Tor House Poetry Prize 2007

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2007 Prize For Poetry Awards

We are pleased to announce that the 2007 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry,  an honorarium of $1,000, is awarded to:

Parthenia M. Hicks
Los Gatos, California
for her poem
"Gulfs of War:  Mothers & Daughters”

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

Debra Marquart
Ames, Iowa
for her poem
"Cell”
 
Judith Pacht
Los Angeles, California
for her poem
"Waterville, Maine, near Great Pond”
 
Carol Quinn
Baltimore, Maryland
for her poem
"The Promenade”
 
Alice Templeton
San Francisco, California
for her poem
"Homing”
 

The final judge for the 2007 competition was poet Al Young.

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.  Additional support comes from Honorary Board Member Allen K. Mears.  This year we received over 1,600 poems from 45 states and three foreign countries.

Prize winners for past years can be viewed on-line:

2006 Poetry Prize winners
2005 Poetry Prize winners
2004 Poetry Prize winners
2003 Poetry Prize winners
2002 Poetry Prize winners
2001 Poetry Prize winners

The 2007 Prize Winning Poem

Gulfs of War:  Mothers & Daughters
Parthenia Hicks

Mothers

tell me about smart bombs

and small bones

falling like burned-out stars

ground zeroed to infinity

 

check the air for the ashes

 

Kurds, Rwandans,

Estonians, South Africans,

Afghanis, Americans

 

check the TV guide for complete listings

 

tell me of mothers who

murder children to save them

the ones who take the load

swallow the stones

to the bottom of the lake

and don't bob back up

 

check the riverbed for the depth charge

 

tell me of girls who

bleed to death but

never reach menses

 

check the flowerbed for dust

and defoliation

 

close your eyes and count

to one million and more

say out loud the numbers, the names:

Nijla Coskun, Adebanke Mafume, Gentiana Gashi

 

check the grounds for the body

check the body for the wound

check the wound for the prayer

say the prayer

                                                                                                           

check your mirror for my shadow

check your throat for my silence

check your mouth for my tongue

 

stick out your tongue

taste the ashes

                                                         

Daughters

 

Nijla Coskun, age 15

 

tell me of a Kurdish girl

who gives up beauty and

takes up arms

 

makes her bed,

leaves her Tellitubbies

forgoes apple blossom shampoo

doesn't brush 100 times

or floss

 

douses the curling hair

the unmade face

the blooming breasts

the lanky balletic limbs

 

with petroleum distillate

hydro carbonic pledge

to make a tender point

 

before Spring in London

its budding roses and bleeding crocuses

forever entwined with bitterroot,

skin grafts, mesh bandages

tight enough to hold flesh to flesh

 

Nijla,

the girl who will be forgotten,

passed over for sexier stories

at dinner time, sound bytes and

all we can eat

 

Adebanke Mafume, age 11

 

tell me of an African girl whose hands are taken

chopped through the growing bones

a woodcutter's fury

 

at night she dreams of them

does not see them with violin bow

tennis racquet or writing home

she sees the tender fingers embrace a hair jewel

twisting bits of cloth and bead into braids

she sees the bowls of a thousand meals washed at the river

a ballet of fingers and hands swirling in a circle of pottery

or finishing a hem at night

 

Gentiana Gashi, age 11

 

tell me of a Serbian girl who returns

in midsummer shower to Kosovo

through fields of poppies red

to charnel house to pick through charred remains

 

the daughter who will not paste pictures into

scrapbooks, will not color pages,

or skip the ropes that tied the village men together

 

the girl who seeks her father by touch

finds the back she rubbed for years

lifts the parent who looked back once

 

tell me of the child who digs her father's grave

to spare her mother,

Gentiana, who will not be asked to tell

and will not bleed on time

who will bury a thigh, a rib, amid the howling of

stray dogs and the shadow of Olympic pride

 

 

Parthenia Hicks is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in a range of journals, newspapers and nonprofit materials.  She manages the Tree of Life Bookshop for the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment where she is earning her Masters of Divinity in Kriya Yoga.  Most recently, she has received two Pushcart nominations for her short stories, Fire and Miss Lady, and the Villa Montalvo Poetry prize.  She is currently working on a group of poems, One Night She Swallowed the Moon and an imaginary life history, Apostle Notes.  Of herself, Parthenia says, "I was born in the King's Daughter's Hospital, in a Navy town, along the Eastern Seaboard, in Portsmouth, Virginia to a half-Cherokee mother and a Jewish father who committed bigamy in order to marry my light-skinned, black-headed Mama.  That was the start of following the call of the wild writing."

