the psa annual awards
awards
The 97th Annual Awards Winning Poems

JOHN HOLLANDER of Woodbridge, Connecticut
Winner of the 2006 FROST MEDAL

An Old-Fashioned Song

No more walks in the wood:

The trees have all been cut

Down, and where once they stood

Not even a wagon rut

Appears along the path

Low brush is taking over.

No more walks in the wood;

This is the aftermath

Of afternoons in the clover

Fields where we once made love

Then wandered home together

Where the trees arched above,

Where we made our own weather

When branches were the sky.

Now they are gone for good,

And you, for ill, and I

Am only a passer-by.

We and the trees and the way

Back from the fields of play

Lasted as long as we could.

No more walks in the wood.

 

William Louis-Dreyfus, President, PSA Board of Governors, on John Hollander

In a few months it will be fifty years since W. H. Auden chose John Hollander's first book as the winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize. Today, a half century later, the Poetry Society of America awards its Frost Medal for achievement in and contribution to American Poetry to John Hollander who surely does not need that award to further establish his preeminence in the universe of poetry. Since A Crackling of Thorns in 1958 Hollander has written 29 books of poems, 10 books of criticism, over 300 articles and reviews and he has edited and co-edited 27 books on poetry literature and the arts.

This award renews our faith in appropriate outcomes. I cannot think of anything more appropriate to the world of American poetry than John Hollander's place in it. We honor him today for his reverence for words, for his allegiance to them, for his intimacy with the meaning they carry, the music they make and the shape they have.

In 1969 Hollander published Types of Shape, a book of poems related to objects the shape of which was reflected by the written poem on the page. Try doing that sometime on your own; the discipline, the wizardry, the freedom of word and thought it requires is breathtaking.

John Hollander's credo is the poem. Perhaps for him the ultimate purpose of thought and language is the making of the poem. Poetry and its champions are not always noticed and not often rewarded. We salute John Hollander for the giant that he is in the poetry world.

The Frost Medal is awarded annually at the discretion of the Board of Governors of the PSA for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry. The $2,500 prize is provided by a contribution from Jack Stadler, PSA Treasurer Emeritus.

 

 

KIMIKO HAHN of Mattituck, New York
Winner of the SHELLEY MEMORIAL AWARD

Boerum Hill, March
    (2002)

15

At night, the tip of Manhattan offers a lavish glow—if only it weren't from the

24-hour recovery team.

16

Fathers and brothers who in a day's work fight fires—will not give up searching

in the subzero wind for remains.

17

Soldiers in green-camo appear at the mouth of each tunnel. Is this autumn?

18

Nearly five months later: burying their lost husbands, some widows carry their

newborns.

19

"Her husband's remains"—as tentative buds appear this March, what does that

even mean, "remains"?

20

Five months after losing her husband, she buries him: at least the hard earth

softens.

21

Fathers and brothers sift dust in Fresh Kills—even on a subzero morning—for

any remains. Here in Brooklyn, spring arrives: dutch elm, dogwood, cherry.

Immeasurably.

22

Perhaps we could call these tourists, queuing up in subzero weather, mourners.

Though they bear cameras and camcorders.

25

The beams of light memorializing the dead in this spring mist are not a tourist

attraction. Please. We see them every clear evening in Boerum Hill.

 

Major Jackson , Maurya Simon , and George Stanley on Kimiko Hahn

We find Kimiko Hahn's work virtuosic, both in terms of its experimentation with traditional (or contemporary) Western and Asian verse forms (and especially her brilliant use of the Japanese zuihitsu, and her deft and affecting hybridizations of various formal and free verse structures), and in terms of her delving explicitly into, and exploring evocatively, a number of crucial subjects, including: female sexuality, death and loss, the nature of consciousness, motherhood, familial love, memory, and the surprising and sometimes unlikely means or rituals of empowerment (or, more often, disempowerment) of mind/ self. It is also remarkable how she intersects and multi-layers subjects and themes so gracefully. Hahn's voice is utterly unique in contemporary poetry: full of lyricism and grit simultaneously, alternately humble and bombastic, delicate and audaciously powerful. Technically and thematically, the breadth of her writing is incredibly capacious, flexible, and versatile.

The Shelley Memorial Award of more than $3,500, established by the will of the late Mary P. Sears, is given to a living American poet selected with reference to genius and need.

 

 

JAMES RICHARDSON of Princeton, New Jersey
Winner of THE WRITER MAGAZINE/EMILY DICKINSON AWARD

Northwest Passage

That faint line in the dark

might be the shore

of some heretofore unknown

small hour.

This fir-scent on the wind

must be the forests

of the rumored month

between July and August.

 

Matthea Harvey on James Richardson

"Northwest Passage" seems to set out as a simple act of looking ("That faint line in the dark / might be the shore") but quickly swerves into impossible sights and sensings. We learn that hours have shores and months have forests, and that there are more of both categories (hours and months) than we may have thought before. In this modest-seeming poem, James Richardson shatters the known so deftly and delicately we barely notice the dismantling. That sounds Dickensonian to me.

THE WRITER/Emily Dickinson Award of $250 was established in honor of Charles Angoff for a poem inspired by Emily Dickinson.

 

 

YERRA SUGARMAN of New York, New York
Winner of the CECIL HEMLEY MEMORIAL AWARD

from Journal: Rai'ut Coma Ward, Tel Aviv-Yaffo, July 2003

[July 7 2003, Coma Ward, Reflection]

What do we call it,

the light that prisms and keeps

opening its monarch wings, and won't

fold them or let them be

pinned down even as grief

fastens itself to us—regardless of this;

that lunatic light polishing the shell

of a house, handfuls of room, a teaspoon full—

the light's indifferent ardor keeps perusing—pitched

far from the mouth

of a sink, where a woman stood—stands still,

perhaps—rinsing peas

in a plastic colander, now in an archive of heat

lit by another wick of light.

