Michelle Bitting

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Michelle Bitting was short-listed for the 2020 Montreal International Poetry Prize, the 2021 Fish Poetry Contest judged by Billy Collins, and a finalist for the 2021 Coniston Prize. She won the 2018 Fischer Poetry Prize, Quarter After Eight’s 2018 Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest, and a fourth collection of poetry, Broken Kingdom won the 2018 Catamaran Prize and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2018. She has poems published in The American Poetry Review, Narrative, The Los Angeles Review, Rattle, Thrush, Vinyl Poetry, Vox Populi, The Paris-American, Love's Executive Order, The Raleigh Review, Plume, Tupelo Quarterly, and others. New poems are found in Air/Light, The Night Heron Barks, The New Guard/BANG!, Sugar House Review, Radar Poetry, Limp Wrist, The Banyan Review, SWWIM, and Pine Hills Review. She was a finalist for the 2020 Reed Magazine Edwin Markham Prize, as well as the 2019 Sonora
Review and New Millennium Flash Prose contests. Other credits include the Beyond Baroque and Glimmer Train poetry awards and finalist for the Poets
& Writers Magazine California Exchange, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the Julia Peterkin, and Rita Dove poetry awards. Poems have been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net prizes, as well as Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda, American Literary Review, and Tupelo Quarterly’s Poetry Awards. Michelle is a Lecturer in Poetry and Creative Writing at Loyola Marymount University and Film Studies at U of Arizona Global.



BY Michelle Bitting • POSTED ON April 15, 2022

A diverse selection of existential poems that chronicle ongoing emotional journeys.

One the main themes of this lush tapestry of poetic works is self-examination—peeling back layers of one’s experiences to understand one’s identity and what one can become through that understanding. To that end, the 50 poems in this collection, which won the 2020 Wilder Series Poetry Book Prize, often bare the souls of their speakers. In the powerhouse “Boxing Day,” for example, the speaker remembers finding her alcoholic brother dead in their parents’ house on the day after Christmas, and her regrets are brilliantly symbolized by an image of a “raggedy / home-sewn angel / atop her green and spiky / throne…watching the whole thing unravel.” In “Legacy,” the speaker, who’s now a parent herself, grapples with a painful memory of her mother: “I tried to peel my mother’s words from my head, remove them like tape from the backs of poems I’d pressed to office walls in need of clearing when I left. But another layer of beige paint—stripped.” Other poems in this book address such topics as the era of Donald Trump’s presidency (“Tender Cages”), a son’s post-top surgery (“Through a Window in Winter” and “As He Now Lets Fall”) and the Covid-19 pandemic (“Ghost Campus” and “Sissy Spacek Telekinesis Ain’t Got Nothin’ on a Pandemic,” the latter of which references the bloody 1976 horror film Carrie).

One of the most noteworthy aspects of this collection, as a whole, is how the poems subtly blend together images and ideas to create a powerful, cumulative effect. In “Pasiphae,” for example, the title character contemplates having sex with the Cretan Bull and considers what offspring that union could produce: “What rough beast is born of our coupling / will suckle at my breast / swaddled in unraveled leagues / of my sea-like hair.” Much later in the collection, the Minotaur returns, as does the labyrinthine imagery, in the poem “Labyrinth,” which begins with “Here we are at the entrance again.” In “No One Told Me About the Death,” the speaker’s parents perch like birds on the couch on Christmas morning: “Mother fed us pie, father, seeds of grief. / Birds on a couch, a wire, they waited / To feel filled up / With more than pie and seeded grief. / We ate ourselves in silence.” That imagery of birds feeding their young is effectively revisited in “Stilled Life,” in which the speaker and her two brothers—both suicides—are likened to baby birds: “We learned to open wide and swallow it all—liquor, pills, the barrel of a gun, when it came to that.” As the collection goes on, these connections contribute to its three-dimensional, immersive quality, which readers may liken to experiencing a sprawling art exhibit. And, like the works of visual art in such exhibits, these poems, and their kaleidoscopic images, will resonate with readers for a long time after they’ve closed the book.