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Honorable Mentions

Cell
Debra Marquart

Lately I've been calling my cell when necessity requires,

the landline part who needs groceries or has a meeting

and must be out the door, dials the cell self lost in the deep

 

pocket, nestled under sheets, the deep crease of the couch,

or left behind on the stack of books by the cold coffee cup

still mulling over something read of Pessoa.  Lately, too,

 

I've been forgetting the words of things.  Tortilla,

for example; in the Mexican restaurant I am helpless.

"Unleavened flat bread,” I might say, "made from

 

wheat or corn” or "the casing in which a burrito

is contained,” as if this were jeopardy.  Never mind,

some part of me is folding inside itself, my brain

 

cleans out its closets each night, discards words

like garments that are ill-fitting, out of style,

or haven't been off their hangers for five seasons.

 

"Help me out,” my student says, "what's the name

of that tragic jazz singer?”  (She thinks I'll know this

because I'm old.)  We puzzle it out for minutes—

 

gardenia behind the ear, voice like Chinese porcelain,

singer of "strange fruit,” before I surrender and

google it, "lady sings the blues.”  Or my friend, J,

 

the botanist, who reels off Latin names for plants—

castor bean (ricinus communis), black cohosh

(cimicifuga racemosa), mugwort (artemisia vulgaris)—

 

who can tell you their unique habitats and attributes

but could not remember the title of a movie

or its director if you tied her down and beat

 

the bottoms of her feet.  "Cutie-pie,” is how

she refers to all movie stars.  "You know, the one

who was in that movie with what's-her-name?”

 

Surely this is medical.  I must ask my friend

the botanist, for the Latin name of the medicinal,

or visit the apothecary (Greek for apotheke,

 

the place where a cure is stored), or just break down

and visit my physician—good old what's-her-name

and confess all.  Never mind.  The phone will ring

 

someday from the endless bottom of my purse.

The message, when I manage to retrieve it,

will be long and full of unrecognizable jargon,

 

the voice of the nurse, with all the gory details.

 

 

Debra Marquart is a professor of English at Iowa State University and the Coordinator of the MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment.  Her books include two poetry collections—Everything's a Verb and From Sweetness—and a short story collection, The Hunger Bone: Rock & Roll Stories, which draws on her experiences as a road musician in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Marquart continues to perform with her jazz-poetry, rhythm & blues project, The Bone People, with whom she released two CDs:  Orange Parade and A Regular Dervish.  Her latest book, The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere, A Memoir, was published by Counterpoint Books in 2006.  She's currently at work on a novel, set in Greece, titled The Olive Harvest.  www.debramarquart.com.

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Waterville, Maine, near Great Pond
Judith Pacht

They had gardens, they had mornings in those days!
                           
Carlos Drummond de Andrade

There were woods, there were winters, summers and a girl
Lying under the elm.  She was ten, a new watch on her wrist,
And she thought, this is enough, this is everything,
From her cushion of ten times ten, the peat from fallen leaves.

She was lying under the elm, a new watch on her wrist,
The scent of resin and damp earth, musk and bark in the air.
Her cushion of ten times ten from fallen leaves
Lay as powder, thick and brown from slow-melting snow.

The scent of resin and damp earth, musk and bark hung in the air.
That day sun licked the elm leaves, licked her eyelids
As she lay on powdered leaves, thick and brown from melted snow.
Sun stirred the air soft, warmed spots on Great Pond.

That day sun licked the elm leaves, licked her eyes
And looking up she saw the leaves turn young green
As the sun stirred the air soft, warmed spots on Great Pond
Where she always swam, right over there.

And looking up she saw the leaves turn young green
As though sun birthed early spring in August,
Warming where she swam, just right over there.
Only the lazy traffic of birds, a breeze, shook the elm

As though the sun was birthing early spring in August.
She thought, this is enough, this is everything.
There were woods, there were winters, summers in those days.
She set her new watch to keep that time.  She was ten that day.

 

Judith Pacht's work includes poems published in Ploughshares, Runes, Cider Press Review, The Los Angeles Review, Red Hen Press, Solo 6, Site of the City, the Los Angeles postcard competitions, and Gastronomica (UC Press).   

She is a finalist in the University of Arkansas open submissions (2007) and was a finalist in Tupelo Press's open submissions, 2007, and the Smartish Pace Erskine J. Poetry Prize, 2006.

Ms. Pacht was first place winner in the Georgia Poetry Society's 2005 Edgar Bowers competition, and she received the Margaret Reid High Distinction Award (2006) for her poem "On a Line from Salvador Espriu."  Her work appears or will appear in the anthology The Reach of Song, Georgia Poetry Society; Smartish Pace Poetry Journal; Tebot Bach's Anthology of California Poets, 2003 and 2006; The Invisible Plane, Collected Poems to and about Saints, Angels and Deities, Spout Graphic Press, 2000; as well as in several other anthologies.  Her chapbook, also her first poetry collection, Falcom (Conflu:X Press), was published in 2004.

