West Portal

Winner of the 2020 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize
West Portal is the name of the neighborhood in San Francisco, California, where poet Benjamin Gucciardi grew up. It is also one of the names of the Pillars of Heracles—the entryway to the afterworld. Drawing on William Carlos Williams’s assertion that “the local is the only thing that is universal,” West Portal investigates the Bay Area’s urban and rural landscapes along with the memories and people that reside there. Interweaving the narrative of the death of the poet's sister with the environmental and socioeconomic realities of the current moment, the poems in West Portal illuminate the experience of loss, and the attempt to create meaning in the wake of devastation. Through poems that are prayerful, observant, elegiac, pained, dreamlike, philosophical, and compassionate, the book asks: What do we consider holy? What is virtue? What should any of us value about our relationship to place or our relationship with each other?
Benjamin Gucciardi’s first book, West Portal, (University of Utah Press, 2021), was selected by Gabrielle Calvocoressi for the Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry and was named a finalist for the Northern California Book Award and the Julie Suk Award. He is also the author of the chapbooks Timeless Tips for Simple Sabotage (Quarterly West, 2021), winner of the 2020 Quarterly West Chapbook contest, and I Ask My Sister’s Ghost (DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press, 2020). His poems appear in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, POETRY Magazine and elsewhere. 
Table of Contents:

Foreword by Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Type Two
Advice for Pallbearers
King Tide
Prayer for the Instant City
I Ask My Sister’s Ghost How Dying Is
The Hermitage at Laurel Dell
Halo for the Scorched Orchard
I Ask My Sister’s Ghost How Her Days Are Now

Rendering the Pose

Hunting Chanterelles in the Oakland Hills
The Rungs
Futile, — the winds —
The Invisible Hand Knocks Twice
Lines for John Berryman on the Bus from Little Mogadishu
Salve Regina
The Arachnologist
The Last Bear in the Headlands
Sonora Desert Halo
I Ask My Sister’s Ghost to Take Me with Her

I Ask My Sister’s Ghost to Play a Game of Cribbage
Little Accents
The Kaleidoscope
Braille in Sicily
Outside Tallahassee
Halo for Evacuees
Self-Portrait with Daughter
Chosen Landscape
The Nest
I Ask My Sister’s Ghost to Write Her Own Elegy


Praise and Reviews:“The beautiful and the terrible live alongside each other in this work. And so often, they’re actually the same thing. Or they are happening all at once. There is such deep searching in this book and such formal precision. And the language is luminous, which makes the harrowing physical and psychic landscape even more profound. At the center of this world is the ghost of the poet’s sister who proves that ghosts are always the best teachers. They see us.”
—Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of Rocket Fantastic

“In West Portal, ravishing beauty and ravenous grief braid into utterly lucid and breathtaking poems. The language—deftly scored on the page, rippling with tenderness—radiates with the hushed warmth of an intimate conversation. Ben Gucciardi’s first book has the lyrical depth of a second or third book. It’s an astonishing debut.”—Eduardo Corral
"Ben Gucciardi’s West Portal reverberates with compassionate intensity. Navigating the tragedy of his sister’s death, its aftermath, and what the living can learn from the dead, these poems spark with tender attention to detail: he reaches into his sister’s ashes expecting their consistency to be like masa and instead feels bone. He brings a thermos of soup to one of his students who has been kicked out of the house by his uncle, and they walk, exchanging stories, by the San Francisco Bay. West Portal asks us, in this great plastic patch of life, how does the poet 'un-drown' himself? One way is to dive right into the great scope of being in all of its dazzling, bewildering power."—Sandra Simonds
"West Portal takes place 'in the pause between death and tendril,' where the 'word for beauty sounds just like the word for camel, and the phrase I borrowed sometimes means I burned.' In this in-between world, Benjamin Gucciardi shows us a landscape stricken by loss, but also painted with hints of joy some may call reincarnation or a goldfinch’s song. It’s this attention to emotion and image that makes this debut poignant and specifically brilliant like 'the red blaze of ice-plants.'"—Javier Zamora
“I revere books of poems that accomplish three things: praying, singing, and storytelling. The poems in West Portal achieve all three. The poetic modes are mixed and at times hybridized. Deep intelligence and deep feeling seem to hold each other in a death-gripped balance. There’s something narrative at stake here, too. We’re taking an emotional journey that carries us from one place to another. Maybe that isn’t exactly narrative, but it borrows from narrative structure, and has something to do with a character evolving or changing over the course of a book. I love this about West Portal, a massively ambitious book.”
—David Roderick, author of The Americans and Blue Colonial
West Portal is a stunning collection of death-haunted poems that not only interrogate the nature of existence but in formally various ways celebrate our brief time on earth. Ben Gucciardi shows how small details, observed or remembered and rendered in lines that sing and soar, make life worth living. Here is a primer on the movements of the soul, which will surprise, delight, and offer solace.”
—Christopher Merrill, author of Self-Portrait with Dogwood