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Emily Skaja
& where is that witch girl
unafraid of anything, flea-spangled little yard rat, runt
of no litter, queen, girl who wouldn’t let a boy hit her,
girl refusing to be It in tag, pulling that fox hide
heavy around her like a flag? Let me look at her.
Tell her on my honor, I will set the wedding dress on fire
when I’m good & ready or she can bury me in it.
—from “Brute Strength”
Emily Skaja’s debut collection is a fiery, hypnotic book that confronts the dark questions and menacing silences around gender, sexuality, and violence. Brute arises, brave and furious, from the dissolution of a relationship, showing how such endings necessitate self-discovery and reinvention. The speaker of these poems is a sorceress, a bride, a warrior, a lover, both object and agent, ricocheting among ways of knowing and being known. Each incarnation squares itself up against ideas of feminine virtue and sin, strength and vulnerability, love and rage as it closes in on a hard-won freedom.

Brute is absolutely sure of its capacity to insist not only on the truth of what it says but the truth of its right to say it. What am I supposed to say: I’m free?” the first poem asks. The rest of the poems emphatically discover new ways to answer. This is a timely winner of the Walt Whitman Award, and an introduction to an unforgettable voice.

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Winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, selected by Joy Harjo

About the Author

Emily  Skaja
Credit: Kaitlyn Stoddard Photography
Emily Skaja was born and raised in rural Illinois. She holds an MFA from Purdue University and a PhD from the University of Cincinnati. Her poems have appeared in Best New Poets, Blackbird, Crazyhorse, FIELD, and Gulf Coast, among other journals. She is the winner of the Gulf Coast Poetry Prize, an AWP Intro Journals Award, and an Academy of American Poets college prize. She lives in Memphis.
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Upcoming Events

Emily Skaja appearing as part of the Southern Festival of Books

Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, TNview map
Location: War Memorial Plaza and Main Public Library.

Emily Skaja appearing at University Southern Indiana

University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, INview map
In conversation with Marcus Wicker. 

Emily Skaja appearing at Arkansas Tech University

Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, ARview map


  • “[In Brute], the anguish comes from an emotionally abusive lover and the abrupt end of a relationship. As the speaker excavates her grief and disbelief, she slowly moves from self-condemnation to a fiery insistence that she can overcome her boyfriend’s damaging assessments of her worth and reclaim the power she once had. . . . The speaker’s brutal honesty and emotional transformation offer an engrossing guide for anyone dealing with a devastating loss.”The Washington Post

  • “The first section of [Brute] ends with a poem of exile: self-imposed, absolutely necessary, freeing. . . . There’s everything in this strong debut.”The Millions
  • “Emily Skaja's [Brute] is lyrical, visceral, sharp like a fang, and filled with lines that pierce and prod and stay embedded inside your skin.”NYLON
  • “Skaja’s poems [explore] experiences of violence in an abusive relationship and their transformation into beauty. . . . Skaja’s ability to hold contrasting feelings in relation yields the tenderness and triumph of this book.”Publishers Weekly
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