Spotlight on “Ghost :: Seeds” by Sebastian Merrill

by LitStack Editor

Ghost :: Seeds incorporates elements of magical realism and myth to explore and trouble conceptions of gender and identity.

Ghost :: Seeds and poet Sebastian Merrill

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About Ghost :: Seeds

Winner of The 2022 X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize, selected by Kimiko Hahn

Set on a remote island on the Maine coast, Ghost :: Seeds incorporates elements of magical realism and myth to explore and trouble conceptions of gender and identity. The central tension of this book-length poem is a dialogue between a trans speaker and his “ghost,” the “girl-ghost” of the self that he left behind to become the man he is today. 

Putting a queer spin on the myth of Persephone, the girl-ghost speaks from underworld lit by glowworms, cut through by dark rivers, and connected to the world above through a sea cave. Alternating between prose-like elements and lyric meditations, the book’s expansive form makes full use of the page from margin to margin, creating space and breathing room for complicated investigations of memory, gender, and grief.

Excerpt from Ghost :: Seeds

From “Remember the first time”

Remember the first time we realized
we could choose our own name?
The name that would become my name?
In college, we played with gender in the theater,
acted as Sebastian in Twelfth Night.
One night, after rehearsal, we told our friends,
Call me Sebastian, even when I’m not on the stage.
Over ten years since we found my name,
I’m still learning myself:
I grow my hair long for the first time
since I abandoned you.

Praise for Ghost :: Seeds

“Sebastian Merrill’s Ghost :: Seeds sings into a rich tradition of trans poetics while also charting its own unprecedented course through the wilds of history, myth, nature. In one poem, he writes, ‘If Spring comes, / I will know // my name.’ In another, ‘Yet always I feel you tight within, / a second heartbeat / inside my chest.’ Merrill is the rare emerging poet who possesses not just an urgent narrative, but also the unmistakable lyric and psychospiritual maturity to render that narrative into unforgettable poems that will illuminate and usefully complicate the lives of its readers. Ghost :: Seeds announces the arrival of an important new voice in American poetry.”–Kaveh Akbar, author of Martyr!

Ghost :: Seeds testifies to poetry’s ability to make meaning of experience, to render experience into language, and to gather time, space, feelings and thought and give those elements an artful home. Before Sebastian Merrill wrote this remarkable book, we did not have this thrilling lyrical narrative of trans experience braided into myth, in which the orphic poet transits into the underworld to encounter his former self. Here, however, the myth is more than a story; it is a narrative … placed on the rocky shores of Maine, dealt with in a 21st century world of vivid, liberating self-realization. Ghost :: Seeds is a moving, nuanced, and memorable book, and one of the most exciting debuts I’ve read in years.”–Mark Wunderlich, author of God of Nothingness

“The joy of the body, the dream of the body, the myth of the body, the making. I just love this book in all its embodiments. Can a book of poems see me? It feels like this book does, in the way it marks the history of how many selves one body can hold and how history is the slipperiest part that never leaves us. How do we make peace with what is left behind in the luminous journey to become our deepest truth. What does lineage mean? What is home? In this book the land welcomes and makes a path for the bodily vessel: a kind of pedagogy the earth and the water gives us. I feel so deeply indebted to the joy, grief and, generosity of this formally and psychically rigorous book. How astonishing ordinary life is. And how hard won.”–Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of Rocket Fantastic

About Sebastian Merrill, Author of Ghost :: Seeds


Sebastian Merrill’s debut collection Ghost :: Seeds was selected by Kimiko Hahn as the winner of The 2022 X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize. The winner of the 2022 Levis Prize for Poetry from Friends of Writers, Sebastian was selected as a member of the 2023 Get the Word Out inaugural poetry cohort for debut writers from Poets & Writers. A staff-scholar for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 2022 and 2023 and the Summer 2023 Warren Wilson MFA Alumni Residency Fellow, Sebastian has also received support from Tin House Workshop and the Juniper Summer Writing Institute.

The recipient of the Rodney Jack Scholarship from Friends of Writers, he holds an MFA in Poetry from Warren Wilson College and a BA from Wellesley College.

You can find and follow Sebastian on his website, and on Instagram and Facebook.

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