This week in the PEN Poetry Series, guest editor TC Tolbert features five poems by Hannah Ensor. About Ensor’s work, Tolbert writes: “In her Nadine Gordimer Lecture, Susan Sontag said, ‘I’m often asked if there is something I think writers ought to do, and recently in an interview I heard myself say: ‘Several things. Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world.’’ She also said, ‘Be serious, by which I mean: Never be cynical. And which does not preclude being funny.’ Hannah Ensor is that kind of writer. She integrates TV, sports, gender theory, and word-play – all without being pretentious. I not only trust, but I want to be more like, a writer who laughs when crying and who cries when laughing. I love how these poems simultaneously engage and implicate me.” 

Harbaugh in April

These poems don’t have
the head of Jim Harbaugh

floating around in them.
We are the intangibles

everyone’s been talking about.
We ask can a sporting event

dismantle hegemony . . . and if 
not the game then the activity

around the game . . . queer as shit:
Russell Westbrook. Queer eyes

on the straight guy. We are the lines
drawn onto and around

the action. The players now
chess pieces, profit margins, 

props. Bodies, bro. Apparel holders:
mannequins. When what I think I want

is tattoos what I really want is:
those arms. The whistle

blows the play dead. Someone else
always deciding fact.


Vulvas in the Academy

There was a CFP
about vulva-touching
I responded
I said I am currently
touching my vulva
I was accepted
to the conference
when I showed up
I had no vulva
I said gotcha
I said what is a vulva
to you
they said
are you still touching your vulva
that was their answer
I couldn’t believe it 
I went home
without attending
any of the other panels





not surprised             when people haven’t heard of him. The question

of what work is real, people asked that of Basquiat. Erased him as he

crossed out words of his own. He died. I forget when. He painted

money that became real. Kevin Young calls it alchemal. I’d rather

get money that way than none at all. More often than not I put “Art” in

quotation marks because of having taken it seriously. Putting

something in quotation marks is not crossing it out, is more a

bracketing. Both are attention-getting mechanisms with different

histories. I am a “simple” “artist.” I hope we make potato prints. All this

philosophical shaking and prodding we need: I’m only just seeing it

now. Levity! Levity! All this thinking about pain. I’ll show you pain!

Just kidding. I won’t.



Bob or Man or Boat


Bob, oh Man, oh Boat

Man. Oh Boat on a Man or 
a Boat. Have you seen Bob?
Have you seen a boat bob?

Bob, bob.

Bob, bob, forever.
We got to go 
to the beach, Bob. Oh man,
Bob, your boat.
I’ll man your boat. I’ll bob

your boat. Build a moat.

Moat your boat,
motorboat. Motorboat
Bob, Bob motorboat
Tom. Tom—oh, Tom.

Man Tom. Tom Man
Bob. Boob. Man
boob, Bob
Tom. Tom-tom, I’ll play
Man on your boat, Bob.


Ms. Dryer and the Good Man

A picture of a longdead influential poet smiling sweetly at a small child. Their smiles kill me from beyond the grave. Not worried anymore about what photography isn’t or does in society. So many thoughts taught and abandoned. No abandon, they rise to the surface at surprising moments, the blackberries in a Kinnell poem: unbidden. I understand that whoever you read in your 200-level university poetry class becomes the canon. You assume everyone else too has read that poem, it’s standard issue. I find it hard not to be nasty when I suggest that maybe it shouldn’t be so. It’s hard to disentangle feeling from it. Objectivity is a male feature. Making clouds into items. Even that feels too metaphorical, too JS, it’s hard not to be nasty. The best fact that I can get to at the moment involves the online thing for your W2. Objectivity 

is a male feature, we are made to aspire to it. We are made to aspire toward not anymore feeling the minor sensations as major. You are the only way I can be in a statement. I’m such a libra. You are a scholar of the sexual grouping. You are a practitioner just of what you do with your own body. And maybe what others do with theirs, next to you. Miley Cyrus, Caitlyn Jenner, and Helena Peabody’s mom have all made the news lately as women with bodies. You, though, you feel like an encasement. Textbooks make the cleanest definitions of spaces, shapes, spirals. This, I could quit. This, an encasement. Am I using it right? How embarrassing! As if I just learned of this category. To be fair, the poems I’m writing are about vulvas in the academy. This is what makes them serious. When I was young I did not understand that I was serious. Now I understand and can only vaguely do anything with that information except point back at what I made and say, See? I’m such a libra. Libra bodies are co-dependent.

I am a liberal body so sick of nonbooks put forth by male survivors of male artists who died but these male survivors have presses and they make us pay twenty-four dollars for a terrible book with expensive cover design they dupe us into caring about the dead male and buying his book that never was a book while he lived which is certainly not to suggest that worthwhile art is only ever published while the worthwhile artist is still alive but instead that we are encouraged to read a twenty-four dollar posthumous book breathlessly and gratefully with some kind of relish, that some types of dead people are intended to persist past their moment of immediate relevance, I could reference particular moments but that would dull my point which is that their point is dull, that the point of their misogyny is how gentle it is, so gentle that we applaud, well I know when that Hotline Bling

it can only mean one thing 



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).