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2002 Prize For Poetry Awards

Click on a poem title to read the poem, on a poet's name to read his/her bio. 

We are pleased to announce that the 2002 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry,  an honorarium of $1,000, is awarded to:

Margaret J. Hoehn
Sacramento, California
for her poem
“Vincent, Drifting Toward Crows”

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

Bill Christophersen
New York, New York
for his poem “Why the Gods Don't Get It”

Rhina P. Espaillat
Newburyport, Massachusetts
for her poem “On the Impossibility of Translation”

Susan Kinsolving
Bridgewater, Connecticut
for her poem “Under House Arrest”

Kim Rosen
Inverness, California
for her poem “A Blessing of Women”

The final judge for the 2002 competition was poet John Haines.

The annual Robinson Jeffers 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 2,100 poems from 48 states, the District of Columbia, and ten foreign countries.

The Winning Poem

Vincent, Drifting Toward Crows
Margaret J. Hoehn

On a night where nothing else blooms,
the artist, remote in the darkened street,
is painting the stars into roses, which are
opening into a violet sky. And because
the heart is a planet that wants to be lit,
he is painting the gladness and warmth
of a terrace café. The people, formed by
his luminous brush, eat and drink; their
laughter sparkles across the square until
even the cobblestones tremble in gold.

And who hasn't stood outside in the shadows,
looking into that bright circle of one's own
making, wishing for things that can never be.

In that wide space before dawn, the man will
gather his easel and paints, and lose his way
in the empty streets of Arles. He will drift north,
toward the crumbling season of crows;
toward Dr. Gachet and the mercurial moods
of the fields; toward Auvers and the dangerous
passions of wheat.

He will paint the sunflowers, blazing like
haloes behind the head of Lazarus as he
rose again into that merciless light.
He will paint cypress bursting into the
flames of green sentient prayers;
and the dazzling whirlpools of the heavens.

And he will dream of starless nights,
like the ones in which we have each wandered,
listening hopeful as a child, for something
larger than us to call out our name.

 

Margaret J. Hoehn lives with her husband and two children in Sacramento, California, where she practiced law for many years.  She is presently raising her children and doing volunteer work for a hospice program and a medical library.  Her poetry will appear or has appeared in Nimrod, New Millennium, Peregrine, Inkwell, The Paterson Literary Review and many other journals.  Her chapbooks, Vanishings, won the 1998 Hibiscus Award.  Changing Shapes, won the 1999 Howard Quentin Award, and Balancing on Light won the 2001 Riverstone Chapbook Prize.

 

 

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Honorable Mentions

Why the Gods Don't Get It
Bill Christophersen

From half a mile away, the four-car
pile-up looks like tumbling dice. You
don't hear much: some pings and pongs, a
residual tinkle like wind chimes.
Scan a schoolyard from a fifth-floor classroom:
You'd be surprised how much a knife fight
resembles a game of steal the bacon:
the clockwise circling, arms extended;
the crouching feints; the crowd of clenched
fists; the thrust.
                            Step back.
Turn down the sound. Pain
grows painless. The hooded Palestinian
whose bones the soldiers are breaking
outside the village wall; the Honeymooners
sitcom unspooling inaudibly in the
window across the air shaft—Ralph's
jacket is off, he's smacking Alice's
face with the back of his busdriver's
hand. What lousy acting, you're
thinking, as she crumples.

 

Bill Christophersen's poems have been published in The Antioch Review, South Dakota Review, Virginia Quarterly and Poetry.  The author of The Apparition in the Glass: Charles Brockden Brown's American Gothic, he teaches at Fordham College.  He also plays fiddle in various traditional Appalachian and New England bands.

 

 

 

 

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On the Impossibility of Translation
Rhina P. Espaillat

Of course impossible, transmuting touch
and color into sound, sound into sign,
sign into sense again and back: too much
struggling after the names for flavor, line,
knowing they can't be found, no, not in one
language: in two? across the grain of speech?
Unthinkable! Easier to fold the sun
into its syllable. Yet lovers, each
mute in one skin, can learn to speak in tongues,
speak themselves whole, if only once; you've heard,
fitful above the fields, the summer sung
in high, cascading turns of fluent Bird,
and seen, in shallow pools in every town,
how rain translates the sky and writes it down.

 

Dominican-born Rhina P. Espaillat writes in both English and her native Spanish.  She taught high school English in NYC for several years.  Her poems, essays and short stories appear frequently in anthologies and magazines.  Her four poetry collections are Lapsing to Grace; Where Horizons Go, which won the 1998 T. S. Eliot Prize; Rehearsing Absence, which won the 2001 Richard Wilbur Award; and Mundo y Palabra/The World and the Word, a bilingual chapbook.  Other awards include the Howard Nemerov Prize sponsored by The Formalist, The Sparrow Sonnet Award and three of the Poetry Society of America's yearly prizes.  Espaillat directs the Powow River Poets and coordinates the Newburyport Art Association Annual Spring Poetry Contest. 

(Photo courtesy of Gaston W. Dubois)

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Under House Arrest
Susan Kinsolving

Now that my infant is almost an adult
I will admit how one midnight I lifted
her tiny body out of the crib and carried it

far into a field. There I abandoned her
in the deep grass alone with the blinking
fireflies, moth wings, owl cries, one wild

chance for fear or freedom. It seemed
a long time that I walked away believing
in an intimacy of earth and innocence,

some Edenesque extreme so lost before
it was ever found. I had to give her those
orphaned hours under a cloudswept moon,

in the pine-scented air. When I returned,
her eyes were wide, fixed on a galaxy,
her arms outstretched not to embrace me,

but reaching for that first mother, the one
beyond my absence who will always be, distant
as the heavens, instinctual as memory.