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The Promenade
Carol Quinn

after the painting by Marc Chagall

Every marriage is its own universe.

Each has laws that may defy the logic
of all other systems. Elsewhere,

what little light there is collapses.
Auroral flares are wind across the tops of flues.

But in a certain Lithuanian town,
snow melts and walls turn green in the sun.

What has happened has not yet happened.

The painter's wife appears in a cloisonné
of blowing petals. She has lifted off

and her husband holds her hand
with the grip of a trapeze artist: ready

to follow. He grins with incredible joy.
It's true that someone's poured some wine,

but there is just one glass.

Meanwhile, the green village has begun
to come apart. A chasm splits the town—

but what has happened here cannot be
undone. He thinks he should drink deeply.

He remembers nights when Bella used to climb
out through her bedroom window.

She came to his studio to pose for him.
He'd never seen a naked woman.

Vitebsk was scandalized.

Try and tell them my fiancée is purer
than Raphael's Madonna and I'm an angel.

Elsewhere, too much has happened.
They think they know how the world works.

Such knowledge keeps them down.

 

Carol Quinn grew up in the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California.  She earned her doctorate from the University of Houston, where she was the recipient of C. Glenn Cambor and Donald Barthelme Fellowships in Creative Writing.  Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, The Cincinnati Review, Colorado Review, The National Poetry Review, the American Literary Review, and elsewhere.  She teaches at Towson University in Baltimore.

(The lines in italics in "The Promenade" come from Chagall's My Life [tr. Elisbeth Abbott], Orion Press.)
 

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Homing
Alice Templeton

Belvidere, Tennessee

Three years later, I am back
in the land of car wrecks,
kidnappings, weather reports
that matter. Wires spliced with black tape
dangle from the dead starter.
Knock each side once with a pipewrench,
then turn the worn key.
A bitter nest rumbles,
rises around the truck.

I am back
in the land of fundamentals,
where all living things are hungry,
and even the nonliving play
dead, come running
only when they are properly called.
Raising a life means dividing back
from death, and using a thing means
fixing it first, your hands
in its guts, your mind
mapping its moving parts. Think
like an engine,
a starved coyote, a migrating
herd. Wrench,
rifle, walking stick, the familiar tools
become your body, shadow you
in absence
like phantom limbs.

Fundamental:
The burnish tells a tool's worth.

Hands on the smooth wheel
I drive through the heart
of the county, a sensate homing, more animal than arrow,
passing through the early summer core.
The cars angle close
around the courthouse, dense with purpose, salted with sap
and backroad dust. People move
to documents and deadlines. I have no business
here.

Fundamental:
A dog worth naming
knows its way home.

Driving on,
I cross the ring of convenience stores
where farmhands
back out of the glass doors into the heat,
cigarettes, honey buns, and sundrop
in their burnt arms. Last year on Christmas Eve,
a night clerk, closing late,
disappeared. Struggled,
the radio said, the contents
of her purse spilling across the floor, then
disappeared. End of an endless story.
What now but backfill? Someone's sister,
my distant cousin (fundamental
to this place: relatedness).
What but a thick and futile pause? Impossible
to imagine such dark migrations
here, in the daylight of sun
and visible shadow. I keep driving

across the low plain toward the narrow river,
sidling along the new strip mall,
already outdated, haunted
with weeds of impending gloom,
cheap touch for tornado or flood.
Over the rhythmic thump of the bridge,
I finally break

the outer ring and enter open country again, green
spilling
from every shadow and curve,
pronouncing
the first name, the unshaken nerve, of every living thing.
I let that singing overtake me,
would close my eyes to see even clearer my part
in the profusion
except I am aware of the center line,
how those who cross it at just the wrong time, even in joy,
stall forever
in second thoughts, never fling
the screen door open as freely
or go home
the same.

Fundamental:
Held or lost, beauty
causes an unavoidable swerve,
wet life
reaching for the elegant

fray of dandelion
or downed power line.
For that I almost
would skip it,
but the green brims so absolutely, presses
so insistently,
I cannot deny
the muscle we share, dog,
river,
even wrench. That burnish,
that hunger,
this other way of belonging.

 

Alice Templeton - Originally from Tennessee, Alice Templeton now lives in San Francisco, California, and teaches creative writing and literature at the Art Institute of California-San Francisco.  Her poems have been published in Poetry, 88, Puerto del Sol, Many Mountains Moving and elsewhere.  In addition to writing poetry, she is also a songwriter and the author of a critical study of Adrienne Rich's poetics, entitled The Dream and the Dialogue (University of Tennessee Press, 1994).
 


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