Skip to main navigation Skip to main content


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.

Share Title

Publication Date
Trim Size
7 x 9
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.
More by author

Upcoming Events

Emily Skaja reading at Novel Memphis

Novel Memphis in Memphis, TNview map

Emily Skaja reading at Second Flight Books

Second Flight Books in Lafayette, INview map
Reading and in conversation with Corey Van Landingham.

Emily Skaja and Jenny Xie reading at Housing Works

Housing Works Bookstore in New York, NYview map

Emily Skaja reading at Joseph-Beth Booksellers

Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati in Cincinnati, OHview map


  • “Skaja’s poems are both primal scream-songs and elegies to the end of a relationship. . . . With relentless, driving energy, Skaja’s poems seek brutal truths while searching for meaningful transformation.”Booklist
  • “Emily Skaja’s Brute is at once terrifying and hypnotic, strange and yet profoundly meaningful.”Crab Fat Magazine
  • “Emily Skaja reaches for nature in Brute to overcome the loss of an abusive lover, to overcome grief. . . . Skaja knows exactly how to engage nature, readers, and life. Her diverse poetics prove her broad range of skills. She takes risks. . . . All poems in Brute flow with precision and ease.”The New York Journal of Books
  • “These poems say: it’s all or nothing. Skaja goes deep to link the raw and the wounded, to spellbind and release.”—Marianne Boruch
Back to Table of Contents