POETRY – a few puffs…

The Alpine Fellowship Prize

American Academy of Poets

Terrain Poetry Prize 

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Here is an elegant meditation on exile marked by statements that suggest wisdom—something felt deeply and understood even if only via the imagination. One actually believes that “the truth is/ nothing ever leaves you”, and because we do, we are willing to take the leap and believe also that “hell is an illusion/ of landscape”. The recurring wood image does not always hold up: how does an “old cut of wood” impale different from a new cut of wood, for instance? But that is a small thing, almost completely redeemed by the line “Take these wounds worn in wood”. Poets must pay careful attention to the tiniest things like prepositions and articles. Sometimes the care shows up beautifully here, sometimes it does not. Nonetheless, this is fine poetry when it is in full song: “I say that exile is a kind of death where loss is found//in every beautiful thing—a postcard, a sunset, a sonnet,…” beautiful stuff. –Kwame Dawes

Goose Step

A tightly controlled, dense poem that in its language evokes the goose-step itself. I like the way this poem moves from the image of marching (under the fluorescent light, scarier still!) to all the ramifications of the love affair, from flamenco dancing, to wild sex, to the study of gravestones–all at the emotional pitch that the word Nazi implies. “She finds him aesthetic” says everything we need to know about their relationship, and about what can drive people into inhuman behavior. –Fleda Brown

Unmarked Grave

I’m drawn to this poem from the first line–the “brows of broken ashes”–and continue to be delighted and surprised line after line by the fresh metaphors. This poem is all poem. It holds me aloft in its language. The death of Federico Garcia Lorca is made present, a “sun imploding/ like a sack of rotten oranges.” I can only quote lines from this fine poem, which deserves not to be rendered into prose. The poem’s ending is brilliant, “but the sheets,/ the white sheets you sail on, / coming home.” How much more perfect can an ending be, for Lorca, and for us? –Fleda Brown

Ways to Paint a Woman

This poem is stunning in language, in image, in music, and in form. The title of the poem is immediately intriguing and a great risk in that the reader comes to the first line, already, with great expectation. The much over-used couplet finds a home here, creating a subtle dynamic which, paired with the sometimes other-worldly imagery, leaves the reader feeling, at the end of the poem, as if she has emerged from a spell. A sense of enchantment drives this poem quietly, with an elegance that could easily have degraded into the sentimental. To instruct is no small task. Here, the speaker directs us to “Graze the mouth with mango. Make time to blend/and take away,” to “Show what the light gave her,” “listen with the eyes,” and in each instance, I reader must believe and trust the transformative moment to be genuine. I am caught up so much in the language that, at the close of the poem, I very much want to go back to the beginning and read it again, and I feel to achieve this sense of intrigue and immediate longing in the reader is perhaps the most most imperative task of the poet. –Ruth Ellen Kocher

Outside of the World

It’s hard to put ‘fate’ in the first line of a poem and make the poem work, but this poet does – by having fate immediately freeze to death to be replaced by the next god. So our expectations of something eternal, about fate, about gods, is immediately dismissed, which makes us pay attention What is this world we’re entering? From the clarity of ‘the way the peach tree takes on the sun’, to the surreal transition of a chair into rain, to the supposition that even gods can’t do much more than accept ‘the way it goes’ to the realization the poem contains a center where someone left, or died, or both, nothing in this poem is what it seems to be on the surface. A doctor is a preacher, feathers fall in a pattern of despair, fingers become flames, life is a ripe fruit that you can’t pluck, but you still attempt to to taste. The poem leaves you wanting to read it again. –Richard Krawiec


The apparent randomness of the four letters (R, T, A and G) this poem’s visitant picks on the Ouija board makes this seem like a poem “which really happened”; but this doesn’t, for once, weaken a poem whose confident trajectory is concerned with cleverly and evocatively re-telling the story of Lorca’s murder – but telling it not only “slant” but in Lorca-esque terms. A difficult feat, and especially hard to avoid this sounding mannered, but you manage beautifully. Some killer phrases – “the empty room of the body” – though I might have replaced the epigraph with a “for” or “i.m.” and would have fiddled with the grammar of “A is alone, how you never wanted it” – maybe “that”? – which I think you worry too much about matching to “green, how much you wanted it”. Especially given that the famous opening of that Lorca poem is a translation, in English versions!  –Fiona Sampson

(Also won Poem of the Year)

Ouija,” supposedly, comes from a meeting of the French and German words for “yes”—so we can fairly translate it “yes yes.” That describes a bit of what went on in my head as I read this poem: a gratified affirmation of the choices made by the poet at each turn. Any ouija poem written in the wake of James Merrill’s epic “The Changing Light at Sandover” is somewhat indebted to that work; Merrill’s influence operates subtly here, in phrases like “the empty room of the body” and in the slant rhyme “trace/flame.” But the most gorgeous lines feel freshly observed: “A is alone, how you never wanted it,/ preferring the company of bishop’s/ weed and drowsy horses.” The poem—melancholy, elegiac—concludes with a sharp reminder of the insistence and inevitability of renewal. –Dana Goodyear


This poem is in great company and holds its own with the likes of poems by contemporary poets Lucille Clifton and Adrienne Rich, who have also used the fox as a metaphysical conceit. The language of this poem is highly inventive, rich and evocative, and is what immediately distinguished it. Phrases like “rasping of earthworms” or “your lair musky with the slain” conjure fantastical images. On repeated readings, though, I also loved how the poem tethers us to the real: the direct address used in the poem creates a relationship between the speaker (the “careful bird,” perhaps a goose, whose eggs the fox has “fed on”) and the fox, which extends the conceit of the poem further, delivering in the process a complex allegory of the bond between victim and victimiser. This fable-like poem accomplishes the feat of bringing pleasure to the reader, even as it disturbs. –Shara McCallum

Grand Canyon, North Rim

Couplets convey a sense of the canyon, the huge expanse, its age and history of “harsh winters” and “years / of drought.” I love “how the water raged / like bison through the bottom” because we see the water raging and a still life is set in motion (the bison). The speaker is so overcome that his tongue is tied by heavy dust—like a potter’s wheel in the sun,” dust falling onto it. The final three lines move away from description to inform us that the changes wrought by time are marked by a “shadow” or “a human sundial at a precipice,” which I take to mean human perception, and surely it is true that the perceiver is forever in shadow, “true celestial north” forever the aim. –Kelly Cherry

One very deep, very dark secret, not revealed in the interview, partly because she listens to others so selflessly, is that Lois is a very, very, good poet herself. I read her work before the interview and think her work wonderfully wild and original. One of our finest contemporary poets.”  David Whyte

First is ‘Foal’ by Lois P. Jones (South Pasadena,USA), who has been longlisted in The Poetry Society’s National Poetry Competition in the last two years. Liz Berry: From the moment I read this dark, extraordinary poem it haunted me. It’s mysterious, unsettling, blends the mythic with the real and is just so beautifully written. It’s full of emotional charge and is taut with intensity and violence. And that ending, oh my goodness that ending!