Erik Wilbur’s newly released chapbook, What I Can Do, won the 2020 Chestnut Review Chapbook Contest. You can purchase it on

The first half of Erik Wilbur’s debut chapbook illustrates a young man’s struggle to maintain his relationship with a father who’s battling addiction; the second half illustrates a young man’s struggle to process the grief of losing his father to that addiction. At points, this beautiful, imagistic meditation on acceptance reads like a survival guide for adult children of alcoholics. At points, it’s a testament to poetry’s capacity to conjure comfort and forgiveness during life’s most anxiety-and-resentment-laden moments.

Praise for What I Can Do

It goes like this: you will desire to bring back to life every single person you will ever lose. After all, “Father,” as Erik Wilbur writes, “is just a name for desire.” And in these rugged-necked poems, which Levis might call, ever “widening spells,” Wilbur sifts through the dark wrecking yard of elegy, through junked refrigerators and mounting bolts and diesel exhaust. It is from those discarded materials that the poet must re-fashion a monument and call it a father. But the greatest test of What I Can Do is found in the nuance with which its author must employ in order to navigate the gargantuan and soul-crushing complexity of the relationship between an addict father and his children. Erik Wilbur writes through these challenges with bluntness, with desperation, with honesty, and finally, with kindness. This is a hard-won debut!

-Ephraim Scott Sommers, author of Someone You Love Is Still Alive

“Father is just a name for desire,” in the poet’s own words, says more about this body of work than anyone else could. Erik Wilbur has the ability, which so many writers covet, to dissect memories (of father, of family, of the self) with a candid blade. This chapbook relentlessly uncovers. Nostalgia is reworked and reanimated; memories, places, actions, are taken apart and reassembled. Poets are gifted the opportunity to derive resonance from recall. This poet does so with remarkable skill. You, reader, will hold each of these poems “the way a riverbed wants to hold a river.”

– Ronald Dzerigian, author of Rough Fire

Two poems from the chapbook, “The Mad Child-King Sleeps Late” and “What Really Happened” can be found in the Autumn 2020 Issue of Chestnut Review.