Tor House Poetry Prize




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2011 Prize For Poetry Awards

We are pleased to announce that the 2011 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry, an honorarium of $1,000, is awarded to:

Jennifer Perrine
Des Moines, Iowa
for her poem
"[Saint] Genevieve”

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

Melissa Cannon
Nashville, Tennessee
for her poem
"Lost and Found In Translation”

Madelyn Garner
Denver, Colorado
for her poem
"After Braverman's Suicide Suite, Gallery Show”

Moira Magneson
Placerville, California
for her poem
"November Walk”

Final judge for the 2011 competition was poet Ellen Bass.

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 with additional support from Honorary Board Member Allen Mears.  This year we received over 1,100 poems from 41 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and four foreign countries.

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

2010 Poetry Prize winners
2009 Poetry Prize winners
2008 Poetry Prize winners
2007 Poetry Prize winners
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 2011 Prize Winning Poem

[Saint] Genevieve
Jennifer Perrine

In worship, the people remember you
                                                as a protector, invoke you to guard
against natural disasters:  drought, flood,
                                                sweat of fever.  To recall your power
to heal they must bring to mind your abuse:
                                                how your mother struck you—her heavy palm
sharp against your face—and as punishment
                                                lost her sight until, months later, you fetched
water from a well, washed her eyes, lifted
                                                the veil from her world.  How did your mother
look in that moment, engaged in her own
                                                mystic vision, returned from her journey
in the dark?  What did her gaze light on first:
                                                the fragile fabric you daubed at her lids,
the small coin you wore tethered at your neck,
                                                your long fingers reaching towards the girl
you would become, who ate only barley
                                                bread and beans, slowly paring your body
into that relic, enshrined, borne aloft
                                                through the streets of Paris, sucking poison
from believers, drawing out the ergot,
                                                the gangrene from their hands and feet?  What prayer
was poised on her lips in that instant, spell
                                                to keep you safe, to stop the villagers
from begging at your bones?   Did she wish you
                                                desire, a spouse, arms spangled with trinkets,
enough excess to extinguish the fire
                                                a bishop lit in your seven-year-old
self?  Is she the one who sits forever
                                                beside you in the icons, in disguise
as the devil, her breath a stinging rush
                                                of wind at your cheek, her bellows huffing,
fervent, trying to blow your candle out?


Jennifer Perrine's first collection of poems, The Body Is No Machine, (New Issues, 2007), won the 2008 Devil's Kitchen Reading Award in Poetry.  Her second book, In the Human Zoo (University of Utah Press, 2011), received the 2010 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize.  Ms. Perrine lives in Des Moines, Iowa, where she organizes the Younger American Poetry Reading Series.

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Honorable Mentions

Lost and Found in Translation
Melissa Cannon

What's in a sobriquet? My Iraqi boss,
whose self-taught English only goes so far,
renames us—now "habibi,” now "hemar,”
which, roughly put, means "dearest dear” or "ass.”
"Habibi” saves the buns before they char,
while "hemar” neglects to stock tomato sauce
and over-proofs fresh dough until that mass,
reeking of beer, sinks, flat and turning sour.
His Kurdish girl's a frequent visitor—
she'll pound the counter, giving grief and sass.
From the same country, both suffering its loss,
they lack one native tongue and have to spar
with ours: she, baiting when she's really cross,
calls him the oppressor in their civil war;
he scoffs—her family's clannish, insular
(the sense is clear, the terms less decorous).


We're an unlikely pair: he might have been,
in a different, saner world, an architect;
a cook here, he describes his Shiite sect
to an ex-academic, skeptic lesbian
he's dubbed "old lady.” Just sixty, I object,
but he claims stings help toughen too-thin skin,
shows the scar a bullet gouged along his shin
and reveals himself in ways I don't expect.
I read things he needs read and I'll correct
his grammar if he asks, suppress a grin
when he says, "That's how is it.” We begin,
through daily chores and crises, to connect.
We shy from touch. Though, greeting, Muslim men
may kiss the cheek, embrace with warm respect,
touch seems to be reserved for those select
few—lovers, fellows of the faith and kin.


Since I've retired, we arrange to meet and chat.
He bought a house, remodeled every room,
now longs to fill it, marry and become
a father. His stubborn girl won't set a date:
though they spat until their lips grow numb,
she craves her parents' blessing so they wait.
But then, if it's too little and too late?
After twenty years, he'll finally travel home,
anxious, he tells me, to surprise his mom;
I'm anxious at the thought of tempting fate,
can't bear the image as I contemplate
his brother, dead from an errant curbside bomb.
I surface, startled, when he adds, "I hate
to leave. You know, we are—" We're what? Well, some
elusive answer to this posed conundrum
perplexes, vexes, makes him hesitate.