A lyrical narrative tapestry that expresses a lifetime of love and lament.

Pub Date: April 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-948767-16-3

Page count: 119pp

Publisher: Two Sylvias Press

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022



BY Michelle Bitting • POSTED ON Sept. 15, 2018

Bitting (Notes to the Beloved, 2017, etc.) offers a poetry collection that combines environmental, religious, and familial themes.

This lush new book of poems, which won the 2018 Catamaran Poetry Prize for West Coast poets, invites readers into a space that’s both contemplative and visceral. From the very first work, “An Hour North of Lee Vining, California,” about fishing in the Golden State, the author’s descriptions evoke vivid, lively settings. Religious imagery also abounds, from God’s rampant destruction in the book of Genesis to the stained glass, pews, and cup of Sunday services. Some of Bitting’s lines even read like prayers: “I remember what matters. / Please don’t ever remind me again.” Motherhood emerges as a theme in the latter sections, as when Bitting’s speaker expresses awe at her offspring in “Touched”: “I don’t know how / we got so lucky / to say we know you well when / clearly you are from somewhere else.” A father-son plumbing repair sparks equal amazement at how a fitful teenager became a man who’s patient enough to unclog a sink in “sometimes i want to look away.” In “Everything Crumbling Becoming Something New,” the narrator alternately grieves and celebrates her daughter’s declaration that she wants to be a boy: “woman   now man / all your multitudes   I’m learning to sing you,” the poet writes. Throughout, the metaphors are masterful and fully engage all the reader’s senses; water balloons are “watered organs that want to burst” (“What the Rain Made”), female genitalia is a “vinegar cave” (“The Slaying”), and coffee is “dark fluid sun” (“After”). Bitting is a seductive writer who eases readers into the darkest depths; she’s able to open a poem in the seemingly benign setting of a high school darkroom and end it with the untimely death of a brother in Yosemite. Fans of Sharon Olds’, Margaret Atwood’s, and Louise Erdrich’s poetry will find much to admire in Bitting’s vulnerable, emotive free-verse style.

A glorious set that weaves together the ethereal, earthly, and mundane.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9848403-6-6

Page count: 86pp

Publisher: Catamaran

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

The Couple Who Fell To Earth Cover

The Couple Who Fell To Earth

BY Michelle Bitting • POSTED ON May 1, 2016

In her third book-length collection, Bitting (Notes to the Beloved, 2012, etc.) converses with fellow poets, both classic and contemporary.

If Louis C.K. is a comic’s comic, and Benoît Violier was a chef’s chef, readers might think of Bitting as a poet’s poet. While she displays her wares for all to see—and admire—there is a level of excellence in her verse that should provide numerous pleasures for the connoisseur. In her new collection, she is often in conversation with poets, including Dante Alighieri, Wendell Berry, James Merrill, and Frank O’Hara. “Immanent, Purgatorio” is subtitled “(with Dante Alighieri),” and the poem—like the Italian master’s Divine Comedy—reflects on the afterlife as both reality and metaphor: “the world being a jagged heaven my soles learn / to tread more tenderly. My head of red clouds / and wounded distortions: bells and satanic flutes heard / at hyper-pitch by the flea-bitten crowd.” Yet “Immanent” doesn’t merely recall Divine Comedy; written in terza rima—the very difficult verse form that Dante made famous—Bitting’s piece could be a canto in the Purgatorio. By contrast, “Thoughts Jotted in a Vicodin Haze on a Line by Wendell Berry” features a more confrontational reworking of the famous farmer-poet’s work. In Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things,” the author imagines that untamed nature might be a succor “when despair for the world grows.” Feeling the gnaw of the same despair, Bitting turns instead to “a pill in my dresser / wrapped in layers of Chinese silk / [that] I down / with a swig of pink lemonade / On an empty stomach / it’s pure.” That Bitting replaces Berry’s peace of wild things with pharmaceuticals is either playful or totally provocative, but in either case, the poem is a worthy, inventive homage to the elder writer. Near the heart of her book, the author gives readers in “When the Sky Makes a Certain Sign” one of those lines that might sneak into her obituary decades in the future: “Every poem’s a love poem.” And in every one of Bitting’s diamond-sharp verses, there is something to love. Readers should count themselves lucky if this sublime volume falls into their laps.

