Teaching the Baby to say
I Love you
Winner, Anhinga Press Poetry Prize, 2021, judged by Ellen Bass
Ellen Bass: The great poet Galway Kinnell said, “To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying with as little concealment as possible, what is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.” Craig Beaven does exactly that in his memorable book, Teaching the Baby to Say I Love You. Delivered in language that is precise and spare, these poems erect no artifice between writer and reader. From the first pages I care—deeply—about this speaker and the characters he brings into these poems
Here is a white father trying to protect his Black children in a treacherous world. Here is a teacher whose students are twisted up in the maelstrom of racism and staggering gun violence. The excellence of this book is how deftly Craig Beaven weaves the intimate with the global, the present and the past, heartache with humor, showing us how inextricable they truly are. Toni Morrison said that she wanted “expressions of goodness” in her work “to illuminate decisively the moral questions.” It’s no small accomplishment that Teaching the Baby to Say I Love You walks that path.
Carrie Fountain: With insight into the constant, complicated work of the teacher and the parent, in Teaching the Baby to say I Love You, Craig Beaven leads his reader with narrative verve and emotional keenness through waves of accruing implication and out far into the deep, troubled waters of race, violence, and our country's ever-unfolding, always troubled present moment. Beaven understands and shoulders the unresolvable weight of his task: “I don't want history / involved in this // embrace,” he writes,” but history / is involved // in everything.”
Eduardo C. Corral: Craig Beaven’s language isn’t neutral or safe or defensive—it wrestles with the never-ending violence of racism and school shootings. There’s no gulf between the personal and the public here. There’s no pretense of answers here. The poems speak to our current moment but also insist on the brutal nowness of the past. The craft, too, is urgent and astute. Lines surge forth, rich with ravishing music. Deft enjambment and splendidly built stanzas jolt, dazzle. These poems take risks that are long overdue. Read and share them.
Adrian Matejka: To write poetry from a parental perspective as Craig Beaven does so tenderly in his extraordinary new collection, Teaching the Baby to say I Love You, requires taking all of the vulnerability stirred up by our children and holding onto it tightly. That embrace isn’t enough to fully protect them or us from the inescapable oppressions we’ve been bequeathed. But when transformed by a poet as gifted and capacious as Beaven, that hug becomes a way to push back against the trepidation. Worry is central to these elegant, meditative poems, yet Beaven finds opportunities to hold fear and wonder simultaneously. His poems are reminders that gentle revelations can inoculate even as they help us to embrace the momentary joys around us.