How to Communicate

Finalist, National Book Awards 2023 for Poetry

ISBN 9781324035343
W. W. Norton & Company
Author photo of John Lee Clark. (Photo credit: Adrean Clark)
John Lee Clark

John Lee Clark is an award-winning poet, essayist, and Protactile educator. He is the author of Touch the Future: A Manifesto in Essays, and How to Communicate, winner of the 2023 Minnesota Book Award for Poetry. More about this author >

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From the publisher:

Formally restless and relentlessly instructive, How to Communicate is a dynamic journey through language, community, and the unfolding of an identity. Poet John Lee Clark pivots from inventive forms inspired by the Braille slate to sensuous prose poems to incisive erasures that find new narratives in nineteenth-century poetry. Calling out the limitations of the literary canon, Clark includes pathbreaking translations from American Sign Language and Protactile, a language built on touch.

How to Communicate embraces new linguistic possibilities that emanate from Clark’s unique perspective and his connection to an expanding, inclusive activist community. Amid the astonishing task of constructing a new canon, the poet reveals a radically commonplace life. He explores grief and the vagaries of family, celebrates the small delights of knitting and visiting a museum, and, once, encounters a ghost in a gas station. Counteracting the assumptions of the sighted and hearing world with humor and grace, Clark finds beauty in the revelations of communicating through “All things living and dead cry out to me / when I touch them.”

A rare work of transformation and necessary discovery, How to Communicate is a brilliant debut that insists on the power of poetry.

Judges Citation

Frank, funny, and utterly brilliant, the poems in John Lee Clark’s How to Communicate press back on the most basic assumptions of poetry and publishing, including how it is materially read. In wide-ranging poems— from erasures to Protactile and American Sign Language translations, written in collaboration and without—Clark expands what a poem can do, and reminds us of its most central calling of speaking intimately and broadly, all its ways of touch. This debut is a rare and staggering feat.


John Lee Clark at the 2023 National Book Awards Finalist Reading