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2001 Prize For Poetry Awards

We are pleased to announce that the 2001 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry, an honorarium of $1,000, is awarded to:

Jude Nutter
St. Paul, Minnesota
for her poem

"The Hermit Thrush"

Honorable Mentions, each with an honorarium of $200, are awarded to:

Melanie Drane
Tokyo, Japan
for her poem

"Burning the Last Red Pine"

Jason Gries
Austin, Texas
for his poem

"Feel For It"

Lynne Knight
Berkeley, California
for her poem

"Lake Berryessa Suite"

Susan Kelly-DeWitt
Sacramento, California
for her poem

"Viburnum"

 

The final judge for the 2001 Prize for Poetry was poet Jane Hirshfield.

The annual Tor House Prize for Poetry is established as a living memorial in honor of American poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962).  The Prize is underwritten by Tor House Foundation Board member John Varady.  This year we received over 2,300 poems from 46 states, the District of Columbia, and 8 foreign countries.

Poet and playwright Robinson Jeffers lived in Carmel from 1914 to his death in 1962.  Acknowledged as the poet laureate of the Big Sur Coast and by many as the great poet of the American West, his work continues to exert a vigorous influence on young writers.  His devotion to nature, hatred of our despoliation of the environment and loathing of human violence have given Jeffers a fresh relevance in recent decades.

Here are the winning poems:

Jude Nutter
St. Paul, Minnesota

The Hermit Thrush

"The serpentine curves of the pine branches at upper left create a sense of equivalence to the punctuated calls of the bird, which we are given to imagine..."

--from exhibit notes for Thomas Wilmer Dewing's The Hermit Thrush

Because the heart asks only that we vanish
into the mystery beyond itself, you have placed your bird
beyond the limits of the picture, where it will remain,
known solely by its absence. The miracle

is how you found equivalents for the silence arriving
after the rapid skirls of one bird singing: a solitude
so explicit we envy the deaf
the world they inherit. And those women

you brought with you through the chrome of twilight,
we want them to kiss, undress in the grass
and make love to each other because through the taunting
haze of undergrowth you've woven a marvelous,

strapless longing and along their arms
wrestled down a light so solid it suggests
that they might hold one another.
Even though we gather the world to us
in many ways, most times, sex
is not one of them. The quiet after a bird stops

singing is just the beginning of the question
we must imagine to completion. And that woman
in the olive green dress is standing now to meet it

with her face turned upward, her mouth obscured
behind a smudge of shadow: the evidence,
perhaps, of her own voice, which you have rendered
as the Rorschach of memory. O, how much faith

we must have in the visible world: we move
inside it and come no closer. We follow her gaze
out to the white page beneath our hands and, beyond this,
to the room where we are sitting, with its relics

of personal history, with its views of the city
in which we attempt our living. And so to the world outside:
crows fussing in the cottonwoods, brandishing
their fingered wings like black gloves, the forgotten accessories
of minor angels who navigated with us for years

through the perils of traffic and illness, and then grew tired;
who left us to the ruins of our own salvation: this world,
not as we see it, but as it is. Where the heart travels with us
for its own sake.

 

Jude Nutter, a native of North Yorkshire, England, is the recipient of the Miriam McFall Starlin Award for Poetry, the Wendy Norins Writing Award, the Marlboro Review Prize for Poetry, the Loft National Prize for Poetry, the Chiron Review Poetry Prize and the Listowel Writers' Week Prize in Poetry (Ireland). Last year, her poem, "The Swan," was an Honorable Mention for the Prize for Poetry. Her poems have appears in various journals and anthologies, including: Permafrost, Indiana Review, Weber Studies, Wilderness Stand (UK), Poets On, Negative Capability, Northwest Review, Journal of the American Medical Association, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Nimrod International Review. Her poems have twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her first book-length collection, Pictures of an Afterlife, is forthcoming from Salmon Press (2002). Ms. Nutter works part time at the Science Museum of Minnesota; she also teaches poetry at The Loft, with the Writers and Artists in the Schools Program, and in an alcohol treatment center for adolescents.

