The 2021 Winner of The Sundog Poetry Prize is BAGS AND TOOLS by Michael Fleming
What compelled me about Bags and Tools was its reach for a “we.” The “we” was open enough and varied enough to encompass a wide swath of people(s) but did not assume a sameness—indeed, it sought in part to elucidate the matter of difference through questioning. In “Dreams,” Michael Fleming notes that “Their logic is not your logic,” and then goes on to write ironically of the speaker’s own “fine certitudes” that fail in the light of others’ realities. This brings to mind Taha Muhammad Ali’s line “My happiness is not your happiness,” which immediately agrees upon happiness but insists upon its own terms while questioning the aims of others. It seems a simple observation, but it is not—it is nuanced and insightful.
Much of this author’s work is the same, plain-spoken, but upon reading it presents its concerns. What is in the bag of the speaker who presents themself as a would-be vagabond, a wayward traveler? A curious mind, a passionate search for a larger framework (God, Love) through what the reader could think of as letters to beloveds as much as dedications where names are cited. This is a book I will read again, then again. It is the speaker’s trying that I find so relatable. The skein is thin here, so author and speaker are close. Michael Fleming effectively uses the tools of craft to take us along on this narrow path that widens and promises to open into broad understanding.
—Vievee Francis (judge’s citation)
“Michael Fleming’s debut collection brims with wit and irresistible music. His finely crafted poems are songs that carry the pulse of human experience, speak in the voices of animals, leap into the future and back through history. Bags and Tools has a global vision, moving from ballad to blues, Vermont woods to New York streets, bringing friends and lovers along for the ride with insistent rhythmic energy. What a gift these wise poems are! Fleming sings of a broken world still resonant with hope, where ‘the sky’s an ocean, breathing tides of light.’”
—Diana Whitney, author of Wanting It
“The big-hearted poems in Michael Fleming’s Bags and Tools welcome you into their world, their deep learning worn lightly. By turns they celebrate the good, using their forms to shape those thoughts, while other poems, such as the crown of sonnets that constitutes ‘Corona,’ use form to hold together the things around us that seem ready to explode. In this dark time, these poems are candles no wind can blow out.”
—Wyn Cooper, author of Mars Poetica
“Here is a steady poetic hand working within the beautiful boundaries of form, rhythm, and rhyme while engaging myriad points of view—a jaguar, the scores paid in Vichy France, an astronaut, to name just three. Michael Fleming’s imagination knows no limits as he ponders and feels his way through one emotional landscape after another. The sheer level of articulation is quietly dazzling: the right word consistently appearing in the right place. I am reminded of something ancient yet ever contemporary and ever crucial: the honesty
of the poet’s labors.”
—Baron Wormser, author of Unidentified Sighing Objects
“This unusually rich variety of lived experiences makes Bags and Tools a pleasure to read. Divided into four sections, the author confronts the dread of the pandemic, recounts personal adventures from his wild years, and muses about subjects global and local. Composed almost entirely in rhyme and meter, the book is also an impressive feat of formalism — especially since the gorgeous musicality in Fleming’s poems never gets in the way of what the author is communicating. . . . By the middle of the book, Fleming’s work feels less like a casting off of tools and more like a gathering of them. . . . Fleming’s exceptionally well-wrought debut is a reminder of how rewarding the unseen labor of the mind can be.”
—Benjamin Aleshire, SevenDays (link to full review)
About the Author
Michael Fleming was born in San Francisco, raised in Wyoming, and has lived and learned and worked all around the world, from Thailand, England, and Swaziland to Berkeley, New York City, and now Brattleboro, Vermont. He’s been a teacher, a grad student, a carpenter, a musician, and always a writer; for the past twenty years, he has edited books of every description.
Author photo by Elizabeth Ungerleider.
FRANCES CANNON is a writer and artist currently living in Vermont, where she teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and Champlain College. She is the author and illustrator of several books of hybrid text and artwork: Walter Benjamin: Reimagined, MIT Press, The Highs and Lows of Shapeshift Ma and Big-Little Frank, Gold Wake Press, Tropicalia, Vagabond Press, and Uranian Fruit, Honeybee Press. She was born in Utah and has since lived in Oregon, Vermont, California, Maine, Iowa, Italy, Guatemala, France, and Mexico making art and writing books. She has an MFA in creative writing from Iowa and a BA from the University of Vermont. @frankyfrancescannon frankyfrancescannon.com
90 pages; 5.5 x 8.5 / Softcover
ISBN: 978-1-9505848-4-0 (print)
Publication Date: April 4, 2022
Distributor: IPG / Chicago
Rights sold: All rights available.
Rights contact: Dede Cummings
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Sundog Poetry Center’s First or Second Book Award Prize for a Vermont Poet, 2021
Final Judge: Vievee Francis
The winner is Bags & Tools, by Michael Fleming. The two runners-up are Some Dark Familiar, by Julia C. Alter, and The River Holds Its Breath, by Partridge Boswell.
Sundog Poetry Center announces the 2021 annual book award for a first or second poetry manuscript, in partnership with Green Writers Press, who will design, print, and distribute the book nationwide.
The final judge was Vievee Francis, author of three books of poetry: Blue-Tail Fly, Horse in the Dark, and Forest Primeval (NUP, winner of the Hurston Wright Legacy Award and the 2017 Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award). Her fourth book, The Shared World, is forthcoming from Northwestern University Press. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online journals, textbooks, and anthologies, including Poetry, Best American Poetry, and Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. She serves as an associate editor of Callaloo and is an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth. She and her husband, poet Matthew Olzmann, live in Vermont.
This contest is open to all Vermont-based poets who have not published more than one full-length collection. Submissions will open on August 1st, 2022. For more information, visit www.sundogpoetry.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.