Smile, Or Else

Chanel Brenner — Press 53

THE BOOK: Smile, or Else


THE AUTHOR: Chanel Brenner

THE EDITOR: Tom Lombardo


SUMMARY: Winner of the 2021 Press 53 Award for Poetry, Smile, or Else by Chanel Brenner, is a moving collection of elegiac poems dealing with the death of her six-year-old son, Riley.

THE BACK STORY: My first book, “Vanilla Milk,” contained all poems from the first two years of grief. I didn’t plan on publishing another collection, but poems about Riley and the ongoing grief continued to surface. After some time, I realized that I had enough poems for another cohesive collection.

WHY THIS TITLE: The original title was “Raising Grief,” but during the editing process, “Smile, or Else” emerged and felt right. Not someone shouting, “Smile, or Else!” is the last line of one of the poems in the collection, titled, “Facebook Post: Mother Son Hike at Solstice Canyon 183 Likes.” The poem is about what you see and don’t see in a photo on Facebook and the challenging moments that lead up to that perfect picture. It’s reflective of daily life and grief; we try to rise from darkness and create those moments of joy.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: My hope is that anyone who has experienced loss or knows someone who has lost a loved one will connect with the poems in this collection.


“Clear and cutting as glass, Chanel Brenner’s poems will challenge everything you think you know about grief. Smile, or Else is her journey through the unimaginable labyrinth that is the death of a child. And yet, I would not categorize this book as “sad,” rather as what the Spanish call duende, those moments in art where spirit speaks through the poet, rising up from the depths of sorrow. “We Never Heal, Just Remember Less,” the poet titles one of her gorgeous, devastating poems. How Brenner negotiates the rough spots and savors the sweet makes for a haunting, brilliant book that I could not put down.” — Alexis Rhone Fancher, author of State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies, poetry editor, Cultural Weekly.

“Brenner’s poetry is an odyssey. Traversing largely uncharted lands of primal grief and pain, it brings the reader to an improbable destination: the small turning point where grief and loss become joy and transcendence.” — Susan Whitmore, Founder & CEO of griefHavenChanel Brenner’s poetry stirs, provokes, elevates with its precision and insight. These poems are expertly crafted and beat with a true poet’s heart.” — Emily Black Rapp, New York Times best-selling author of The Still Point of a Turning World and Sanctuary.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Chanel Brenner won the 2021 Press 53 Award for Poetry for Smile, or Else. She is also the author of Vanilla Milk: A Memoir Told in Poems, (Silver Birch Press, 2014), which was a finalist for the 2016 Independent Book Awards and honorable mention in the 2014 Eric Hoffer awards. Her poems have appeared in Rattle, Raleigh Review, New Ohio Review, Duende, Muzzle Magazine, Spry Literary Journal, Barrow Street, Salamander, Spoon River Poetry Review, Literary Mama, and others. Her poem “Apology” won first place in the Smartish Pace Beullah Rose Poetry Prize (2018) and her poem “July 28th, 2012” won first prize in The Write Place At the Write Time’s contest, judged by Ellen Bass. Her essays have appeared in Modern Loss, The Good Men Project, and HerStry. She lives in Southern California with her husband and son.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: I was thrilled when I found out that my collection won the 2021 Press 53 Award for Poetry. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share my experience with loss and connect with others through my writing.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: (Provide link). Sample poems are available on my website.

LOCAL OUTLETS: Flintridge Bookstore, Village Well Books & Coffee, Culver City and other independent bookstores.


PRICE: $17.95


Published by


Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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