Emily Viggiano Saland's The Semele Sequence is a concise meditation on life, death, and longing. Within six short pages, the reader is able to enter a completely other world, where the laws of flame reign paramount and where love is a constant and consistent iteration, changing its form many times at a fierce and breakneck speed.

Within the poems, Semele the goddess is invoked, both subtly and directly, as an earth spirit, almost always transferring in meaning to Mother Earth. In Greek mythology, Semele herself, after wooing the king of the gods, Zeus, gave birth from that union to Dionysus, the god who, with his wild ways, inspired cults and endless hedonism in the name of devotion.

The portrait of Semele we see in these poems is not the limitless sensual seductress of the myths, but instead a controlled force, a burning flame, burning to its blue core, “hottest on the inside” with “a limit/ to what can be felt.” In these poems, Semele, a self, and the I of the poems is burned without limits, until we feel a type of holy numbness at the utter annihilation. It’s only then that the persona and the reader see what life is about—a knowledge that “Death is a pulling apart” and that existence holds within it infinite hope, with its “five hundred separate/ species, one hundred/ of which have yet to be named.”

—Dorothea Lasky, Contest Judge




Dorothea Lasky is the author of five books of poetry, most recently the forthcoming Milk (Wave Books), as well as ROME (W.W. Norton/Liveright) and Thunderbird, Black Life, and AWE, all out from Wave Books. She is also the author of several chapbooks, including Snakes (Tungsten Press) and Poetry is Not a Project (Ugly Duckling Presse). She is the co-editor of Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry (McSweeney’s) and is in the process of co-writing a book on astrology and poetry with the poet Alex Dimitrov for Penguin Random House (@astropoets). She lives in New York City, where she is an Assistant Professor of Poetry in Columbia University’s School of the Arts and co-directs the Columbia Artist/Teachers program.