Light is its own architect. Its own

contractor dismantling chambers

of the heart to make it an aviary—its own

wrench—converting hallowed space for hollow bone

and wingspan. It is its own

sickle threshing the violets

of shadows from feet. Its own

general and chief, whose strong jaws reveal something

like pearls inside the shell

of an empty room.

What to call the silence

whose syllables are spades,

whose flushed skin is an orchard's flushed skin?

The sweaty crooks of quiet's elbows itch

from the fruits' fur. The steam of Turkish coffee

riding the light between the trees,

bandaging their lesions with light's gauze

where the bark has sutured itself

and ladders lean cautious as tongues

testing the hot tea of dark leaves—

evidence.

How to say the wounded days try

to be faithful, that they're not

staunched, yet beautiful,

the sheerness of their iris and plume,

mandarin and thistle, though the sky keeps

falling, bleeding through rice-

white clouds, falling;

to say memory—mint she'd planted

still growing on its sill—

dull coins of it in paper cups;

how dahlias flowered

near the tomb; a star's

a searchlight; the night a torn dress.

July—we word our days. We name them

willow ash,

ache of bells,

maze,

cars ablaze, exile, the living dead,

armies of boys—fire stroking their faces, children.

And our sentences bare themselves

to stay perched

on the lines of our salt

sharp pages, to stay steady, be luminous.

But what happens

when language can no longer bear us?

 

Michael Palmer on Yerra Sugarman

The Cecil Hemley Memorial Award, I read, is for "a lyric poem that addresses a philosophical or epistemological concern." Epistemology, of course, involves the study of knowledge and its justification and speaks to notions of reasonable belief, certainty, evidence, and so on. These are the "subjects" of philosophy, and as such best suited to philosophical discourse (which may or may not be to some degree "poetic" in style). Questions about being, knowing and believing, however, lie at the heart of lyric subjectivity; they inhabit lyric poetry not as "subjects" but as motivators of its naming and unnaming, its call to the other, its interweaving of presence and absence. Poetry, it might be said, enacts through words such dramas of meaning and mortality.

The prize-winning selection, a "day" from Yerra Sugarman's "Journal: Rai'ut Coma Ward, Tel Aviv-Yaffo, July 2003," begins with the question, "What to call it..." and ends with a related, apposite question:

But what happens

when language can no longer bear us?

The poem articulates grief and loss by indirection, accumulating sharply etched details of the quotidian to evoke absence and silence; to evoke, in other words, the unsayable. The darkness of the confrontation and its final cri de coeur stand in paradoxical balance with a poetic language almost overcharged in its sensuous appeal. "Light" forms the leitmotif, "light that prisms," "lunatic light," "light's gauze," "light's indifferent ardor," "Light its own architect," and the poet's sentences are ultimately called upon to "be luminous" that is, to cast light upon both the past and the dark of the "wounded days." The free-verse lines are deployed with great skill, and the lyric-elegiac tone eloquently encounters the dust storm (sand storm?) of history.

As a concluding note, I would be remiss not to commend enthusiastically the strikingly impressive poems submitted by the two finalists, Timothy Donnelly and Meredith Stricker.

The Cecil Hemley Memorial Award of $500 was established by Jack Stadler and his late wife, Ralynn Stadler, for a lyric poem that addresses a philosophical or epistemological concern.

 

 

ED SKOOG of Idyllwild, California
Winner of the LYRIC POETRY AWARD

Pier Life

This morning on the municipal fishing pier

the homeless are filming a movie on the stairs

called lunch, featuring dried fish. I only mention

the marines because there are so many of them.

In the water, surfers in black wetsuits sit on boards

that blur blue-green among the reaching kelp.

A cormorant surfaces beside the line the surfer

ties to his ankle to keep track of himself.

It seethes in the small waves. The surfers seem like men

at desks. They steer into the wave to stay deep.

They are almost asleep in their boards.

In this quantity and at this distance

they look like several foreign alphabets.

A wave goes blind over their heads.

The next wave pickpockets them to shore.

It is deep enough to freeze, cold to drown.

Water gulfs around the pilings, brushes my shadow

against barnacles that remind the pier of its decay.

The cormorants climb out of the dark cellar.

If you were delicious, they would dive after you

with powerful small webbed feet or leave only a feather.

The problems of language are mostly solved

in the fish's gutting on the public sink, and thrown to sea

lions by the old woman with a fierce embarrassment for a hat.

A little girl staring at a mackerel cut in half and bloody-boxer

face runs to daddy I'm scared. She reminds me that terror

has a place here, in the beginning, among the strange messages.

An angler throws out a line and seven hooks shine like carnival beads.

The ocean may not have a center but here are its margins.

Soon this poem will be over and I'll go back to the car,

wheel baby across the difficult tracks,

the ice in my soda barely melted.

 

Srikanth Reddy on Ed Skoog

"The ocean may not have a center but here are its margins" writes Ed Skoog in his gentle and observant poem "Pier Life," and the speaker of this lyric testifies to the eccentric beauties to be found at the margins of a world whose center remains fugitive indeed. Like a 21st-Century Elizabeth Bishop who has somehow managed to assimilate (or insinuate?) himself into the middle-class, mainstream American dream, this speaker steals a spot of time from his everyday duties in order to observe and memorialize the quotidian marvels of the municipal fishing pier: how the surfers waiting for a wave "seem like men / at desks" (what wry lineation!), how "the next wave pickpockets them to shore," or that gorgeous moment when "the cormorants climb out of the dark cellar" of the sea.

Throughout, the world is recorded with a quizzical tenderness, a fond regard for "the old woman with a fierce embarrassment for a hat." And, though there is true humor and playfulness in this work, it is haunted as well by an awareness of "time's winged chariot drawing near." "Soon this poem will be over and I'll go back to the car," writes the poet, deftly introducing a sense of internal time to his work of art, in which he will "wheel baby across the difficult tracks, / the ice in my soda barely melted." The ice in his drink may have barely melted over the course of this lovely and lyrical exploration, but the proverbial frozen sea within us will have surely begun to thaw.

