2022 UNT Rilke Prize
Music for the Dead and Resurrected
Valzhyna Mort's Music for the Dead and Resurrected (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) has won the 2022 UNT Rilke Prize. The $10,000 prize recognizes a book written by a mid-career poet and published in the preceding year that demonstrates exceptional artistry and vision.
Songs of grieving, memory, and witness lie at the center of Valzhyna Mort's latest collection, Music for the Dead and Resurrected, a book that makes vivid and palpable the upended history of Belarus, a country filled with "forests / of the unburied dead" and tanks driving through the streets. "The empire fell, then snow fell," Mort writes in "Self-Portrait with Madonna on Pravda Avenue," pravda meaning truth, a Russian word that, under Soviet rule implied propaganda, disinformation, and the suppression of free speech. Here, the poet reclaims the word. She restores truth in lines informed by historical insight--invasions and wars, exile, the nuclear catastrophe of Chernobyl--and by a biting humor so characteristic of the region. "What has kept us alive?" a speaker asks. "Our death songs" is the dry answer. Mort's poems enact both an elegy and an affirmation that survival is possible, that tongues can go on speaking, "tied with a black ribbon of verse."
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