Selected by Mark Doty from over one thousand manuscripts for the APR/Honickman First Book Prize, Melissa Stein's debut Rough Honey is a startling, sensuous collection. These poems speak of fragility and power, the contradictions of pleasure, the bruises we bear. With remarkable range, they carry us from a whitewater rafting calamity to the "torrents of wheat" on a family farm; from a peepshow's "manageable storm of boredom and sex" to a passionate fall from grace in an orchard. By turns buoyant and forlorn, Rough Honey's characters both long for and abandon hope of true connection, of home. But their struggles are rendered in language so radiant, it can't help but hint at the possibility of transcendence, the sheer sweetness in being alive.
From "Want Me":
Lemons crystallized in sugar, glistening
on a blue-glazed plate. The rarest volume
bound in blood leather. A silk carpet
woven so finely you can't push a needle through,
that from one edge is the silver of a leaf
underwater, and from the other bleu lumiere,
first frost on the cornflowers. A duet for cello
and woodsmoke, violin and icicle. Tangle of
black hair steeped in sandalwood, jasmine,
bergamot and vetiver and jewelled
with pomegranate seeds . . .
Melissa Stein's poems have appeared in leading literary journals and anthologies, including Best New Poets 2009, New England Review, and The American Poetry Review. She lives in San Francisco.