This year our Dorset Prize was judged by Ilya Kaminsky, who – in a feat of nearly unprecedented generosity – read approximately 64 manuscripts, selected by the editors for his consideration, and in an even more magnanimous act, he wrote citations for every single one of those books. All of those citations are included below.
WE ARE DELIGHTED TO ANNOUNCE THAT ILYA KAMINSKY HAS SELECTED AMERICA, THAT ISLAND OFF THE COAST OF FRANCE BY JESSE LEE KERCHEVAL OF MADISON, WISCONSIN AS WINNER OF THIS YEAR’S DORSET PRIZE.
Jesse Lee Kercheval was born in France, raised in Florida, and currently divides her time between Madison, Wisconsin and Montevideo, Uruguay. She is the author of fourteen books including the poetry collection Cinema Muto, winner of a Crab Orchard Open Selection Award; The Alice Stories, winner of the Prairie Schooner Fiction Book Prize; the memoir Space, winner of the Alex Award from the American Library Association and The Dogeater, winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award in Short Fiction. She is also a translator, specializing in Uruguayan poetry, and a 2016 NEA in Translation Fellow. Her translations include The Invisible Bridge: Selected Poems of Circe Maia. She is also the editor of the anthology América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets. She is currently the Zona Gale Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is the Director of the Program in Creative Writing.
ABOUT THE WINNING MANUSCRIPT, ILYA KAMINSKY OFFERS THE FOLLOWING CITATION:
These poems are alive. What does that mean? They live on the page, yes, but also in memory, long after the book is closed. The voice is so strong; it refuses to leave the body of the reader. These poems do many things: they are worldly and local, funny and tragic, off-beat and dead-serious. Are they French poems in Brooklyn or South Dakota? No. Are they American poems that play ping-pong with the French? No. They are simply very good poems. Lots and lots of very good poems. While almost every manuscript I read had surprised me, had offered something new, this book had something new to offer on every single page. – Ilya Kaminsky
I am grateful to Tupelo Press for this chance to read many dozens of poetry books, all at once, to immerse myself in so many wonderful voices and visions. It was an experience of a lifetime. Each poet I read taught me something new. When the manuscripts arrived in my mailbox, I quickly realized there was something special about every book I read. So, I simply can’t resist sharing these brief notes on each of the marvelous books I was lucky enough to read for this competition. –Ilya Kaminsky, Dorset Prize Judge
(Publisher’s Note: All manuscripts were read and considered anonymously.)
RUNNERS-UP—CITATIONS BY ILYA KAMINSKY:
John DeStefano, New York, New York—Visible Remains
What a wonderful book. These poems made me think of the great Lebanese poet Vénus Khoury-Ghata, her relationship to language. Here we are given the emotional, mythic invention of language: “Legends were in the making. Pledges /and debts were now “pleasures” and “deaths.” Words were kept /secret – secretly circulating.” As the book proceeds, the invention of language becomes an invention of the landscape too. And, then we realize that we are in the midst of both physical and emotional landscape. It is a well-made, beautiful journey. – Ilya Kaminsky
Mark Wagenaar, Valparaiso, Indiana—Small Time Paradiso
“The horse’s spirit dwells in its body,” writes the author of this book, but the spirit is everywhere in these pages. The poems ask hard, beautiful questions: “how does a man become a hashtag / is it the way air becomes hollow bones inside / doves lifting above a summer field.” The last poem, “Love Song” was a real marvel, hard to forget. – Ilya Kaminsky
FINALISTS – ALL CITATIONS BY ILYA KAMINSKY:
Amy Beeder, Albuquerque, New Mexico—Report Of The Chief Astronomer
Beautiful lyrical language here, the lush detail, language like “a bird so bright & blackly drowned” and always coming back at us, dear life: “Dear through, our summer corn was overrun again / with weed & cheat; the bitter zinnias fell to bits. // Dear yearlings our harvest is lattice & husk.”
Scott Brownlee Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—Redneck Interregnum
What I loved most in this ms were the most disarming moments, when the scene opened up and the voice spoke directly, tenderly, without sentimentality, without that patronizing one too often finds in contemporary poetry: “me & you during each dance speechless, falling into / what we knew was marriage before dress rehearsals.//Barefoot, tiptoe toward me. Take my cowboy hat off. //…Do whatever you want me there.
