Girl With Death Mask by Jennifer Givhan

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Love, tequila, sex, first periods, late nights, abuse, and heartache. The journey from girl to womanhood is brimming with transformative magic that heals even as it shatters. These are the memories that haunt the dreams of what was and what could have been in Girl with Death Mask.

In four rich and imaginative movements of poems, Jennifer Givhan profiles the suffering and the love of a Latina girl and then mother coming to terms with sexual trauma. Her daughter is a touchstone of healing as she seeks to unravel her own emotions and protect the next generation of women with a fierceness she must find within. Givhan exploits changing poetic forms to expose what it means to mature in a female body swirling with tenderness, violence, and potential in an uncertain world. Girl with Death Mask is a cathartic and gripping confession of the trials of adolescence and womanhood.


Girl with Death Mask by Jennifer Givhan was selected by Ross Gay as the winner of the 2017 Blue Light Books Prize, awarded on alternating years to a short story or poetry collection of outstanding merit. To learn more about the prize, please click here.

Praise for Girl with Death Mask

"These poems beautifully, convincingly do what I hope poems might–they disrupt what I know, or what I thought I knew. And in that way they invent for me a world. A world haunted and brutal, yes. But one mended, too, by the love and tenderness and vision and magic by which these poems are made. Again and again I found myself looking into space, sort of shaken, sort of grasping, turning and turning inside a line or phrase, inside an image or metaphor, inside some devastating music."

- Ross Gay, author of Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

"Magic, alchemy, transmogrification, and the body's deep obsessions fill these lyrically charged poems with an unearthed power. Givhan is a poet who knows the bones of her own world so well that she can rearrange them into anything she wishes. Both surreal and rooted in truth, the complex and gorgeous poems in Girl with Death Mask continue to shake, stun, and weave their spells long after the book is closed."

- Ada Limón, author of Bright Dead Things

"In the image-rich, circuitous journey of Girl with Death Mask, the girl both defies and weds death and its accomplice, sex, defies and weds collective mythologies. She flies and she falls, floats and drowns. . . In this raw, kinetic masterpiece of survival Givhan assures us, ‘even through death masks,’ Givhan assures us, 'we can kiss.'"

- Diane Seuss, author of Four-Legged Girl

Girl with Death Mask shake the bars of our prisons and also those on which we write our music. . . . These poems illuminate how to love the body How hard our bodies work to bring their wisdom to us. How hard it is to love what we How hard it is to learn the ways that love abides despite our best efforts to dislodge, disprove, and doubt it. These poems find their way. They shake up our knowing in the best ways.

- Irena Praitis, author of The Last Stone in the Circle