Horsepower: Poems

Horsepower: Poems

by Joy Priest


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Priest’s debut collection, Horsepower, is a cinematic escape narrative that radically envisions a daughter’s waywardness as aspirational. Across the book’s three sequences, we find the black-girl speaker in the midst of a self-imposed exile, going back in memory to explore her younger self—a mixed-race child being raised by her white supremacist grandfather in the shadow of Churchill Downs, Kentucky’s world-famous horseracing track—before arriving in a state of self-awareness to confront the personal and political landscape of a harshly segregated Louisville. Out of a space that is at once southern and urban, violent and beautiful, racially-charged and working-class, she attempts to transcend her social and economic circumstances. Across the collection, Priest writes a horse that acts as a metaphysical engine of flight, showing us how to throw off the harness and sustain wildness. Unlike the traditional Bildungsroman, Priest presents a non-linear narrative in which the speaker lacks the freedom to come of age naively in the urban South, and must instead, from the beginning, possess the wisdom of “the horses & their restless minds.”
The four-wheeler is a chariot. Horse-wraiths
Kicking up a plume of spirits in the dirt behind us.
Her arms kudzu around my middle. Out here,
In the desert, everything is invisible.
Only the locusts’ flat buzz gives
Them away. Everything native & quieting
Perennial & nighthawk black
As we ride through: the cowgirls,
The witch & the water sky-mirror-split,
The severity of squall lines. Also, the lips
Parting air like lightning & the girl
Blowing bubbles—in each one
                                                a rainbow.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822966197
Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
Publication date: 09/22/2020
Series: Pitt Poetry Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 68
Sales rank: 216,446
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Joy Priest is a writer from Louisville, KY. Her first book, HORSEPOWER (Pitt Poetry Series, 2020), was selected by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey as the winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. She is the recipient of the 2020 Kunitz Prize and her work has appeared in the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, APRThe AtlanticPoetry Northwest, and Poets & Writers, among others. She is currently a doctoral student in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Houston. 

Table of Contents

Horsepower xi


American Honey 5

Blue Heart Baby 7

My Father Teaches Me How to Disappear 9

The Payphone 11

All the Men that Summer Who Said I Love You 13

Elegy for Kentucky 16

Dear Aunt Louise, Muh 18


Winning Colors, 1988 23

Derby 24

Quilt 'n' Frames 26

The Wheat from the Chaff 27

Self-Portrait as Disney Princess 29

Nightstick 30

My Father Teaches Me How to Slip Away 31

Abecedarian for Alzheimer's 34

My Father Teaches Me about the Bees 35

Ode to Hushpuppy 37

Little Lamp 40


My Father Teaches Me How to Handle a Pistol 43

Ghost Ride 45

God of the Motorcade (2005) 46

In the City 48

Rodeo 49

Junker 51

Girl 6 53

Upon Reading James Lipton's An Exaltation of Larks 54

Menace 56

No Country for Black Boys 57

Drift 58

Ode to My First Car, 1988 Cutlass Supreme Classic 307 V8, Dual Exhaust 60

Pegasus 65

Notes 67

Acknowledgments 69

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