Kevin Carollo, Fargo, North Dakota—Rubber Soul
This is a smart book. But what I remember most is its original, unpredictable music: “In the heart of the heart of the heart there is no real time. / The eye of the eye of the eye is camera size. The legs of my legs of my legs are taking the tour alone / within a belly in a belly in a belly waiting for the next invasion.”
Lisa Fay Coutley, Omaha, Nebraska—Tether
The beautiful lyric insight of this book is hard to forget: “&how far / must you back away / from yourself / to see / yourself / as the Astronaut / sees/ Earth”
Mary Crow, Fort Collins, Colorado—As The Real Keeps Slipping
These intimate poems seek out wisdom (“Smoke, is it, smoke, a stillness?”) and find it everywhere, in Cairo, in silence, on the Nile, in fog, and on the Mohican River. The wisdom here is sensual, full of emotion: “You eyeballed /my breasts’ / lush juncture. /Lying beside me /you inventoried / the plundering, opulent iconography of my naked body,” There is wisdom, too, in negation: “my body feels like someone else’s.” In fact, there is wisdom everywhere in this book: in Ohio, in history, in rewriting of history, in quarrel, in “crumpled hope lifting.”
Marlon Fick, Chinle, Arizona—The Tenderness And The Wood
These poems seem to weave together both Latin American and English poetries, among others, opening up to us a world that is large and yet also so very particular.
Jameson Fitzpatrick, New York, New York—Balcony Scene
The last poem in this book, “I Woke Up,” is, I think, one of the most memorable poems I have read all year. I also loved “Foreplay” and “Genesis” among others, but “I Woke Up” kept me coming back to this book: “I woke up / and it was political / I made coffee and the coffee was political. / I took a shower and the water was…./..I thought I was not a political poet and still / my imagination was political. / It had been, this whole time I was asleep.”
John Fry, Burnet, Texas—With The Dog Star As My Witness
What an original voice. Many surprises to be found within, many new melodies touching on timeless questions: “is body the shape of soul–/is soul the shape of body–/ when, doubting, he touches to see/ seeking the exact location / of soul’s shining kingdom.” I was often moved by the dilemmas posed here: “—Judas kissed Jesus / –did Christ kiss him back”
Emily Wallis Hughes, Brooklyn, New York—Sugar Factory
Absolutely gorgeous lyric fire; one of the subtlest expressions of music I have read this year.
Susan Lewis, New York, New York—Zoom
The way this book deploys the English language to reveal the music of deeper meaning is simply gorgeous. “In praise of miscommunication and her co-star, depending. Trying not to stare at the posterior pronation of their disregard.” Reading, I was thinking of G. Hill’s early prose poems, their rhetorical marvels. And, of GC Waldrop’s prose poems. How beautifully the emotional registers find their way into the speech of the prose poem-format: “The enemy grinning in your prismatic heart. Fingering the molecular furnace. Hot & bothered. Throbbing towards correspondence, the irrepressible hope to fit.”
Dora Malech, Baltimore, Maryland—Flourish
What a brilliant, absolutely brilliant, book. Page after page one finds lines one wants to write down: “My man does his crying on a fast horse.” Unsettling, new. I was startled, in a very different way, by this: “gray-green fireworks of epiphyte / which, despite my best neglect, still live”
Andrew Miller, Copenhagen, Denmark—Flesh Of The Parables
Some poets speak in lyric moments, in fragments. Other poets create a documentary of their time in history, full of powerful witnessing. Some are poets of eros. Others, elegiacs, rememberers. And, yet others—like the best work in this manuscript—can really spin a tale. So, you find yourself inside the world of a short stanza as if you were inside a longish page-turner novel, or a fast-paced movie. The voice is strong, image after images surprises you, the tale spins: “The day I left, I went to live among thieves. / They took me for a son. / By night, I fed their hogs, poured the fodder, / slept on open stone. / By day, I learned to cut hog-throats: // I became their butcher, who cleave meat from the bone. / It was no mystery. / Nothing to atone. /I was happy, but for those times it seemed the sun shone too hard on my knife’s steel.”
Trenton Pollard, Bronx, New York—Houndstooth & Sparrow
There are very lovely lyric moments here on each page: “Six-year-old me lies in grass, / little hands pull an older boy closer. // These tendrils explode / as if from angel’s lungs.”