The Lyric Poetry Award of $500 was established under the will of Mrs. Consuelo Ford (Althea Urn), and also in memory of Mary Carolyn Davies, for a lyric poem on any subject.

 

 

WAYNE MILLER of Kansas City, Missouri
Winner of the LUCILLE MEDWICK MEMORIAL AWARD

American Nocturne

It doesn't exist, America. It's a name
you give to an abstract idea . . . .

—Henry Miller

1. Here in the Eye of the City,

the window of a passing car

pulls my reflection from the ether

for just a second, then slips it

back beneath the dark street,

while in all directions the City's

an intricate weave of light—

cupped poses and atoposes—,

while out in the distant fields

cows sleep among the blind

pumpjacks weightlessly bowing.

Now a trashbag of bottles

tossed into the alley dumpster

sounds like a dropped chandelier,

and when the back door

of the Eastsider swings open

the notes from the Telecaster

playing inside are rounded,

like the fingertips that press them

into here—this Modern alchemy:

a fingertap floods the room,

a whispered word spreads

like oil on the lot's black lake.

The washateria's exhaust fan

keeps on spinning—each

angled blade chasing the next—

while across the street

my neighbor in his workclothes

sleeps on the couch, TV

blowing coolly against his face.

I imagine the stained glass

of a brainscan in a dim hospital

room—thoughts shifting

like sand—could be the system

coming in off the coast

tonight, as I sit on my stoop

getting a little drunk—;

which is to say: a line out of focus

has lost its density; which is

to say: a drop of dye

spreading into a glass of water—

2. To Sleep in the City,

when the earth has closed

its eyelid across us, when the dark

is the wind fuzzing over

a microphone. We pinch ourselves

closed like lilies, dig into the sand

where the syllables lie—

those knuckles, those vertebrae.

We must forget the body

lying in the dumpster, newspapers

covering it more deeply

each day. We must forget the City,

though we lift it together,

as in the blanket toss we learned

from the natives, just before

the City erased them. And while

the narratives of power

roll their ink across the surface

of the continents, roiling the air

up into the next historical map,

I must lie inside my body

and assure myself that everything

I've gathered will remain

just as I left it—such is the City's

promise. I'll forget the planes

passing overhead—dim ballpoints

of light—; I'll forget the wind

turning the pages of the book

I left open on the table—

 

Tracy K. Smith on Wayne Miller

"American Nocturne" does a gorgeous job of seeing and hearing and stitching together the many disparate pulses and pitches and layers of meaning characterizing contemporary experience. I appreciate the grace with which the outside world is married to the speaker's interior existence, an ability to move back and forth between the physical world and the dark unconscious material at work within and upon the speaker. This is a tendency that is announced immediately and with tremendous grace in the poem's opening lines:

The window of a passing car

Pulls my reflections from the ether

For just a second, then slips it

Back beneath the dark street . . .

In some ways, the poem's scope, and the lyrical texture of its language, recall the work of poet Lynda Hull. Toward the end of section 1, the speaker leaps from contemplating the collision of natural and urban elements in the neighboring environment to "imagine the stained glass / of a brainscan in a dim hospital / room—" and suddenly the poem's concerns amplify. Quietly and with lyrical precision, the poem adds the themes of power and mortality to its scope. I admire this ambition and the poem's resonant grace.

The Lucille Medwick Memorial Award of $500 was established by Maury Medwick in memory of his wife, the poet and editor, for an original poem in any form on a humanitarian theme.

 

 

RUSTY MORRISON of Richmond, California
Winner of the ALICE FAY DI CASTAGNOLA AWARD

 

please advise stop

pale fingers of inheritance do not disintegrate until they touch us stop

meaning collapses on the inhale please

gestures too quick to catch are the guarantors of the given stop

the true keeps calm biding its story stop

the arsonist's perspiration stains the sky black please

the gray-and-white patched cat licks her paw till value becomes again

incalculable stop

I wasn't traveling westward only into the power of its place-names stop

the water puddle sways like an earthbound kite stop

the stickiness of this instance seals within it every expression of its menace

please advise

 

published in Coconut, #6

 

Susan Howe on Rusty Morrison

The first thing that struck me reading "the true keeps calm biding its story" was the fiercely peaceful aphorism that serves as title for the sequence to come. Each of the thirty- six pages contains three, precisely arranged, three-line stanzas. Each line is broken at the justified right-hand margin with the words "stop," "please," or "advise." This poet puts her trust in the measure of order—order experienced as liberation. That "stop" can be rendered infinitely open is its striking singularity. The contemplative visionary quietism of Rusty Morrison's work recalls the graph paintings of Agnes Martin while remaining absolutely original. Reading meditative and tremulous lines in the manuscript such as:

Nearness is a funnel into which I keep pouring us stop

Each vow of truthfulness is darkly overhung with a rampart of prophesy stop

the visible is overtaking and undertaking me at the same time please

I think of how perfectly they answer to William James' description of our consciousness in the "different pace of its parts. Like a bird's life . . . made of an alternation of flights and perchings."

The Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award of $1,000 is offered in memory of a benefactor and friend of the PSA for a manuscript in progress. This award is partially endowed by the Estate of Rachel Dalven.

 

 

LAURA RUFFINO of Idyllwild, California
Winner of the LOUISE LOUIS/EMILY F. BOURNE STUDENT POETRY AWARD

Water Line

There are always blankets in the closer; always

packed and folded: pots, the operations,

the souvenir of our grandfather's starched bed sheets

and the ability to make sound with our fingers.

When the floor returns I'll burrow,

between flaps of skin—

sweat pockets kept secret;

I'll lay in your shirts

until home's heat floods

seeds below our blue window:

the garden resurrects itself

in a new bed each August.

When she taught us

that our bodies could float—

fingers under cages, through skin

looking for the thing

—that thing—the float,

the air: I saw my uncle, his quarter

of a tongue in the water

of his daughter's nailed attic.