With this poetry collection, the author firmly establishes herself as a powerful contemporary voice in American letters.

Pub Date: May 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-936196-54-8

Page count: 110pp

Publisher: C & R Press

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016



BY Michelle Bitting • POSTED ON Jan. 15, 2012

Bitting (Good Friday Kiss, 2008, etc.) returns with earthy, adventurous and existential free verse.

Bitting is the rare poet who clearly understands that sublimity is never more than one overwrought image away from absurdity. Though clearly capable of the sublime, she is careful to counterbalance the sacred with the profane and the transcendent with the commonplace in crafting what is, on the whole, a forcefully well-proportioned collection. In “Mammary,” for instance, narrator and reader are transported by a chain of associations from the highway sights outside the narrator’s car to visions of her friend’s body as she undergoes a mastectomy. What begins as psychological free association grows increasingly mystical (and worshipful) as the narrator evokes Promethean suffering—"I imagine birds and flight / as the elliptical sweep of sharpness / cuts the pale sky of your chest, / steel beaks of surgical tools / carving out the flesh cream, / making smoke of tumor meat”—before resurrecting her friend’s breasts as “two blond angels, / flying out / beyond the moon’s milky scar” to “spread their innocence." As counterweight to such moments of profound pathos, Bitting demystifies some of life’s most hallowed experiences, such as in “Birth,” a darkly humorous portrayal of childbirth as a telescoping series of indignities in which a Demerol-injected mother on “a Jimi Hendrix acid trip” greets her “baby’s head galumphing / through the ravaged pit” with “a sphincter blast of feces.” Between these extremes, this collection covers a lot of ground—music, death, sex, family, autism, suicide, aging, food—but it always does so from the perspective of a thoroughly embodied narrator. There is a comfortable, even epicurean, egocentrism to Bitting’s narrators that insists on the primacy of the sensual. In this way, and in the way her narrators respond to mortality by burrowing even further into their own skins, Bitting proves herself a sister poet to Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds and Sheryl St. Germain. Yet even with her range, lighter poems like “His Hat,” a comic come-on to Johnny Depp, sometimes feel like filler.

Not a perfect collection—but it comes close.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0983136231

Page count: 92pp

Publisher: Sacramento Poetry Center Press

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

Awards, Press & Interests

NOTES TO THE BELOVED: Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books

NOTES TO THE BELOVED: Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books

NOTES TO THE BELOVED: Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books

NOTES TO THE BELOVED: Beyond Baroque Foundation Poetry Award, 2011

NOTES TO THE BELOVED: Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award, 2011

NOTES TO THE BELOVED: Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books



The Couple Who Fell To Earth: Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books, 2016

NOTES TO THE BELOVED: Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books

NOTES TO THE BELOVED: Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books, 2012

The Couple Who Fell To Earth: Kirkus Star

NOTES TO THE BELOVED: Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books

NOTES TO THE BELOVED: Named to Kirkus Reviews' Best Books

Five Poets to Watch in 2013, 2013

Transatlantic Poetry on Air with Robert Peake and Andrew Philip, 2013

The Sunday Poet-Gwarlingo, 2013

Levure Littéraire, 2013

At the Table With Rainn Wilson and Soul Pancake, 2012


Good Friday Kiss

Published: Jan. 1, 2008
ISBN: ISBN-10098150101001
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