2015 National Book Award Longlist, Poetry

Amy Gerstler

Scattered at Sea Amy Gerstler, credit: Benjamin Weissman Scattered at Sea
(Penguin/Penguin Random House)
ISBN: 978-0143126898

National Book Foundation: In the process of writing your book, what did you discover, what, if anything, surprised you?
Gerstler: Almost everything about writing this book surprised me. Surprise is something I find scrumptious as a reader and strive for as writer. When something I read makes me gasp, or makes my mouth drop open, I couldn't be happier. Surprise is so akin to wonder, and is one of the elements that makes literature feel alive. Surprise in writing refreshes the brain, makes novel ways of thinking and feeling possible. In this book, within individual poems, what felt like hairpin turns I hadn't seen coming sometimes took me aback, as did voices that popped up seemingly out of nowhere, or unanticipated emotions...emotions that sometimes ran counter to the ones I'd planned for the poem to traffic in. Donald Barthelme's idea about writers being open to "not knowing" is a concept I try to never let stray too far from my mind. Later, while organizing the poems into a manuscript, I discovered that the obsessions in that group of poems, which I had flattered myself were wide ranging, were actually tightly unified, which was both helpful in structuring the manuscript and a bit embarrassing.


A dazzling new collection from award-winning poet Amy Gerstler has won acclaim for sly, sophisticated, and subversive poems that find meaning in unexpected places. The title of her new collection, Scattered at Sea, evokes notions of dispersion, diaspora, sowing one's wild oats, having one's mind expanded or blown, losing one's wits, and mortality. Making use of dramatic monologue, elegy, humor, and collage, these poems explore hedonism, gender, ancestry, reincarnation, bereavement, and the nature of prayer. Groping for an inclusive, imaginative, postmodern spirituality, they draw from an array of sources, including the philosophy of the ancient Stoics, diagnostic tests for Alzheimer's disease, 1950s recipes, the Babylonian Talmud, and Walter Benjamin's writing on his drug experiences.

About the Autor

Amy Gerstler is a writer of poetry, nonfiction, and journalism who lives in Los Angeles. Her ten previous collections include Bitter Angel, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Dearest Creature, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She teaches at the University of California at Irvine.


- poetryfoundation.org/bio/amy-gerstler


- Amazon.com

- Barnes & Noble

- IndieBound.org

- iBooks

- WorldCat (Library catalog)

Photo credit: Benjamin Weissman