Exit, Civilian

In her second collection, Idra Novey steps in and out of jails, courthouses, and caves to explore what confinement means in the twenty-first century. From the beeping doors of a prison in New York to cellos playing in a former jail in Chile, she looks at prisons that have opened, closed, and transformed to examine how the stigma of incarceration has altered American families, including her own. Novey writes of the expanding prison complex that was once a field and imagines what’s next for the civilians who enter and exit it each day.

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Selected by

Patricia Smith





I hold my breath, step into the wet mouth of November wind, arrive
at the river moving up and down in its rocky bed, the new art museum
that blinks its watery eye. I line up with the others waiting for the M23
bus, which stops for us and we enter it, have the pleasure of choosing
whether to sit or stand, which tan and blue-rimmed seat, which
window and moving view.

And the ride begins, gradual as a carousel. And all of us inside take
on that carousel stillness, as if forty invisible horses were beneath us
and lifting.