She taught me to float

and I found him tied to a bridge, pegged

onto roofing nails: bent into a triangle,

teaching his grandson the meaning of shape.

Neighbor, in hopes that you would grow

with a close heartbeat, I cut off your ears

and sewed the openings closed. I poured

a sting ray's tail-blood between your hands

so that when we parted the ocean would carry

our story of hieroglyphs in your legs.

To be acquainted

with the sponged cousin

that grows in my bedroom:

the lead grandmothers

who formed circles under

wilted fans—crusades

I was beside the bed watching her body:

scared of the time I'd taken

to notice its weakness. I wanted that body

in fragments snagging my shoelaces;

I wanted to guess the shadows

between her breasts like stepping

through the night forest and trying to know

if grey spots are moon light or stones.

My cousins turned their hair into wind chimes

when they were pregnant. They wanted to keep the children

full of music. To soothe the infants

created on the backs of eyes: the mother's

soft teeth broke colic, rebuilt a family.

It was easy to forget the dead boy

as snow washed his name

off my hands with temperature.

It was easy to forget the dead boy

as snow washed his hands

off my name with temperature.

There are thousands of hurricane kids

in your neck—I could hear them

when I pressed my mouth there

to show you the sounds

of an R—I know you've felt them,

while shaving the fine hairs of your chin;

and at the time that you slid

the razor's plastic lip beside the curve

of your ear I know you heard them—

because I asked how long you'd been shaving:

since before you were born,

you smiled.

Carnival came and you

did not have a grave

to set the cake baby beside—

to eat sugar with.

—Splayed like urchin

loud to hold; how boots sucked your legs

underwater—how I dream

about you naked in the hallway

asking for your baby—dig me under, baby,

child, I don't want to be remembered

by anyone but you. The egrets breathing

behind your accent.

By the time I'd returned the screws hand unwound

themselves from our walls; in a wine box in weeds

below the trailer: papers, cans, roaches, widows, a hole

to the left of my father's third belt loop. I want to ask him

"is the store open?"—have you been touching things for me?

In my parish, all teenagers are slow

to English—we are faceless fogs

tethered to a Cyclops summer.

When questioned we answer

the bayou is not and we are not

and the dumpster doesn't want us,

the school does not want us,

no one opens their door.

My sister's daydream: mute,

on our smoking table

holding a cement mallet

meant for sheetrock—

The workers punched in

her paper walls, layers of white

tissue pulped onto carpet,

the men's tools covered

in mites, silverfish.

I keep an old woman under my arm,

white with tied hair and glasses—

she's been there for years;

since my father took me

to the wire-lined bridge

and pinched his thumbs to crab fins.

Now, driving home I pretend

she was never a part of me,

that I never shifted through bodies

on the dinner table.

Skin raised with sheet music

where the boy put his fat lips

to my own body—like rows of dumpsters

set down to guard my mother:

where I'd felt it most,

labor that he placed in me sipped

rope from the folding bed with crowbars

and sweat: for eight months I kept him

posed on rafters where only mice listen.

 

Thomas Sayers Ellis on Laura Ruffino

"Water Line" is full of real things, real things governed by their inner creative energies, the energy of art and life. Everything in it is recognizable—"workers," "an old woman," "sheet music" and the realities of these things are in no way distant. Their proximity is not the substance of the poem's prosody. No, the speaker in "Water Line" makes poetry the new, old-fashioned way: with honesty and the imagination. The poem is not hurt by unbelievable transformation or gimmick. The things that happen, its observations, are the result of passionate thinking and passionate feeling, of surrendering. Thus we accept the outcomes of this poet's witnessing. I was particularly struck by the oppositional yet equally balanced moments like, "My cousins turned their hair into wind chimes / when they were pregnant." And "It was east to forget the dead boy / as snow washed his name / off my hands with temperature."

The lines in "Water Line" stay in their lanes while pushing beyond them, approaching a behavior that is both poetic and cinematic without compromising either as each is measured with the practice of mature confession. The scenes within stanzas and the stanzas with scenes are handled well in their overlapping and thematic listening to each other. This poet is also very patient, not cheating with prose or betraying or abandoning the established schema and integrity of the scaffolding. And there are risks, real contemporary ones, and real experiences moving it toward its own way of making language and loss matter just as much as youth wrestling meaning.

The Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Poetry Award of $250 is endowed by the wills of Louise Louis Whitbread and Ruth M. Bourne and is given for the best poem by a poet of high-school age from the United States.

 

 

WAYNE MILLER of Kansas City, Missouri
Winner of the GEORGE BOGIN MEMORIAL AWARD

The Assassination Lecture

Here's the moment that killed him:

bullet piercing his temple, head

thrown back as if in deep laughter.

And here's us: the crowd lining

the street, waving our little flags,

which were stiff with dye. (A century ago,

we'd be pinkish dots of paint;

now we're these clusters of pixels.)

I can tell you (because I was there)

that our gazes were just cilia

stroking the car, our bodies

mere buoys marking a channel.

Here's the muzzleflash: one leaf

catching the light. Here's a scream:

a cluster darkening. And class,

if you're to understand anything

of history, you have to see

it was the moment that killed him,

not the squeeze of the trigger,

not the network of phone calls

that obtained the gun. Not those

in the government whose voices

threaded the lines, not the lover

whose complicity was suspect.

Not the killer's dear teacher,

who published those tracts

against the system in the journals

of the time. Look at the screen:

like a queen's slip showing,

though she wears one every day—.

And now, students, in my pocket,

I have something special: the bullet,

which, as you've probably heard,

was stolen from the hospital, then

slipped quietly through the populace—

until it came to rest with me.

I'm going to pass it around.

Note its weight in your hand, even

look for a trace of blood. Here,

in our moment, this bullet's just

an inert little snout. It will start

in the front, then weave toward the back.

—Which of you is going to steal it?

