Out of Order (Donald Justice Poetry Prize) (Paperback)
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A debut collection featuring formally diverse poems that address topics from misogyny and mental health to race and identity.
Alexis Sears’s debut collection, Out of Order, is a collage of unapologetic intimacy, risk-taking vulnerability, and unwavering candor. A biracial millennial woman, Sears navigates the challenges of growing out of girlhood and into womanhood with its potential dangers, interrogating the male gaze, beauty standards, and confidence and identity. Pop culture references run through the collection, with rock icons David Bowie and Prince and poets like Kenneth Koch offering windows into desire and adaptation. In these poems, Sears works through heavy topics, such as loneliness, mental illness, chronic pain, the legacies of race and racism, and the aftermath of a father’s suicide. As she writes, “I’m learning something every ravishing day / and none of it is easy.”
This young poet demonstrates an uncommon mastery of craft, writing in forms including the sonnet redoublé, sestina, canzone, and villanelle. With all her linguistic skills, Sears’s work remains approachable, offering readers a striking blend of honesty, humor, anguish, joy, and surprise. Drawing influence from contemporary poets like Mark Jarman, Erica Dawson, and Tiana Clark, Sears cuts a path of her own.
Out of Order was the 2021 winner of the Donald Justice Poetry Prize.
About the Author
Alexis Sears lives in Northern California, where she teaches sixth-grade English. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cortland Review, Hopkins Review, Cimarron Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Best American Poetry 2022, and elsewhere.
"Out of Order by Alexis Sears is an irreverent interrogation of loss that insists on the poet’s right to explore grief on her own terms. Bringing a conversational tone into villanelles and sonnets, Sears unsettles readerly expectations with a singsong cadence as she meditates on a father’s suicide and on friends’ suicidal ideation."
— The Poetry Foundation, Harriet Books
"The collection is even more tightly cohesive than most contemporary prizewinning books."
— Los Angeles Review of Books
"Sears’ ability to fuse absolute candor about her own vulnerabilities with formal virtuosity—even humor—is remarkable. That humor—bleak, ironic, sometimes hopeful—lends her work an electric charge, the touch of exhilaration that is art’s recompense for pain...Out of Order sings through the pain, seeking the grace to move beyond the hurt that lingers."
— Literary Matters
"At a time when many of us are struggling to sustain meaning, feeling the pieces of our lives scattered in the pandemic as if we’re crows pulling at shiny bits from a trashcan, Sears’s collaging of words through form helps inspire a refreshingly cohesive narrative in which we can fi nd bits of ourselves."
— Publishers Weekly
“If you have never read Sears, prepare yourself. Her poems draw blood. It’s hard to think of a debut collection since Heart’s Needle [by W.D. Snodgrass] that is at once so deeply felt and so finely tuned. In her hands, form is the fist that delivers the blow, conveying the pure force of language. With so much at stake—identity, melancholia, a father’s suicide in a distant place—feeling could easily overwhelm and blur, but Sears’s poems remain precise and richly textured. Her poems do not succumb; they triumph, as we do, thrillingly, through them.”
— David Yezzi, author of Black Sea
"There is a danger in writing about yourself, your obsessions, your insecurities, your deeply personal memories, to where it is almost a workshop stricture to avoid such things where possible. Sears, though, knows that her pain is not different, and she writes about herself in a manner both critical and compassionate, analytical and empathetic, and with such technical savvy and linguistic confidence, that the reader, regardless of their biographical specifics, can not only identify with her, but viscerally understand what it is to be young (at least relatively so) in this historical moment."
— Quincy R. Lehr, author of The Dark Lord of the Tiki Bar
"Sears dazzles while writing and reckoning with form. The sonnet crown, villanelle, sestina, and epic are honed by obsessions woven with levity amidst the madness of trauma and loss. I applaud the startling specificity, emotional truths, and stunning similes spilling throughout this collection. Out of Order packs a potent poetic punch with glosses to W. H. Auden, Kurt Cobain, and crying in Priuses. Here’s to a poet that takes risks on the page with lyric grit and brilliance."
— Tiana Clark, author of I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood
"Sears works deftly with sonnets, crowns of sonnets, canzones, and more—but no matter the form, these are poems of finding voice and the lines beating against the form like a heart beating through the pain of repetition."
— Rain Taxi