Sawgrass Sky

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Andrew Hemmert has a scientist’s eye and a lyricist’s heart. In poems both luscious and austere, he gives life to a version of Florida far removed from the shiny Disneyesque images we’ve all come to know. His poems are temptingly wild journeys that satiate wanderlust, and readers will not be disappointed in this poet’s sensual imagery, deft storytelling, and expansive view of what poetry is. In Hemmert’s world, all is nature, and the suburbs hold as much mystery and wonder as the swamps. This book is both incantatory and enchanting. It’s a fine debut from a poet who brings us otherworldly beauty in the midst of a compromised world. –Allison Joseph, author of Confessions of a Barefaced Woman

In Sawgrass Sky, Andrew Hemmert reveals a Florida that’s left out of the guidebooks, a place where mountains rise from refuse-heaps, black bears prowl the suburbs, and the past “is like an orange grove / abandoned behind broken barbed wire.” Hemmert’s poems probe that past, juxtaposing the Sunshine State’s ludicrous and sublime in short lyrics and longer meditations that are dizzy with insights and surprises. Though set in the woods and waters of a particular childhood, this thrilling collection is a larger reckoning with the homes we leave and those we make in the world. –Chelsea Rathburn, author of Still Life with Mother and Knife

From “the state with the prettiest name,” as Elizabeth Bishop describes Florida, comes Andrew Hemmert’s dazzling debut Sawgrass Sky. His poems recount “a disappearing landscape of sawgrass and smoke,” where the wilderness of panthers and abandoned orange groves contends with the suburbs of Hemmert’s youth. Despite development’s encroachment, Hemmert establishes himself as a poet of the tropics, rendering lush, otherworldly visions of the natural world. In one gorgeous poem after another, the poet records how velvet night “slides in like a deadbolt” and starlings flush from sugarcane. He preserves the music of “reeds rasping against the wind’s tongue” and the “octopus shadows” cast by live oaks. These incantatory poems land like a revelation. Hemmert also dares to observe his world in vulnerable detail. Heir apparent to James Kimbrell’s Christ-haunted Florida poems, Sawgrass Sky explores an evangelical boyhood in which dads are baptized in backyard swimming pools and sons must become seekers in their own time. Instead of disbelief, Hemmert finds his own paradise, problematic though it is, in the margins of our modern world. This is a young poet’s song against forgetting places and people that will not come again, his “hymn people are forgetting how to sing.” Blessedly, Andrew Hemmert wrote it all down. –Jennifer Key, author of The Old Dominion