 

Eleni Sikelianos on Wayne Miller

It was difficult to choose among the many fine poems submitted for this award—some mournful, some playful, some angry. We need all of these tones, at any time and at this time; we need—we deeply need—the possible realities that attend language at its most imaginative. I selected Wayne Miller's poems for their uncanny ability to elegantly focus the mind on what has been totally emptied out. They fit the mood of the times, a mood I might call elegiac.

In "Identifying the Body" and "The Dead Moor Speaks," the body, like a city under fire, is evacuated. Bodies and cities: concurrently autonomous and non-autonomous zones. I admire, in "Dear Auden," how the poet has captured this civic fragility; the angular address to this storehouse of inhabitants at odds with some larger human reality. The City rolls on, content in its own machinations, its citizens bask in the warmth of its machinery. A larger picture unfolds. Who is in charge here? The agent/agency hovers out- side of any habitable office. No one is in charge. The City of this poem operates like a blank check—any City's name might be scrawled in the open wound—Baghdad, New York, Dresden, Tel Aviv, El Fasher.

These poems deal with that last trace of movement at the end of things. Movement of burning embers or thought in the husk of the body or the husk of the city. Voices that push against each other, breathing that pushes against the shell of the body. We don't know exactly what's passing out of existence, and what's being ushered in, but there is the strong feeling that much is failing, and we are tripping through failure's wake.

The George Bogin Memorial Award of $500 was established by the family and friends of George Bogin for a selection of four or five poems that use language in an original way to reflect the encounter of the ordinary and the extraordinary and to take a stand against oppression in any of its forms.

 

 

CHARLENE FIX of Columbus, Ohio
Winner of the ROBERT H. WINNER MEMORIAL AWARD

Frankenstein's Flowers

There's logic to the scene. The man

whose bones are currency, whose scalp

was born divorced, grins at the little girl

filling his knuckly resurrected hands

with flowers. His eyes, hosed to heart, mist.

"Boat," she says, tossing one, then another, plop,

to the water's brink. Oiled like ducks and

splayed like little suns, they float. And his brain

struggling against worm damage and

unaccustomed thoughts, his cold entropic nature

warming at the fire of the child, he falls into giddiness.

So he lifts her in his arms. What can he gather

himself together to know? She's flower, light.

Light glances off the water. Flowers float.

 

Eleanor Wilner on Charlene Fix

What drew me to the poems of Charlene Fix was, above all, their largeness of spirit, their wise intelligence, their delightful and urbane humor at the follies of our kind, and their fine ear for a cadenced, resonant free verse. Few poets can be genuinely funny, and, at the same time, sympathetic in the face of an acute awareness that sharpens the wit. I admired her refusal to be pious about subjects before which so many lower their voices and look mournful; she proved incapable of that secret ego ascension that aggrandizes victimhood, whereas, bypassing that indulgence, she reveals the unlikely miracle of human self- restoration, as well as how blithe the lucky ones can be.

And what a wide range of moods and modes these inviting poems possess, and an eclectic store of cultural references—all put to poetic use for rumination, reflection, and the kind of diffraction of light that brings illumination from unexpected angles of vision. The anxiety about time of Alice's White Rabbit becomes a metaphor for mortality; a crush on the weatherman reveals the climate of a culture; her Orpheus is an ornamental poet who fails to catch Death's ear "until he opened up the vein of his / despair and let it shape his plea." And, in a poem about Frankenstein, its syntax broken and patched and enlivened like its subject, we're shown how an ill-made life, "a brain struggling against worm damage and / unaccustomed thoughts," can lead even the sweetest intentions to a fatal confusion.

The Robert H. Winner Memorial Award of $2,500, established by the family and friends of Robert H. Winner, directs attention to significant work written by someone in mid-life who has not had substantial recognition.

 

 

KATE COLBY of San Francisco, CA
Winner of the NORMA FARBER FIRST BOOK AWARD

Fruit of the Season's Slush Fund

Being that

she's always to be found

in space made by concertina wire

a drab and tattering habit fashioned

by many charming seasons

(the gray sound of spokes

yelled deuce behind the baseline—

courted trapping in a tennis skirt)

For what it's worth, preferring

a third, green rail, fifth wheel,

wrenched at the rhumb line, scabs

pushing barbs, ragged paths by what passes

for a pick-up in the night.

Picked up and driven home:

the Post Road pitted with sown salt, hitching

posts adrift in dirty snow

and stonewalling

in the rearview mirror, a semblance

of permafrost

making all shoes insensible.

Let down, rather

than recoiled

from time

in time for the local pandemic

of porchlight, inoculating

a revival of whist

under the weather.

What's more:

her paper fan-shaped frock

unfolding

into little dead places.

 

Rosmarie Waldrop on Kate Colby

In the Transcendentalist Fruitlands community, the husband smashed the mirror his wife had brought because "there are to be no false reflections here." Kate Colby uses this utopian perspective to explore the uncertain, shifting boundaries between fact, phantasy, representation, reflection, history, myth, memory—between edges that are "if only in effigy." With a fine intelligence and a subtle ear she tracks both instabilities and possibilities, the map that is mere broken sherds and the sherds that can become a map. She choreographs this "dance of the intellect among words" with all the disruption needed for pat- terns to become visible. She is at the same time aware of the limitations of the mind seen in a larger context. You may in frustration "throw a puzzle at the wall"—but then "oceans creep in."

Fruitlands is an ambitious and astonishing first book which, though it knows that it cannot resolve the complexities of our world, nevertheless tries to give them form. Its brilliant and precise language does indeed "figure the problem (not figure out)."

The Norma Farber First Book Award of $500 was established by the family and friends of Norma Farber, poet and author of children's books, for a first book of original poetry written by an American. The winning book is distributed to PSA Angels and Benefactors.

 

 

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER of New York, New York
Winner of the WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AWARD

Canada

By Canada I have always been fascinated.

All that snow and acquiescing.

All that emptiness, all those butterflies

marshalled into an army of peace.

