September 24, 2021
When Natasha Rao was compiling her debut poetry collection Latitude — winner of this year’s APR/Honickman First Book Prize — the hardest part was deciding which poems made the cut. After she graduated with her MFA in poetry from New York University in 2019, she waded through piles of poems, some dating back to her undergraduate studies at Brown, in an often tactile selection process.
“I would tape physical pages to the bedroom walls in my apartment in Brooklyn,” she said. It was all part of the process to find the collection’s organic through line. The result? An exquisite compendium of nature writing, and an excavation of Rao’s identity as a first-generation Indian American poet. Rao is also the first South Asian winner in the APR/Honickman First Book Prize’s 23-year history.
“Nature poetry or the pastoral really brings you back to the same old white men,” Rao told me with a laugh. “I enjoy reading those poems but there are so many different ways of interacting with the environment.” And Rao’s version of the pastoral is thoroughly modern. It’s not Coleridge or Wordsworth, but rather the "Krishna-skin skies of summer" and "Ziploc bags with minnows."