For our 2021 contest, judge Marcus Wicker chose Love for the Gun, by Casey Thayer.
Praise for Love For the Gun:
“In Love for the Gun, the TEC-9 trappings of masculinity—“big guns, small bore”—are usurped, remixed & rearranged, until the rifle becomes a blunt instrument of intimacy between hunter & frail son: “I worked / at growing softer, held the pistol / like a hurt bird, perhaps a swallow. / Not like my father, as a man might do.” These poems are double-barreled in their approach: Ecstatic & elegiac. Reverent & irreverent. They are anthems for love & loss of god & country that modulate, expertly, between intellect & levity. Stirring with vulnerability & lyric precision, Casey Thayer’s aim is true.”
–Marcus Wicker, author of Silencer and Maybe the Saddest Thing
“Casey Thayer’s Love for the Gun manages the astonishing feat of re-enchanting its titular object neither as ideological abstraction nor instrument of violence, but as part of a culture passed down—almost tenderly, as Thayer describes it—from fathers to sons in the American Midwest. With ethical nuance and formal verve, Thayer shows how guns serve simultaneously as prosthesis—covering over a lack, like 'testicles [on] the trailer hitch'—and paternal inheritance, that instrument through which, as in hunting culture, fathers demonstrate their love. 'My father gift[ed] it to me,' Thayer writes, 'all that / thunder, all that makes a man a man / to fear.' Throughout, Thayer’s language pulses with a gorgeous materiality. 'The deer can’t leave the wake it’s making / by moving,' he writes in one poem, or—indication of Thayer’s tonal reach—'He twitpic his prick, / and it trended as #That’sIt?' Darkly humorous, resonant with a swagger cut by humility and self-doubt, Love for the Gun is a stunning meditation on class, masculinity, and whiteness in the contemporary United States. It is a bold, bravura reckoning with the violence that makes and unmakes us.”
–Christopher Kempf, author of What Though the Field Be Lost and Late in the Empire of Men
Casey Thayer is the author of Self Portrait with Spurs and Sulfur. A recipient of fellowships from Stanford and the Sewanee Writers' Conference, he has published poetry in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. He lives in Chicago and works at the University of Illinois at Chicago.