Moving north away from me

Canada has no border, away

like the state its northern border

withers into the skydome. In a world

full of mistrust and self-medication

I have always hated Canada.

It makes me feel like I'm shouting

at a child for letting a handful

of pine needles run through his fist.

Canada gets along with everyone

while I hang, a dark cloud

above the schoolyard. I know

we need war, all the skirmishes

to keep our borders where

we have placed them, all

the migration, all the difference.

Just like Canada the Dalai Lama

is now in Canada, and everyone

is fascinated. When they come

to visit me, no one ever leaves me

saying, the most touching thing

about him is he's so human.

Or, I was really glad to hear

so many positive ideas regardless

of the consequences expressed.

Or I could drink a case of you.

No one has ever pedaled

every inch of thousands of roads

through me to raise awareness

for my struggle for autonomy.

I have pity but no respect for others,

which is not compassion, just ordinary

love based on attitudes towards myself.

I wonder how long I can endure.

In Canada the leaves are falling.

When they do each one rustles

maybe to the white tailed deer

of sadness, and it's clear

that whole country does not exist

to make me feel crappy

like a candelabra hanging

above the prison world,

condemned to freely glow.

 

Tony Hoagland on Matthew Zapruder

The poetry of William Carlos Williams is only venerable today because it has stayed youthful for so long. I think he would have approved of Matthew Zapruder's dreamy but stubbornly inquisitive urban psalms, which use the poem as an antennae for investigating the world, and as an event of pleasure in itself. Both deft and tentative, clever but not smug, Zapruder's poems stretch their actively creative syntax down the page, testing the ground as they go.

   Always I am

into my desk drawer

 cabinet of wanders

wandering to rediscover

it's snowing.

Through it I touch

a nail someone gave me

    to hang a great task on,

say describe

   a painting

   you have never not walked in,

  its tiny

colored

glaciers drifting

down to the floor...

from "The Book of Oxygen"

The amiable voice of story-telling presides here, but the stories are ambient experiments in knowing, and they dowse with humility and playfulness. Like Williams, Zapruder radiates an un-modern optimism, which is to say he is sincere when he claims the problematical goods of living. In the drifting landscapes of The Pajamaist one finds a vitality of method and a convincing underlying spiritual seriousness which promises good things to come.

The William Carlos Williams Award is a purchase prize of between $500 and $1000 for a book of poetry published by a small press, non-profit, or university press. The winning book is distributed to PSA Angels and Benefactors. The William Carlos Williams Award is endowed by the family and friends of Geraldine Clinton Little, a poet, author of short stories, and former Vice President of the PSA.

 

 

About the Winners

STEPHANIE ANDERS on was raised in Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Letters & Commentary, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, LIT, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Typo. Her chapbook, In the Particular Particular, won the 2006 DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press Chapbook Contest. She currently teaches in New York City.

JULIE CARR is the author of Mead: An Epithalamion (University of Georgia Press, 2004) and Equivocal (Alice James Books, 2007).

KATE COLBY grew up in Massachusetts and lives in San Francisco. She is the author of Fruitlands (Litmus Press, 2006), Unbecoming Behavior (forthcoming from Ugly Duckling Presse), and Rock of Ages (Anadama Press, 2005). Recent work can be found in the Bay Poetics anthology, New American Writing, and Vanitas.

TIMOTHY DONNELLY's first book of poems, Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit, was published by Grove Press in 2003. He is poetry editor of Boston Review and teaches in the Writing Division of Columbia University's School of the Arts.

CHARLENE FIX was born in Washington D.C., grew up in Cleveland, and lives in Columbus, Ohio. She is a member of the English faculty at Columbus College of Art and Design, has received poetry fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council and the Greater Columbus Arts Council, and has published poems in various literary magazines, among them The Antioch Review, The Ohio Review, Chicago Review, and Poetry. She is the author of Mischief (Pudding House, 2003) and Flowering Bruno: A Dography (XOXOX Press, 2006), with illustrations by Susan Josephson.

LANDON GODFREY is a poet and artist who was born and raised in Washington, D.C. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lyric, POOL, Chelsea, Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere.

KIMI KOHAHN is the author of seven collections of poetry, including The Narrow Road to the Interior (W. W. Norton, 2006); The Unbearable Heart (Kaya Press, 1995), which received an American Book Award; and Earshot (Hanging Loose Press, 1992), which was awarded the Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize and an Association of Asian America Studies Literature Award. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts, she has also been awarded a Lila Wallace–Reader's Digest Writer's Award. Hahn lives in New York and teaches at Queen's College, City University of New York.

BRIAN HENRY has published several books of poetry including Astronaut (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2000), American Incident (Salt Publishing, 2002), and Graft (New Issues Press, 2003). He has been an editor of Verse since 1995, and he regularly writes poetry criticism for such publications as the TLS, Boston Review, and Jacket.

RICK HILLES's poetry collection, Brother Salvage, won the 2005 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and was published in fall of 2006 by the University of Pittsburgh Press. His work has appeared in Harper's, Poetry, The Nation, The New Republic, Paris Review, and elsewhere. He was the 2002-03 Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholar. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University, where he teaches courses in poetry. This fall, he and his wife, the fiction writer Nancy Reisman, will be James Merrill Writers in Residence in Stonington, CT.

JOHN HOLLANDER is the author of more than a dozen volumes of poetry, including Picture Window (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), Selected Poetry (1993), and A Crackling of Thorns (Yale University Press, 1958), chosen by W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. His eight books of criticism include The Work of Poetry (Columbia University Press, 1997) and Rhyme's Reason (Yale, 1981) and he has edited or co-edited twenty-two collections, among them Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize (Riverhead, 1996) and Nineteenth Century American Poetry (Library of America, 1993). Hollander's honors include the Bollingen Prize, the Levinson Prize, and the MLA Shaughnessy Medal, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. A former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and the current Poet Laureate of Connecticut, he has taught at Connecticut College, Hunter College, the CUNY Graduate Center, and Yale University, where is currently the Sterling Professor emeritus of English.

