Reading Erica Dawson’s poems reminds me of the time a former race car driver took me on a crazy tour along the southern French coast’s narrowest roads. It felt dangerous and exhilarating. I kept peering over the edge of the cliffs at the ocean far below, and I kept thinking, “Well, this will be a beautiful place to die.” But that driver, much like Erica Dawson, was always in control. I love her poems for that control, and for their music and humor and eccentricity. She is one of my favorites.

— Sherman Alexie, author of Blasphemy: New and Collected Stories


We all agree: Erica Dawson possesses one of the finest sets of ears in contemporary poetry. She, too, sings America, and she sings it with a sound that is stridently authentic, uproarious, insightful, and full-heartedly human. If you’re not smitten by the last poem in this book, you should fly off to another planet. Earth is not for you. Her sound is in the soil.

— Major Jackson, author of Holding Company


Erica Dawson is a poet of verve and nuance, of high learning and pop culture, of a classical music she seems to have invented herself. As in her first book, Big-Eyed Afraid, she doesn’t stay afraid for long. Here, in The Small Blades Hurt, are a brave tour de force tribute to Josephine Baker and a crown of sonnets that merges the imagery of love-gone-wrong and space travel. Funny even when she’s sad, Dawson can wring your heart with a poem to a son not yet conceived, or with the simplest question: “Who’s dew to say that morning needed tears?”

— Mary Jo Salter, author of Nothing by Design


Dawson’s words never subside into shopworn sounds, each poem displaying her rare and enviable genius for making verse sing, which is to say croon, caterwaul, belt, syncopate, wail. In the tradition of Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes, she, too, sings America — and particularly the American South, from Texas and Oklahoma to Florida, Tennessee, and beyond. To Hughes’ twelve-bars, she adds Appalachian strings and Motown and to Whitman’s resplendent leaves the knowledge that sometimes it’s the smallest blades that sting us most. To steal a phrase, this book has mojo like a mofo!

— David Yezzi, author of Birds of the Air


Erica Dawson’s first collection of poems, Big-Eyed Afraid, won the 2006 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize and was published by Waywiser Press in 2007. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Birmingham Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Literary Imagination, VQR, and other journals and anthologies. She lives in Tampa, Florida, where she teaches at The University of Tampa in both the undergraduate English and Writing program and the low-residency MFA in creative writing.