winner of the Robert Phillips Chapbook Prize from Texas Review Press

J. L. Conrad’s Recovery inhabits a dreamscape filled with fragments of conversation, remembered loved ones, and the profound disorientation that accompanies loss. Written over the span of a week, this poetic sequence invites us to imagine how a body flooded with grief or physical pain becomes self-identified with these sensations: a takeover that Elaine Scarry describes as annihilation, blurring “all that is inside and outside” and knotting them together. If grief is an unreality that parallels dreams—this doesn’t feel real—then poetry, with its heightened awareness, is what brings us back to the world outside the body. The incantatory poems in this sequence offer a way of moving beyond the self at a time when the only way through is through. Or, in the words that Shoshana Felman offers about Paul Celan’s poetry, “To seek reality is both to set out to explore the injury inflicted by it—to turn back on, and try to penetrate, the state of being stricken, wounded by reality [wirklichkeitswund]—and to attempt, at the same time, to reemerge from the paralysis of this state, to engage reality [Wirklichkeit suchend] as an advent, a movement, and as a vital, critical necessity of moving on.” As Conrad’s poetry provides glimpses into questions of human frailty, loss, and sentience itself, the speaker in Recovery looks not for transcendence but embraces a body marked and wounded, a body trailing ghosts.


Praise for the Chapbook

“J. L. Conrad’s Recovery is a Bachelardian exploration of interior space, in particular the doors and walls that lie between dream, memory, and experience. It is also a chronicle of grief, the way deep grief enters the house of self like a draft or a scent and lodges: without our consent, of course, but there is something sibling-like in its presence, a relation we all share to loss. These are luminous poems, dealt out like cards on an oak table in autumn sunlight.” 

G. C. Waldrep, author of The Earliest Witnesses


“‘The lungs are the seat of grief,’ J. L. Conrad’s Recovery begins. I see this brilliant sequence demonstrating a similar process—of flux and transformation, of expansion and contraction, of taking in and letting go—as our speaker embarks on a new journey in the wake of loss. I admire the way Conrad manipulates language to compose and recompose a scene, reminding me of Simone Weil’s declaration that ‘absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.’ These poems skillfully pair the surreal—the wish-fulfillment and diorama-building of dreams—with remnants of the everyday. They turn, they stumble, they play sleight of hand, they startle us awake. With a lyrical vision so precise it reaches wildness, Recovery opens up new realities in the aftermath of loss.”

Gale Marie Thompson, author of Helen, or My Hunger


In Recovery, J.L. Conrad weaves story, memory, dream, history, and more, into a meditation on family and the place of a self among others. It’s an always elusive subject, fraught with protection spells and a necessary vulnerability that allows the reader full participation in the various emergencies of the present and it keeps coming at us, in, as Conrad writes, “Criticism is talking about art // behind its back. Consider this a missive / from the front.”

—John Gallaher, author of My Life in Brutalist Architecture


© 2022 J.L. Conrad