Then he speaks to me in Arabic, intends,
I guess, to find the phrase still unexpressed
if he has to put each language to the test.
And yet so much of all we mean transcends
mere words—ambiguous, half-true, at best,
misleading us to figure out the rest;
it's hardly any wonder that he ends
up shrugging , settles for "—we're more than friends.”

Melissa Cannon was born in New Hampshire and grew up in Tennessee.  She decided, at 15, that she wanted to be a poet and, at 65, she still has her pen in hand.  Her first career was in academia; her second, in fast food--both, she comments, provided substantial entertainment.  Her poems have appeared in various small-press publications over the years--most recently in Indefinite Space and The Lyric.

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After Braverman's Suicide Suite, Gallery Show,
Los Angeles, 1994
Madelyn Garner

The jarring images will shock,
but seem entirely appropriate to the theme
of life as tightrope to walk on or hang by.
--Los Angeles Reader

My son tells me
he has asked his HIV positive friends
to stage for his camera
how they might choose
to take their lives instead of shriveling
into body bags of skin.

One selects his apartment's gas stove,
lying down on the checker-board
floor, holding his breath at each click
of the aperture as if inhaling
the sweet scent of the Stargazer lilies
he says counterbalance
the sweat-filled nights. Another

parks his classic convertible,
arranges the muzzle of a gun
with experienced fingers,
his famous face hidden
by the splatter of Eucalyptus shadows
until he is startled by something
that suddenly clicks in the breeze.

Tony and Bill can't decide. Lovers' leap?
Cocktails spiked with arsenic? Then—
Tony decides death from hanging,
his feet divining for gravity, and
Bill settles for a cinder-block-weighted
fall through chlorine water
of his favorite Palm Springs pool.

It takes a year for my son to print
more than a dozen portraits—
a year spent trying to trick
his body with black market cures, building
muscle mass in Gold's Gym, and acting out
noir fantasies at a crowded club
named Cuffs. In the end, loving life,
he, like the rest, sets
the shutter speed on infinity
and lets death come.

Madelyn Garner has led the educational community as a creative writing instructor, administrator and editor.  Her professional work has been recognized with numerous honors, including the Colorado Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities.  She is the recipient of an Aspen Writers' Conference fellowship, the D.H. Lawrence Award from the University of New Mexico and the Jackson Hole Writers Conference Poetry Prize for 2010.  Her recent writing has appeared in Margie, Harpur Palate, Saranac Review, Water-Stone Review, PMS poemmemoirstory, American Journal of Nursing, and in the anthology Beyond Forgetting, Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer's Disease.  She is the co-editor of Collecting Life: Poets on Objects Known and Imagined.


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November Walk
Moira Magneson

Three days before they shaved your head, wheeled you
                                    into the operating theater
                                                            you went walking with your oldest friends.

The cottonwood leaves were falling like gold rain.
                                    The dogs tore ahead, tumbling
                                                            over each other, dust heaving up behind them.

You walked seven miles that morning, under the oak shadows
                                    up and down the dun-colored hills.
                                                            You couldn't stop talking,

as if the tumor in your skull were a measuring cup spilling
                                    out your life.  At the river's edge
                                                            you found the snake skin snagged

in the blackberries.  Untangling it, you held the moult to the sky—
                                    it fluttered like a translucent flag.
                                                            Carefully you set it on the river

where it swirled in the eddy and sailed downstream over
                                    the lip of green horizon.
                                                            Even though it was November

you shed your clothes, dove naked into the water
                                    and disappeared
                                                            into the deep caesura.

And then the river's black door opened and you emerged
                                    backlit by sun.  You strode to shore, brown and so thin
                                                            we could count every rib.

When you shook out your hair gold drops flew everywhere.
                                    Each drop glistened, an upside-down world.
                                                            Somewhere in the dead, dry grass

the snake, brown and black diamonds strewn on its back,
                                    muscled along the earth, magnificent
                                                            in its infinite skin.


Moira Magneson lives in Placerville, California, where she is the volunteer coordinator for El Dorado County's Poetry Out Loud competition and a member of Red Fox Underground, a Sierra foothills poetry collective.  Her recent honors include Alehouse Press' Happy Hour Award and two Pushcart Prize nominations.  Her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Spillway, In Posse Review, Pedestal, Margie, and Runes.  She is the author of He Drank Because, a chapbook published by Rattlesnake Press.

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