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Sanctuary, Vermont
poems by Laura Budofsky Wisniewski


Winner of The 2020 Orison Poetry Prize, selected by Katie Ford
Winner of The 2022 New England Poetry Club Sheila Margaret Motton Prize

Bronze winner for poetry in The 2022 Foreword INDIES Awards


Orison Books
paper  /  64pp.  /  $16.00
ISBN: 978-1-949039-33-7

Distributed to the trade by Itasca Books
952-223-8373  /
Publication Date: April 5, 2022




Here, past, present, and future residents of Sanctuary, a richly imagined Vermont town, are given voice. Laura Budofsky Wisniewski joins the lineage of Edgar Lee Masters, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Louise Glück in inhabiting and valorizing the extraordinary inner lives of everyday people. Sanctuary's townspeople endure hardships and loneliness, suffer injustice and racism, but still find moments of solace, beauty, and communion.




"Wisniewski’s debut builds to a novelistic sense of place and plenitude with shades of Thornton Wilder or Edgar Lee Masters."
The New York Times Book Review


"[T]his is not a bucolic set of odes to the Green Mountain State; instead, it’s an imaginative look at its dark sides, its complexities, its evils, then as now."
The Boston Globe


"When we learned that Laura had published this debut collection at age 70, we were intrigued, but we weren’t prepared to fall in love. Fall we did. [...] Though the setting may seem bucolic, many of these poems directly confront the idyllic qualities that Vermont is best known for, highlighting Vermont’s troubling history of the KKK, forced sterilization, racism, inequality, and poverty. [...] Sanctuary, Vermont takes a clear-eyed look at those scars and still manages to convey the complex beauty of our state."

Literary North


"These are persona poems, but more deeply, they’re acts of spiritual improvisation. [...] [Wisniewski's] charged voices haunt us the way Ruthie’s does in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. […] [I]n quiet acts of undoing, improvisation and testimony, the persona poem is reimagined as a lifetime’s voicing of the blank spaces we each inhabit, the charged sanctuary of the everyday unfolding itself."

Tupelo Quarterly


"[Sanctuary, Vermont] is unflinching in its gaze, dealing head-on with subjects like racism and genocide. Yet, neither does it strip away our innocence and wonder. It is understated and unapologetic, unambiguous and mysterious at once."
The Addison Independent


"Beware the soothing stories of history, that a town named Sanctuary in a Vermont known for bucolic, liberal values has no stories of systemic inequity and violence: 'My mother used to say / If you are ever drowning, raise your eyes; / a rich man will be watching.' This is a book of lost voices, of selfless persona poems shot through with a lyric control so unfaltering it seems Laura Budofsky Wisniewski has written an impossible book. What a rarity, what a necessity for the oppressed not to be generalized but to speak with intricately subtle minds: 'The Overseer says / I am nothing. / But once my mother danced / and I danced with her,' a young girl says. When Wisniewski illuminates one person, all of humanity suddenly brightens. This is an unbelievable, moving book that knows, in the end, the only true sanctuary is the one we make of our lives, and our language, for each other."
Katie Ford, judge of The 2020 Orison Poetry Prize

"This is a book of history, a book of voices and compassion. Each poem gives us an individual life through which historical events flow like a river. In Sanctuary, Vermont we see our neighbors—imagined, yes—but imagined so well we join each voice as it comes to us across a span of time, from the 19th century to our own present. These neighbors reveal their struggles with class and loneliness, racism and the damage of war, but also show us kindness, beauty, and resilience in a time of pandemic. Each poem is beautifully vivid and clear, but taken together they swell like a chorusmaybe one of those spontaneous crowd events that gets us all singing the Hallelujah Chorus with a host of strangers, until suddenly no one is a stranger and our hearts are open wide to each other. This is an enormous gift for which we should thank the poet and her poems."

Betsy Sholl


"Sanctuary, Vermont creates a history of Vermont through a rich range of voices that evoke the state's nuanced and complicated past, a past that takes readers far beyond the mythic pastoral landscape many may conjure up when they think of Vermont. Here, the word sanctuary takes on the ironies of a complex history, and Wisniewski creates a tapestry of Vermont and its people."

Mary Jane Dickerson


"If the dead could talk—and here they do—the quaintness of American small-town life would quickly lose its veneer to reveal a more harsh and anguished reality. The locals in this stark book rarely succumb to their own frailty or pettiness, however. More often they're subject to cold fate, and are all too frequently sucked into the maw that is American history—particularly our adventures in war. The result isn't triumph, but temerity, and a sense of community based on endurance and the turn of season that may or may not bring with it promise. Sanctuary, Vermont is a poignant collective song of going forth and going on."

Maurice Manning




Laura Budofsky Wisniewski is the author of the chapbook How to Prepare Bear (Redbird Chapbooks, 2019). Her work has appeared in Image, Hunger Mountain, Passager, Poetry International, Ruminate, The American Journal of Poetry, Confrontation, and other journals. She is winner of The 2020 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, The 2019 Poetry International Prize, and The 2014 Passager Poetry Prize. She lives and writes in a small town in Vermont.

Sanctuary, Vermont, poems by Laura Budofsky Wisniewski

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