Our Lady of Not Asking Why
Winner of the New Issues Prize
“Every page of Our Lady of Not Asking Why is lit by an electric human voice. It is a collection of voices that interrogates ideas about love and takes us deep into the complicated textures of its failures as well as the achievements of its mysterious, intimate bonds. These poems explore how we understand ourselves in proximity to our myths, vocabularies, desires, and most importantly, to one another, and each audacious act of speaking possesses ‘its own set of vowels,’ its own ‘ratifying pulse.’ Courtney Kampa knows ‘[i]t’s easy to say true things/without feeling any truth in them,’ and she possesses the lyric gifts to say what is hard and make us feel the truth of it. This is beautiful, sensual work, rich with precision and poise.” —Mary Szybist
“Laden, unsparing, and luminous, the poems in Courtney Kampa’s Our Lady of Not Asking Why are acts of faith in language’s capacity to articulate the most fundamental, and crucial, human truths. Even when faced with ‘something we haven’t words for,’ which is not infrequently the case, Kampa’s poetry—with its layers of hypotaxis, metaphor, metanoia, and paradox (‘It wants to want / for nothing, which it does, but also wants / a purpose, which it has already’)—rises to the occasion by diving down into it, making the reach for the everyday ineffable (mysteries of the heart, of the past; the inner lives of others) as graceful, and gorgeous, as it is inseparable from leading a fully human life. ‘There are loaves and fishes / inside us,’ she writes. ‘There are whole vineyards / we’ll never see.’ Our Lady of Not Asking Why is a testament to the poet’s refusal not to try to see them anyway—and to the way she somehow, through the effort, lays what’s inside us bare.”
“If the title of Courtney Kampa’s debut collection begs the question ‘why?,’ her opening poem, ‘Cardiac,’ offers one answer: ‘Heart with its headache. With its own set of vowels, / its ratifying pulse: because, because because.’ And if the supporting leg—to borrow a dance term for these poems of gracious, balletic force—is girlhood (vulnerable, tensile, mythic, wary, trusting), the working leg is whatever act of blessing or forgiveness is fueled by the wounded, broken, resilient, bloodloaded nave of the heart. Wielding breath-taking lyricism and bro-nacular with equal savvy, Kampa’s fearless poems course with a ruthless, talismanic tenderness that is rare and necessary. They ‘introduce us to ourselves.’”
—Lisa Russ Spaar
Courtney Kampa received her B.A. from the University of Virginia and her M.F.A. from Columbia University. A finalist for the 2016 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, she is currently a Stegner Fellow.