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Hillbilly Madonna

Sara Moore Wagner's harrowing Hillbilly Madonna is a stark and ultimately hopeful collection about rural life and the opioid crisis in modern Appalachia.

"This collection emerges from the intersection of the vernacular world and the empire of divine myth. Father, mother, sister, baby, self—each holds a space in a rough-hewn narrative of abuse, addiction, and survival—and also exists as a looming shadow of its antecedent in the realm of archetype. The canopy over Wagner’s creation, and the terrain that buttresses it, is the Appalachian landscape itself, and its synonym, the body. 'When the doctor opens me up, / my bones are gold— / There is some enchantment in them,' she writes. I am wholly enchanted by Hillbilly Madonna."

— Diane Seuss, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Frank: Sonnets

"Sara Moore Wagner’s Hillbilly Madonna is a book I have been waiting for. Wagner’s family was part of the great diaspora of Appalachian people from the mountains to the cities, and the voice of one raised in that borderland, not quite urban, not quite country, has been long missing from our poetry. No more. And what a voice! Hillbilly Madonna offers an unflinching yet tender look at a largely untended girlhood where 'No one told us/how to live as a girl would,/… shave / the holler from our limbs like scraping /paint off an old truck.' These poems are an intoxicating mix of story, myth, image and truthtelling. They compel us 'to really look at it, to see it blinking/through the blackness' – a life, in all its fierce and complicated beauty. Wagner tells us, 'I pick an orange tiger lily with my messy orange fingers, / because I want to remember blooming. / Because I think I could just bloom.' And on these pages, she has.

— Pauletta Hansel, Author of Heartbreak Tree

Cover Artist: Caspar David Fredrich

Cover Designers: Sally Franckowiak, Jerrod Schwarz,

& James McNulty

Sara Moore Wagner is the author of Swan Wife (winner of the 2021 Cider Press Review Editor’s Prize), a recipient of a 2022 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, a 2021 National Poetry Series Finalist, and the recipient of a 2019 Sustainable Arts Foundation award. She is the author of the chapbooks Tumbling After (Redbird, 2022) and Hooked Through (Five Oaks Press, 2017). Her poetry has appeared in many journals and anthologies including Sixth Finch, Waxwing, Nimrod, Western Humanities Review, Tar River Poetry, and The Cincinnati Review, among others. She lives in West Chester, OH with her filmmaker husband Jon and their children, Daisy, Vivienne, and Cohen.

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