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Melanie Drane
Tokyo, Japan

Burning the Last Red Pines
Shiga Prefecture, Japan

All day the Shigaraki sky is glazed
the color of figs by this late November storm.

In the village, raccoon dogs circle houses
in silent packs, their scrotums swollen as yams.

For days, smoke rises from the hills,
the pampas grass turns grey like singed feathers.

The kiln god is red-faced and drunk,
plied with sake and sea salt,

his mouth stuffed with akamatsu logs, each one
consumed the way other men strip plump

soy beans from the pod with their teeth,
the husk left behind like a cold futon.

In the mud chambers of the kiln god's
heart, red pine ash is raining

green rivers across the landscape
of small bowls and thimbles

cast from charred earth
to fill this winter with iced rice wine

that tastes of unripe bananas and bamboo
leaves in melting snow.

Trunk by branch by limb, the last red groves
burn for their secret: scorched clay blooming

the color of pine needles, macha powder,
and lichen that grows like hair tangled

with sweat. The kiln god has coughed
and raged for four nights now as he dreams

of hunger under a hollow-bellied moon,
hard and white as a lily bulb in frozen ground.

The stove is going dark; we huddle
at its door, empty-handed

and impatient, our breath swirling
hot in the colorless night air.

Melanie Drane is an alumna of creative writing programs at Interlochen Arts Academy and Princeton University. Since 1985, she has lived in Germany, Austria, the UK, and Japan. For the past eight years, she has been a resident of Tokyo, where she serves as a newspaper wine columnist. She received a 1993 PrePress Award for Emerging Michigan Writers, and a commendation from the (UK) Poetry Society's 1997 National Poetry Competition. Most recently, she was a finalist for the 2000 Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and won the silver prize in Atlanta Review's Poetry 2000 Competition.

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Jason Gries
Austin, Texas

Feel For It

One thing's for certain.
Question is.
From here, we extrapolate
to the pear already speckled
on the branch, ripe
for its trip to a bruise.
We extrapolate
to the bedroom.
Things get carried away.
The gutter,
If you're certain.

Once I wanted a god so near
I wouldn't be able to move,
As if we could be friends in a closet
hiding from the teacher.
Now I can't keep still.
I walk out into the republic

in love with evidence.
But she's not in.
I like how loud we knock
when the house is empty.

The pines, again, haven't bothered
to change their style
or observe the average
law for height. Think

of John Muir riding out a storm
in the top branches
just to get
a feel for it.

Drops of rain join together.
We could say in prayer,
but that doesn't add much
to what happens downstream.

This much is known:
right now is like it was before,
only after.

If you're looking for a friend who won't leave you,
try disappointment.

There is a consequence to lace,
to bad grammar,
but I haven't the slightest

except for maybe what the woman said
who'd lost her only son--

out of my hands a river,
everything I hold goes by.

 

Jason Gries is a fifth-generation Oregonian. He received a BA in English from Southern Oregon University and an MFA from Southwest Texas State University, and has worked as a teacher, counselor, ranch hand, wilderness guide, commercial fisherman, and janitor. He currently lives in Austin, Texas, and works as a technical writer.

 

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Lynne Knight
Berkeley, California

Lake Berryessa Suite

after Dorothea Lange's Terrified Horse and Marc Pandone's Buzzard Peak Series

I      DISAPPEARED WORLD

Nothing in the barn but loose hay.
The house stripped, too.
Everything but the one horse auctioned off.
Any minute now the men would begin the torching.

Hours earlier the woman had gone
to the horse, talking low, as to a lover.
Opening the stall, leading him out,
hitching him to a low branch of the black oak?

