Hillbilly Madonna

Product Details
Driftwood Press
Publish Date
5.5 X 8.5 X 0.23 inches | 0.29 pounds
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About the Author

Sara Moore Wagner is the winner of the 2021 Cider Press Review Editors' Prize for her manuscript Swan Wife (expected late summer 2022). She the author of the poetry manuscript Hillbilly Madonna (2020 Driftwood Press Manuscript prize winner), a 2021 National Poetry Series Finalist, and the recipient of a 2019 Sustainable Arts Foundation award. Her poetry has appeared in many journals and anthologies including Sixth Finch, Waxwing, Nimrod, Beloit Poetry Journal, and The Cincinnati Review, among others. She lives in West Chester Ohio with her husband Jon, and children Cohen, Daisy, and Vivienne.


"Say Dorothy Allison had a baby with Hans Christian Andersen. That ain't right-I know it, I know-but just say. And say that girl child grows up to wander the tracks, all the while lining up pennies to be smashed on the rails, all the while picking up shed antlers and discarded needles along the berm. And say here comes a fast train, a Christ-haunted train, a train heavy with the freight of West Virginia, a cargo of such great violence and great tenderness that you know the girl is standing far, far too close to all that's barreling past. She stands so close the force of it blows back her hair; she stands so close you're sure she'll get hit and won't survive. But she doesn't step back. No, she stands her ground. This, dear reader, is Sara Wagner, writing this book. These poems ache and ache and ache, but not once do they flinch. Read them and prepare yourself to be wrung out, to be redeemed, to be fit to be tied."

-Nickole Brown, author of To Those Who Were Our First God

"Sara Moore Wagner's Hillbilly Madonna is a book I have been waiting for. Wagner's family was part of the great diaspora of Appalachian people from the mountains to the cities, and the voice of one raised in that borderland, not quite urban, not quite country, has been long missing from our poetry. No more. And what a voice! Hillbilly Madonna offers an unflinching yet tender look at a largely untended girlhood where 'No one told us/how to live as a girl would, /... shave / the holler from our limbs like scraping /paint off an old truck.' These poems are an intoxicating mix of story, myth, image and truthtelling. They compel us 'to really look at it, to see it blinking/through the blackness' - a life, in all its fierce and complicated beauty. Wagner tells us, 'I pick an orange tiger lily with my messy orange fingers, / because I want to remember blooming. / Because I think I could just bloom.' And on these pages, she has."

-Pauletta Hansel, author of Heartbreak Tree

"This collection emerges from the intersection of the vernacular world and the empire of divine myth. Father, mother, sister, baby, self-each holds a space in a rough-hewn narrative of abuse, addiction, and survival-and also exists as a looming shadow of its antecedent in the realm of archetype. The canopy over Wagner's creation, and the terrain that buttresses it, is the Appalachian landscape itself, and its synonym, the body. 'When the doctor opens me up, / my bones are gold- / There is some enchantment in them, ' she writes. I am wholly enchanted by Hillbilly Madonna."

-Diane Seuss, author of frank: sonnets

"Hillbilly Madonna transports us to West Virginia, into the heart and what it's like to be a sister and a daughter and a mother. Sara Moore Wagner crafts an exquisite balance between beauty and grit in these poems where abuse and addiction loom mythic over the Appalachian panorama. It's such an achievement to craft such a realized world in these poems, ghosts and ache and all. Wagner writes, 'The girls want / water or open skin, that sky, the smoke / of thousands of campfires, sulfur, / the face of a lesser god'-Hillbilly Madonna at once confirms and denies these things for them, for us. What an incredible book."

-W. Todd Kaneko, author of This Is How the Bone Sings