HENRY KERINS is a senior at The Gilman School in Baltimore. He took his first workshop this fall, and fell in love with poetry. He will attend Brown University where he plans to study creative writing.

WAYNE MILLER is the author of a book of poems, Only the Senses Sleep (New Issues Press, 2006), and a chapbook, What Night Says to the Empty Boat (Notes for a Film in Verse) (Greentower, 2005). He is also translator of I Don't Believe in Ghosts (BOA Editions, 2007) by Albanian poet Moikom Zeqo, and editor, with Kevin Prufer, of The New European Poets (Graywolf, 2008). He teaches at the University of Central Missouri, where he serves as Editor of Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing.

RUSTY MORRISON's Whethering won the Colorado Prize for Poetry (Center for Literary Publishing, 2004). She has been a recipient of the Cecil Hemley (2006) and the Robert H. Winner (2003) Memorial Awards from The Poetry Society of America. She has also been a co-winner of the Five Fingers Review Poetry Contest (2003). She is co-publisher of Omnidawn.

ANNAMOS CHOVAKIS is the author of a book of poems, I Have Not Been Able to Get Through to Everyone (Turtle Point Press, 2006) and several chapbooks. Her translations from the French include works by Henri Michaux, Claude Cahun, Blaise Cendrars, Pierre Alféri, and Georges Simenon. She is an editor and designer at Ugly Duckling Presse and currently teaches at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

RYAN MURPHY is the author of Down with the Ship (Seismicity Editions/Otis Books, 2006), as well as a number of chapbooks including On Violet Street, which was selected by Robert Hass and published by the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art. He is the recipient of the Chelsea Magazine Award for Poetry as well as a grant from the Fund for Poetry. He was educated at the Landing School of Boatbuilding and Design, SUNY New Paltz, and Columbia University. He lives in New York City.

LIAM RECTOR's books of poems are The Executive Director of the Fallen World (University of Chicago Press, 2006), American Prodigal (Storyline Press, 1995), and The Sorrow of Architecture (Dragon Gate, 1984). With Tree Swenson, he co-edited On the Poetry of Frank Bidart: Fastening the Voice to the Page, published this year by the University of Michigan Press. He also edited The Day I Was Older: On the Poetry of Donald Hall (Storyline, 1989). He earned an M.A. in poetry from Johns Hopkins and a M.P.A. in administration from Harvard. He founded and directs the Graduate Writing Seminars at Bennington College and lives in New York City.

JAMES RICHARDSON's most recent books are Interglacial: New and Selected Poems and Aphorisms (Ausable Press, 2004) which was a finalist for the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award, and Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (2001). He is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Princeton University.

ALEXANDER ROSENBERG is a senior in the Scarsdale Alternative School, a program of Scarsdale High School. He has worked as an intern at the Poetry Society of America and at the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aide Society and on the presidential campaign of Mike Gravel. He has received excellent instruction in poetry from both Interlochen Arts Camp and the Iowa Young Writers' Studio.

LAURA RUFFINO has attended Idyllwild Arts Academy for the past two years and studied poetry at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts in the 2004-2005 school year. She is a senior and looking forward to continuing her education.

ED SKOOG was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1971. His poems have appeared in NO, Ploughshares, Poetry, and The New Republic, and are forthcoming in The Paris Review and American Poetry Review. A chapbook, Field Recordings, was published by Seattle's Lit Rag Press in 2004, and he contributed to Intersections (Press Street, 2006) a collaboration between New Orleans artists and writers. He teaches at Idyllwild Arts Academy in southern California.

MEREDITH STRICKER is the author of Alphabet Theater (Wesleyan University Press, 2003) and National Poetry Series winner Tenderness Shore (Louisiana State University Press, 2003). Counterlight, a new collection of poems-in-progress explores hybrid forms of documentary and lyric. She works as a visual artist and designer in California.

YERRA SUGARMAN received the 2005 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry for her first collection, Forms of Gone (The Sheep Meadow Press, 2002). Her honors also include a "Discovery"/The Nation Poetry Prize, a Chicago Literary Award, and the PSA's George Bogin Memorial Award. Her poems, translations, and articles have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Prairie Schooner; The Nation; Nightsun; ACM; Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust; Lyric Poetry Review; Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion; Literary Imagination; and Pleiades, among other publications. She teaches at The City College of New York in the M.F.A. in Creative Writing and undergraduate English programs.

TERESE SVOBODA is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Laughing Africa (University of Iowa Press, 1990) and Mere Mortals (University of Georgia Press, 1995). She is also the author of four novels and the forthcoming Black Glasses Like Clark Kent, which won the 2007 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize.

ELAINE TERRANOVA was named a Pew Fellow in the Arts in poetry for 2006. Her most recent book is NOT TO: New and Selected Poems (The Sheep Meadow Press, 2006). She won the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets for her first book, The Cult of the Right Hand (Doubleday, 1991). Her translation of Euripides' Iphigenia at Aulis is part of the Penn Greek Drama Series and was produced at the University of Kansas.

MATTHEW ZAPRUDER is the author of two collections of poetry: American Linden (Tupelo Press, 2002) and The Pajamaist (Copper Canyon Press, 2006). He is also co- translator of Secret Weapon, the final collection by the late Romanian poet Eugen Jebeleanu (forthcoming from Coffee House Press, 2007). He teaches in the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at the New School and works as an Editor for Wave Books. In Fall 2007 he will be a Lannan Literary Fellow in Marfa, Texas. He lives in New York City.

 

 

About the Judges and Introducers

THOMAS SAYERS ELLIS' first collection, The Maverick Room, was published by Graywolf Press in 2005 and awarded The 2006 John C. Zacharis First Book Award. He is also the author of The Good Junk (Take Three #1, Graywolf 1996), a chapbook The Genuine Negro Hero (Kent State University Press, 2001), and Song On (WinteRed Press 2005). An Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College and a faculty member of The Lesley University low-residency M.F.A program, his Breakfast and Blackfist: Notes for Black Poets is also forthcoming from the University of Michigan Press, Poets on Poetry Series.

