Winner of the 2014 Colorado Prize for Poetry, selected by Claudia Keelan

Supplice is the second installment in T. Zachary Cotler’s sonnet sequence that began with Sonnets to the Humans. “Supplice,” the systematic infliction of physical and/or mental torture, is both the subject and the main character of this sequence. These are amatory sonnets, but with love and rhyme tortured into broken and boneset textures. Supplice herself, the dark lady of these sonnets, is difficult to pin down with an epithet. Is she the angel of reality, banality, popular culture, pornography, uncertainty, or economic and environmental crisis? She has something to do with the history of cruelty and pain, with the devaluation of traditional ideas of beauty, and with the silence and science that have replaced divinity. A moving love triangle is to be found in these pages, the vertices of which appear to be Supplice, the reader/writer, and one’s unobtainable ideal.

Supplice is Cotler’s third book of poems. In keeping with his previous books, this is a high-velocity lyricism of angular, elegiac, multi-dimensional pieces, seamlessly joined.

“In T. Zachary Cotler’s Supplice, humanism’s dialectic is itself a primary form of torture. Working inside the circuitry of thesis-antithesis, self-other, the poems collected here answer ‘no’ to Keats’s questions in ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ confessing ‘that truth / is beauty isn’t true.’ In a world become word, ‘the eternal present eternally fails / to be trapped,’ and our poet-pilgrim is bound by dueling via negativa that chart the passage of d’ailleurs or elsewhere, where he finds history has located meaning’s trajectory. A not-ready-for-remnant-sonnet sequence as chilling as it is tutelary.” —Claudia Keelan, final judge

“The city on a hill is at war again, and this time not only with love. Cotler’s terse lyrics of desire—’the anatomies of elsewhere’—enact a baroque masque against backdrops of conflagrating violence. This is a difficult, encrusting lyricism, as of looted jewels.”

—G. C. Waldrep


T. Zachary Cotler’s other books of poetry are House with a Dark Sky Roof and Sonnets to the Humans. He is the author of a novel, Ghost at the Loom, and a critical monograph, Elegies for Humanism. In addition to the Colorado Prize, his awards include the Sawtooth Prize and the Ruth Lilly Fellowship. He is a founding editor of The  Winter Anthology.

Read an excerpt from Supplice.