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About this poet

Sjohnna McCray was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 7, 1972. He studied at Ohio University and earned an MFA from the University of Virginia where he was a Hoyns Fellow. McCray also received an MA in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

His poetry collection, Rapture, was selected by Tracy K. Smith as the winner of the 2015 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and will be published by Graywolf Press in 2016.

About Rapture, Smith writes, “These poems are so beautifully crafted, so courageous in their truth-telling, and so full of what I like to think of as lyrical wisdom—the visceral revelations that only music, gesture and image, working together, can impart—that not only did they stop me in my tracks as a judge, but they changed me as a person. Sjohnna McCray’s is an ecstatic and original voice, and he lends it to family, history, race and desire in ways that are healing and enlarging. Rapture announces a prodigious talent and a huge human heart.”

McCray’s poems have been published in numerous journals, including Chicago Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, and The Southern Review.

His honors include the AWP Intro Journal Award, Ohio University’s Emerson Poetry Prize, and a Pushcart Prize nomination. In addition to poetry, he has published essays on race, mental illness, and homosexuality in various journals.

McCray has taught in New York City, Phoenix, and Chicago. He currently lives in Savannah, Georgia, where he teaches in the English department at Savannah State University.

Agnostic Front

I believe the spine was stolen
            right out of my father’s back.            

Slumped at the kitchen table,
            he doesn’t move.  Beyond the window,

light pierces the clouds,
            inspires all matter to burst.

Father had a way with explosions.
            The noon sun’s breaking and entering

his head—smashing the temple
            and storming his heart.  The dark organ stops.            

Arteries close for grief.  Love leaves the barest
            bones of a thought: clouds evaporate. 

How the spit pools and falls to the tile.

Copyright © 2015 by Sjohnna McCray. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2015 by Sjohnna McCray. Used with permission of the author.

Sjohnna McCray. Photo credit: Aaron Mervin

Sjohnna McCray

Sjohnna McCray was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 7, 1972. He studied at Ohio University and earned an MFA from the University of Virginia where he was a Hoyns Fellow. McCray also received an MA in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

His poetry collection, Rapture, was selected by Tracy K. Smith as the winner of the 2015 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and will be published by Graywolf Press in 2016.

by this poet

poem

A poor boy promised me a textbook view
           of the stars.  No snaking city lights
                       from a crown of downtown buildings,

Medusa-like in their paralyzing beauty.
           He drives the dark highway
                       and I hold him to his word, he turns    

poem

—Cincinnati, Ohio, 1987

Rage is the language of men,
     layers of particulates fused.

     Rage is the wine
          father pours to the ground

          for men whose time has passed. Rage
          is gripped in the hands

     like the

poem

Driving the highway from Atlanta to Phoenix
means swapping one type of heat for another.
A bead of sweat rolls over my chest,
around my belly and evaporates
so quickly I forget I’m sweating. 
Body chemistry changes like the color
of my skin: from yellow to sienna.
My sister says,

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