MATTHEA HARVEY is the author of Sad Little Breathing Machine (Graywolf, 2004) and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (Alice James Books, 2000). Her third book of poems, Modern Life, is forthcoming from Graywolf in 2007. Her first children's book, The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel, is forthcoming from Soft Skull. Matthea is a contributing editor to jubilat. She teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence and lives in Brooklyn.

TONY HOAGLAND's collections of poetry include What Narcissism Means to Me (Graywolf Press, 2003), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Donkey Gospel (1998), which received the James Laughlin Award; and Sweet Ruin (University of Wisconsin Press, 1992), chosen by Donald Justice for the 1992 Brittingham Prize in Poetry and winner of the Zacharis Award from Emerson College. He currently teaches at the University of Houston and Warren Wilson College.

SUSAN HOWE's most recent books are The Midnight (New Directions, 2003) and Kidnapped (Coracle Books, 2002). A CD called Thiefth in collaboration with the musi- cian/composer David Grubbs was released on the Blue Chopsticks label in 2005 and Souls of the Labadie Tract, another collaboration with Grubbs, in 2007 on the same label. She is also the author of two critical studies, My Emily Dickinson (due to be re- issued by New Directions in fall 2007), and The Birth-mark (Wesleyan University Press, 2006). She holds the Samuel P. Capen Chair in Poetry and the Humanities at the State University New York at Buffalo.

MARIE HOWE is the author of two books of poems—The Good Thief (Persea, 1988) and What The Living Do (Norton, 1999)—and the editor, with Michael Klein, of In The Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic (Persea, 1995). Her third book of poems, The Coming of Ordinary Time will be out from W.W. Norton next year. She lives in NY and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University.

MAJOR JACKSON is the author of two collections of poetry, Hoops (W. W. Norton, 2006), and Leaving Saturn (University of Georgia, 2002), winner of the 2000 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. He is a recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award and has been honored by the Pew Fellowship in the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress. He is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Vermont and a faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars. Currently, he is a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

MICHAEL PALMER, poet and translator, was born in Manhattan, and has lived in San Francisco since 1969. For over thirty years he has collaborated with many visual artists and composers and the choreographer Margaret Jenkins. His most recent collections are The Promises of Glass (2001), Codes Appearing: Poems 1979-1988 (2001), and Company of Moths (2005), all from New Directions. Among his awards, Palmer has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, A Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund Award, two National Endowment for the Arts grants in poetry, the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America and, in the fall of 2006, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. He has taught at many universities in the United States and in Europe, and his work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

SRIKANTH REDDY's first collection of poetry, Facts for Visitors (University of California, 2004) received the Asian American Literary Award for Poetry in 2005. He is currently Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago.

ELENI SIKELIANOS is the author of five books of poetry and one hybrid memoir. Her most recent titles are The California Poem (Coffee House Press, 2004) and The Book of Jon (City Lights, 2004). Among the awards she has been conferred for poetry, nonfiction and translations are the National Poetry Series, a Fulbright Writer's Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Award, the James D. Phelan Award, two Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative American Writing, the New York Council for the Arts Translation Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She teaches in the Creative Writing program at the University of Denver and lives in Boulder with her husband, the novelist Laird Hunt, and their daughter Eva Grace.

MAURYA SIMON is the author of The Enchanted Room and Days of Awe (Copper Canyon Press, 1986, 1989), Speaking in Tongues (Gibbs Smith, 1990), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and The Golden Labyrinth (University of Missouri Press, 1995). A fifth volume, A Brief History of Punctuation, was published in a limited edition by the fine letter-press book publisher, Sutton Hoo Press, in 2002. Simon's sixth volume, Ghost Orchid (Red Hen Press, 2004) was nominated for a 2004 National Book Award in Poetry. Her eighth volume of poems, The Mapmaker's Art, is forthcoming in 2006-07.

TRACY K. SMITH is the author of The Body's Question (Graywolf Press, 2003), winner of the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and a forthcoming collection entitled Duende (2007), which received the 2006 James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. She is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Princeton University.

GEORGE STANLEY's works include Opening Day (Oolichan, 1983), Gentle Northern Summer (New Star, 1995), A Tall, Serious Girl (Qua Books, 2003), and most recently, the chapbook Seniors (Nomados, 2006). He was the 2006 recipient of the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award.

ROSMARIE WALDROP's trilogy (The Reproduction of Profiles, Lawn of Excluded Middle, and Reluctant Gravities) has just been reprinted by New Directions under the title: Curves to the Apple. Her other recent books of poetry are Splitting Image (Zasterle, 2005), Blindsight (New Directions, 2006), and Love, Like Pronouns (Omnidawn, 2003). Dissonance (if you are interested): Collected Essays was published by University of Alabama Press in fall 2005. Northwestern University Press has reprinted her two novels, The Hanky of Pippin's Daughter and A Form/of Taking/It All in one paperback (2001). She has translated 14 volumes of Edmond Jabès's work (The Book of Questions, The Book of Resemblances, etc.). Her memoir, Lavish Absence: Recalling and Rereading Edmond Jabès, was published by Wesleyan University Press. She has also translated, from the French, Jacques Roubaud and Emmanuel Hocquard; from the German, Friederike Mayröcker, Elke Erb, Oskar Pastior, Gerhard Rühm, and others. She lives in Providence, RI where she co-edits Burning Deck books with Keith Waldrop.

ELEANOR WILNER is the author of six books of poetry, most recently The Girl with Bees in Her Hair (Copper Canyon Press, 2004), Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems (1998), and Otherwise (University of Chicago Press, 1993). Her work appears in over thirty anthologies; her awards include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Juniper Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. She teaches peripatetically, most recently at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and Smith College; and perennially in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

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