Ornament

Ornament, winner of the 2016 Vassar Miller Poetry Prize, judged by Geoffrey Brock, was released in 2017 by the University of North Texas Press. You can order a copy from UNT Press or from Powell’s, or from your favorite indy bookseller. If you’d like a signed copy, please be in touch!

“Like the best fiddle and banjo duets, Bell’s poems are both simple and complex, breezy and profound, powerful and authentic. Reading her book gave me the same feeling I get when I hear a modern master—say, John Hermann on the banjo, or Rhys Jones on the fiddle: here is a living artist who, through passion, talent, and caring about craft, is able to take us inside the music.”—Rus Bradburd, the Old-time Herald

“As the collection’s title suggests, Phillips Bell’s poems are intensely lyrical and elaborately patterned, bringing to mind the music of a dulcimer. Indeed, regional music is integral to the collection: throughout the book, the author invokes and directly references forms including Appalachian folksongs, bluegrass tunes, gospel music, and church hymns. . . . One definitely hopes to see more from the author of this beautiful and promising first book.”—Alix Anne Shaw, The Los Angeles Review

“These poems are so rooted in a sense of place that one can almost feel their feet dug down into the soil, grass tickling the ankles and warm summer air heavy with the scent of wet and green.”Alistair Craft, Grist

Ornament is a kind of tribute album. The poet, who is also an banjo player, pays tribute in many poems to the old-time music of the Carolinas. And like the songs you’ll find in the discography at the back of the book, the poems are marked by bursts of lyric beauty, clever storytelling, and haunting set pieces. Ornament is also a personal tribute to the Piedmont landscape that shaped that music, and Bell evokes that landscape and the flora and fauna that inhabit it with the keen eye and the passion of a modern-day Bartram. Finally, the poet’s love of old-time music is matched by her love of old-time prosody, and Ornament is, too, a tribute to the music-making forms of our poetry, of which these pages offer an astonishingly rich catalog. If you keep an eye out, as Auden hoped his ideal reader would, for “curious prosodic fauna,” you’ll find ballads and sonnets, blank verse and Old English meter, Sapphics and amphibrachs, as well as the occasional ghazal, rondeau, and rondelet. And in this picker’s hands, those old tunes all sound gloriously new.”—Geoffrey Brock, author of Voices Bright Flags and judge

“Anna Lena Phillips Bell makes a stellar debut in her Vassar Miller Prize-winning volume of poems. Her formal virtuosity and luscious wordplay have the lightest of touches. The poems feel as if a winged being brushed by, leaving her readers subtly changed. Whether she’s writing about slugs mating or wasps returning to a nest destroyed, she is in sync with the wild world, yet burnished by love. Her love poems are written in the almost shocked realization that the poet, a child of the Piedmont with country songs in her head, can both revel in nature and have her own nature recognized by another. “Ornament,” the title poem, is just such a cry of satisfaction and wonder. That tiny lyric tour de force is a whirlwind; I hope it will be anthologized and shared for its exuberance and memorable dazzle. If a secret garden had a chance to speak, might it be in the voice of Anna Lena Phillips Bell? Ornament is a stunning book, gossamer and untamed.”—Molly Peacock, author of The Analyst

“Brilliantly melding influences from Blues and Appalachian music to Dickinson and Frost, the adept, bold poems of Ornament offer praise and homage to the beleaguered, beautiful environments of the American southeast and of a poet’s soul. This is the kind of carefully built and deeply understood poetry that engages experience in a transformation so thorough it becomes kinetic, changing our felt sense of how the world moves.”—Annie Finch, 1990 winner of the Robert Fitzgerald Prosody Award

Reviews and features

Craft and Clarity and Range: Foy, Bell, Pinsky, Groom,” omnibus review by Stephen Kampa. in Literary Matters 10.3.

Ornament among Largehearted Boy’s Favorite Poetry Collections of 2017, on The Bind’s list of 2017 Staff Recommendations for poetry and hybrid-genre books, and on Book Scrolling‘s list of Best Poetry Books of 2017.

Book Notes playlist for Ornament at Largehearted Boy

WHQR interview with the author, with a reading of “Roustabout”

Review at Poetry International by Sherry Chandler

Review and book portrait by Anita Olivia Koester at Fork and Page

Review by Natalie Patterson in the Salemite

Poems

Ornament,” first published in the Southern Review, reprinted at Poetry Daily

Qualifications for One to Be Climbed by a Vine,” first published in 32 Poems, reprinted at Verse Daily

Midafternoon,” in 32 Poems 13.1

“Ornament,” after a line from Mississippi John Hurt, in print and in the audio gallery for the Southern Review, autumn 2015

Sprout Wings and Fly,” after a line from Tommy Jarrell, and “Girl at the State Line,” in District Lit

Trillium,” reprinted in Canary

To Do in the New Year,” from International Poetry Review, reprinted in Redux