Meaning to take him along, but forgetting
in the threat of fire? Or maybe the horse
reared as the torching began, his dust-colored body
rising black against the night's unnatural noon,

his reins slipping the branch for the sanctuary
of the far pasture. But no. There were no reins.
The woman came in talking low, slipped off
the harness, opened the stall. Let him run wild

for a time, until the promised water
came. So days later, the machines grinding
forward, churning grass, roots, char into
the same dust color as the horse. Churning,

moving closer, as the horse kept moving back
into copse or shadow until there was nothing
but the land, mutilated, raw: stripped floor
ready to disappear under water.

 

II     THIS PROGRESS HAS NO END AND NO BEGINNING

The horse hears the water.
The horse hears the water and runs.
The dam is not yet built but the horse hears
the water, hears the terrible noise of the water
gather itself and prepare to spill over the dam, roar
down, grinding away the last signs of life--
charred root, hoof print.

The horse hears the water and runs. It is still
far too early for rain, yet the horse hears the water
and runs. He is terrified, yes, but his eyes do not wheel
in their sockets. No foam at his lips, no glistening haunches.
Only the soil loose as sand, and the horse trying
to run into traces of being wild. He listens:
water. He founders, sinks down, and runs.

 

III     DROWNED THING

They made the lake because no one could live
without water. Who could have known the horse
would still be there, running the lake floor, sometimes
rising toward light, a ridge along the lake's surface.

There is nothing to explain this: no wind, no sudden
release from the dam. A ridge appears: measure of
a horse's spine. A deer moving through the brush
on Buzzard Peak hears it and stops. A man standing

in his studio in the day's last light, painting the clouds
above Buzzard Peak when the sky is about to burn
out of itself, sink into the lake--the man hears it and stops.
Then the wind picks up and things seem easy to explain.

 

IV     THE THINGS TAKEN

Those who built the dam, the few who remain,
swear they cleared everything away
until there was nothing but the dry loose soil.
There are photographs to prove this.

But in one of them, a horse running. Otherwise
nothing but loose soil and everything
that has been taken.
It goes on so long even the sky disappears.

 

V     BORDERLESS

The man works quickly at the clouds. In darkness, light,
summer, rain, he hears the horse.
It comes from deep in the lake, so deep even in dreams
of swimming toward it he sees nothing

but the swish of light that might be mane or tail.
The man works quickly. The clouds stream like a horse's mane.
There are no borders. Clouds stream, and somewhere
a horse--running, running, constant as blood.

 

Lynne Knight's first collection, Dissolving Borders, won a Quarterly Review of Literature Prize in 1996.  Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2000 and in a number of journals, including Beloit Poetry Journal, Gettysburg Review, Iowa Review, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Southern Humanities Review, and Southern Review.

 

 

 

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Susan Kelly-DeWitt
Sacramento, California

Viburnum

Tonight I write by the light of viburnum,
its shining rainment, radiant umbels--
the way Emerson wrote on shipboard

by sea-fire, in the middle of his prodigious
terror of the graveyard sea.
I cut the clusters early last evening

while the ghost moon's birch bark
floated overhead, and the quiet river
of neighborhood life streamed on

around me. You were not
here to see how I tied the stems
together with a yellow string

so they billowed from a sturdy center
when I set them into water in a blue
and white bowl. They hummed

in silence against the silence,
making this music that entered
and would not leave. So tonight,

as you travel a strange city's star
routes to your sister's bedside,
I plant myself solidly here, in the vast

wave of unquiet your absence
wakes, and think of our corporeal bodies,
of how the mystery of viburnum insists on

singing in mine, reflecting and holding
some luminous voice that lives inside
this otherwise empty hour.

 

Susan Kelly-DeWitt's most recent chapbook, Feather's Hand, was published by Swan Scythe Press in 2000. A third chapbook, To A Small Moth, is forthcoming from Poet's Corner Press in 2001. Her work has also appeared in many journals and in several anthologies including Claiming the Spirit Within (Beacon Press) and Highway 99 (Heyday Books). Awards include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship for Poetry, the 1998 Chicago Literary Award, several recent Poets & Writers grants and four Pushcart nominations. Ms. Kelly-DeWitt currently edits Perihelion, an online literary journal, and teaches in the creative writing program of UC Davis Extension.

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