MFA Faculty Chris Abani Wins the 2023 UNT Rilke Prize
The Pacific MFA in Writing is thrilled to toast faculty writer Chris Abani on the selection of his collection Smoking the Bible as the 2023 UNT Rilke Poetry Prize winner.
From the UNT announcement: The $10,000 prize recognizes a book written by a mid-career poet and published in the preceding year that demonstrates exceptional artistry and vision. In Smoking the Bible, Abani memorializes—through the imaginative journey that poems so often take — a brother who has been given the diagnosis of “Terminal.” Alongside this commitment to elegize a loved one is a second voyage. Often in brief portraits, poems diminutive as carved cameos, Abani writes of migrations to new countries and continents, of leaving behind a homeland that is both “wound and suture,” a lost landscape whose “persistent aftertaste” follows the speaker everywhere he goes. Smoking the Bible is a book intent on understanding nostalgia, a word that burns with pain and grief, but one that also suggests the “flutter of release.” Evocative, rich with sensory detail, Abani’s poems transport the reader from Nigeria to America’s Midwest, ranging between memory, dream, and revelatory vision. At its heart, Smoking the Bible worries about acts of translation, how difficult it is to translate languages and cultures. And, beyond that, how we struggle to translate the past into present. “I promise / to walk with you as far as I can,” the speaker tells his dying brother, the space between death and the living the most difficult translation of all.