 

Susan Kinsolving, a former resident of Carmel, has taught the poems of Robinson Jeffers in classrooms and workshops throughout the United States.  Her second book Dailies & Rushes from Grove Press was nominated for The National Book Critics Circle Award.  She has taught at the University of Connecticut and California Institute of the Arts.  Among her several fellowships, the most recent was from the Ledig-Rowohlt Foundation of Switzerland.  Her lyrics for a cantata were commissioned and performed by The Glimmerglass Opera of New York.

 

 

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A BLESSING OF WOMEN After Stanley Kunitz
Kim Rosen

BLESS SARAH ATWOOD WEBER, third child
of seven who made dinner for the other six
while her mother's mind curled away
from the world and into the back rooms
of three homes and the state hospital;
whose father took delight
for the first three months of her life
in slipping soap up her anus as a cure
for constipation, and later in the sting
of a good slap when she was bad,
such as on that Sunday when,
hungry for communion,
she rode the red bike with the loose fender
to church in her pajamas and knelt
with the rest before the priest,
like she'd been asked to kneel
by that man with the open fly,
who found her playing with the ants
in the woods when she was seven,
and who fled when she bobbed
her blond head back on its axis to look up into his eyes,
took his hands into hers and said,
“You know God can see everything that you're doing.”

BLESS CAREY REINBERG CONAWAY whose head
was crushed against the steering wheel
but did not break,
whose body fought and screamed and tore out the tubes,
painting shit and blood
across the wide, white covered chest of the orderly,
while her husband sat beside her,
secretly celebrating the passion of her thrashing,
the strength of her savage legs,
the agony and outrage free to have its way with her voice,
until the nurses, who were trained in the ways of a swelling brain,
tied her arms and ankles to the hospital bed
and the doctors forced a tube down her throat
into that body which now admits no memory of these things,
fit as she is back inside her size,
her mind returned to its habits,
and her old voice, as childlike as before,
confined neatly again inside the words,
between which now, and not infrequently,
some wild light breaks through.

BLESS MELANIE BERGER whose fingers
knew their way around the narrow keys
of the piano before she could read,
and whose body knew the inside smell
of every hospital in DC and Silver Springs
since she was twelve, from visiting
her mother who, in spite
of thirty years of treatment and medication,
or because of them, didn't live
to hear her daughter peel open in song,
the daughter who stood by her and slept by her and sat by her
through each last day of her life
until the night when death was certain,
at which point she left the hospital
and drove two hours north to make love to the woman she loved,
while the respirator, with its terrible music of breaths,
fed her mother her last sips of the air of this world.

BL
ESS NADINE PINET STONE whose grandparents
put her on a ocean liner alone at the age of six
to cross the Atlantic to her mother and father
whose faces she had completely forgotten
in the four and a half years since she had seen them,
knowing only the scent of her Grandmaman
who fed her a coffee-dipped baguette each morning,
bite-sized bit by bite-sized bit,
and the sound of her grandfather's footfall
as he came to her each night
when the cobbled streets outside were silent,
to press his penis into the small opening of her throat,
teaching her, among other things,
what she had that men might want and how to use it,
which she did for many years when she needed to—
in the fifth-floor walk-up in the Village,
in the flickering air between the plush seats of a porn house on Forty-Second,
in the chandeliered dining room of a mansion in Scarsdale—
until the night in that same house when she woke
to the fingers of her second husband clenched around her throat
and finally said no,
igniting the slow burn of unnumbing
which, in combination with the inexorable pull of gravity
on the flesh she had used to buy her way,
took her out of that marriage and, eight years later, out of the next,
to the first solitude she's every known,
within which she lives now with her youngest son
and the clay she sculpts each day into shapes
of folded wings, jawbones and pelvic bowls
as wide and welcoming as the sea.

BLESS HELGA HOEFLICH NEWMARK who, at the age of ten,
was told to pack her favorite doll and a change of clothes
in a small, brown suitcase, and was taken
with her father and mother
from her home on Merwedeplein in Amsterdam
to Westerborg where both the suitcase
and her father were taken away forever
by the Nazi men and women whose cocks and tits
her mother said she should suck
when they told her to in exchange for the extra bite of raw potato
which, among other things, did keep her alive
through the three years and three camps she lived through
before the Russians came to open the gates
and the American soldiers fed her
the chocolate that almost killed her,
but which she survived as well,
all the while tending her secret dream
that she would someday become a Rabbi,
which, on a May morning fifty-five years later,
she did.

 

Kim Rosen's writings have appeared in The Dickens, Central Park, Shaman's Drum and other publications.  Among her recordings are Ocean Born (1992), Sacred Spaces (1990) and, most recently, Naked Waters, a fusion of poetry and music produced by Peter Kater (Earthsea Records, 1998).  She also gives “Poetry Concerts” and workshops which emerge from her devotion to learning poetry by heart and speaking it aloud as a spiritual practice.  She recently relocated from New York to Marin County, where she gives private sessions and workshops on Poetry as Passion, Prayer and Spiritual Practice.  Kim is also a student and teacher of self-inquiry and works with individuals and groups as a guide of inner work.  These five portraits “A Blessing of Women” are part of a larger work-in-progress projected to comprise forty blessings as well as photography.

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