blackbirdonline journalSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1


A Reading by Kiki Petrosino from White Blood
captured November 12, 2020

On November 12, 2020, poet Kiki Petrosino read from her most recent collection, White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia, winner of the 2021 University of North Texas Rilke Prize. She read virtually as a part of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Visiting Writers Series. The reading is introduced by David Wojahn, who says of White Blood

it addresses on levels both personal and public some of the most fraught subjects of our time: race, the legacy of slavery, cultural memory, and the deeply divided nature of America at this particular moment. The subjects and approaches Petrosino employs to address these issues are breathtakingly various: DNA ancestry reports, Thomas Jefferson and the vexed mecca of his Monticello, archival material drawn from what can be known about the author’s ancestors—“the free Smiths of Louisa county,” 18th century cookbooks, and family graveyards.

And the book relentlessly seeks to find the poetic forms to shape our knowledge of the past: a sonnet crown, erasure poems, triolets, villanelles, prayer. And ultimately it is a book of celebration, despite all the odds against that. In the words of a poem by the great Robert Hayden, Petrosino discovers “the beauty of what’s hard-bitten, knotted, stinted, flourishing / in despite, on thorny meagerness, / thriving, twisting into grace.”

Following the reading, Petrosino answers questions from David Wojahn and Kathy Graber, discussing among other topics, the personal and historical nature of her work, use of forms, and future projects.  

return to top