Winner, 2015 Trio Award
Winner, 2015 Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award
Carolyn Hembree is a firebrand for staying true and for reaching into the beyond. She writes high-powered and unwaveringly of the fearlessness of the human ticker. There is innuendo, solitude, jubilation, and awelessness. Her precise phrasing teaches us to be alert in our living. These new poems are so quietly brilliantly crafted, so mindful and brimming with pluck. Each turn of line, gorgeously sewn with heart gut string and sine qua non.
— Nikky Finney
“Kill the harbinger” it begins, knowing what we are careening toward. Caustic, jangly language all up everywhere and broken u-turning through a freaky, grim yet brightly ramshackle Hill Country for an account of loss the poet, steely and smartly, won’t leave mythic. Carolyn Hembree has let no sentence alone, prodding the two-headed viper of vernacular till it drives fangs into desperation, quantum mechanics, the Holy Spirit, a Sears catalog, a country song bleeding through radio static. “Ain’t we all hiding/ some kind of plague under our fig leaf,” asks one of Hembree’s cast. Maybe so, but this stunning collection tears the leaf away.
— Douglas Kearney
Carolyn Hembree’s wildly original book, “Rigging A Chevy into a Time Machine and Other Ways to Escape a Plague” features a remarkable clarity of voice, and a complete control of the language she wields: long, breathless lines followed by hard, percussive jolts; dynamic and assured on language’s curves. Amidst the unfathomable events at the intersection of real and phantasmagorical darkness in many of the poems, and a simple acceptance of strange phenomena, there is play, and joy in the words: like the tick of the “k’s” in “Necrology from His Forebears”, in Henpeck/Frederick/quickened”, the creative use of how each poem’s literal shape helps direct the reader, to focus us on what is critical in each moment. Her words root her poems in a genuine sense of real location, where you can have a 360-degree imagining of where you, and her characters are in any given moment. Her poems reckon the inevitability of loss, the resignation and hard acceptance that it will come, and the ever-ongoing fight whether to resist or surrender. And how difficult it is just to be, amidst loss. And yet, the characters in the poems here look back without nostalgia or re-coloring the past, even if with gentle regret. Carolyn Hembree’s achievement in Rigging a Chevy is a tangible, though ever-shifting map of lives, with a genuine sense of an individual in each person, as they negotiate the connections between each other. It is poetry that makes us go back to the start after finishing, to be sure we took in each inspired and surgically crafted moment completely.
— Glenn Raucher
Every once in a great while, a writer appears whose style, subject, and voice are like no other, so far outside the mainstream, they constitute the discovery of something akin to a new country. Carolyn Hembree is such a writer. Her Rigging a Chevy into a Time Machine and Other Ways to Escape a Plague is a book-length narrative – part murder-mystery, part Appalachia folklore, part brush arbor revival. It’s poetry of the highest order – language invented, borrowed, recorded as if from oral histories or overheard at prayer meetings – language shaped to a strict but riveting series of expressions. Her main character, Vitalis Cleb, lives partly in the trapped present tense, in a beat-up trailer with a dirt yard and a Chevy truck up on concrete blocks, unable to drive or fly away from this place; and partly, he lives in a world of visions that look back to his forebears (from whom he’s given primers, parables and fables that teach him how to live and die here), and look forward into a future where the visionary Sears Catalog Girl might reveal to him (‘with x-ray vision”) the significance of this place, as well as the way to escape it, as if it were a plague. Like Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Carolyn Hembree’s Rigging a Chevy into a Time Machine and Other Ways to Escape a Plague brings its strange, bewildering world gradually into focus as we enter the force field of her language where the past still haunts the present and shapes each character’s fate.
— Neil Shepard, 2015 Trio Award Judge