expansive vision, who travels the mindscape of memory with a profound intimacy, a keeper of distances, defining both the world of the commonplace and the sprawling terrain of uncharted human nature. Her compelling images in Roam are the work of a sorceress, haunting the senses with the lyric dance of language.”—James Ragan, author of Lusions and The Hunger Wall

Her book of poetry was a winner in the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry.  She also won the 2000 Phillis Smart Young Prize from The Madison Review.  She has published poetry in Beloit Poetry Journal, Spoon River Poetry Review, Earth's Daughters, and Hayden's Ferry Review and has been a finalist and semi-finalist for the New Issues Press Prize, the Kenyon Review's Prize, and the University of Wisconsin Press Poetry Prize for Roam, a revision of her M.A. thesis.  She has competed in the 1997, 1998, and 2001 National Poetry Slam competitions and continues to perform her poetry nationally.  As a doctoral candidate in the UT English program, she was awarded the UT Austin J.M. Coetzee Distinguished Alumnus Fellowship in 2001 and an American Association of University Women Dissertation Fellowship in 2002.  In 2005 she was selected as the winner of the Ann Stanford Poetry Prize. Kurt Heinzelman was her supervisor.


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