Michael Robins, Chicago, Illinois—With Love, Et cetera
These poems are informed by Creeley and Williams, but in the end, they make a music all their own. They are tender, playful, and intelligent. Reading this book, it is hard not to notice the poet’s clear eye. There is a real affection for the world in these poems, its grief, its kindness.
Tim Suermondt, Cambridge, Massachusetts—A Doughnut And The Great Beauty Of The World
In these poems, the oddness of the details that comprise our ordinary lives comes most alive, the tragic and comic, the wild and mundane often blend in one stanza: “War I worth human praise / tied in with a bucket of fish//…Erase for a moment what we / and the marines know: that no/ two legged soldier will ever get / that bucket of fish. Imagine mermaids / so plentiful, nothing else matters.” Out of this blend comes something special: partly myth, partly some new kind of assurance: “I’m standing fast like Martin Luther minus / the theological falderal, and my heart affirms, // stirring with its red sash held oh so high”
Catherine Turnbull, Traverse City, Michigan—The Spider’s Apprentice
There is a kind of wonderful strangeness in these poems. I was most moved by the moments when this strangeness turns image-laden and feels emotionally awake: “These mice have come into my kitchen / because I continue, casually, to take baths, / and callously dry my hair, and they will not go away / until I give in. Until I face what I cannot imagine”
Ross White, Durham, North Carolina—Vs. World
What a large voice these poems have! It can be didactic; it can be lyrical; it can be playful or wise; but it is always very present: “I am in danger of being a cloud, / the insides, still inside, of an animal/ being dragged through mud by a child.” This is evocative, memorable writing. This is also quite beautiful: “If you’re / bitten / with the same or similar affliction and others often listen/ in bewilderment, as though it is in Latin, to what you consider common / sense. Otherwise, I beg your pardon. I could draw it for you in crayon. There is a heaven. In it, all things are in pairs, in triplets, or sevens.”
SEMI-FINALISTS: ALL CITATIONS BY ILYA KAMINSKY:
Jessica Rae Bergamino, Seattle, Utah—Unmanned
There is a kind of foreknowledge in this book: “Smoke rolls / across the galaxy from another state of fire. / The natural function of an egg is to break open. / This late in summer the roses bloom straight to ash.” A memorable voice: “How a cool knife can part my frame / from form. The universe will boil in all her fury. / Father of time, teach me how to not want”
Bruce Bond, Denton, Texas—Words Written Against The Walls Of The City
Recalling this book I think of a journey through time, space, of finding the special moment in the smallest things: “Whatever inspired that first live cell/ to pull a little line down the center / and so become, as two, both and neither,/ it must have known what a child knows / when he looks up at a house on fire”
Neil Carpathios, Portsmouth, Ohio—Specter
The elegiac tone and attentiveness to detail in these poems were quite moving.
Alexandra Comeaux, Scottsdale, Arizona—A Brief Theory Of Entanglement
I am interested in how the eye moves through this book, in how the voice makes itself memorable, advising us to “peel yourself /away from the world/as the skin off an apple.” And I love the unexpected moments of a voice that says “I was expecting death to happen / better” and also admits: “Like a ship on the crest of memory I had learned.” Beautiful.
Kay Cosgrove, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania—Wake Up You Dead
This book is alive, fully in the world, and yet also attentive to language, its subtle turns: “on an exit ramp in Newark, NJ which led a man to hold HELP / on a piece of cardboard. I didn’t, given the car & circumstance / & I am sorry. Oh wake up you dead language, you who place a circle / which is constant inside the blue heart of our stormy circumstance”
Gillian Cummings, White Plains, New York—Of Crow-Flowers, Nettles, Daisies, And Long Purples
There is a kind of timeless longing in the lyricism of these poems, a kind of “desire to end / a life and the need to know how: a flower’s simple bliss.” I admire this, and a kind of second sight, a knowing that “some things only speak sorrow by being pierced through.”
Eaton Andy Eaton, Belfast, Northern Ireland—Two Camps
There is something quite magical happening in these poems: “Mosquitoes fat as jack rabbits bounce / into your life and do not leave.” For me, this magic is of most interest when it comes alive in the range of emotional depth: “that small balloon I call my heart, / tethered as it is above the earth”
Nava EtShalom, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—The Knives We Need
This book has strong emotion and poise: “Doorbells I can’t recall the notes of, / doorsteps I stood on undressed / in winter. My wrist the temperature of a particular / trip home.”
Robert Evory, Portage, Michigan—The Failure Of My Music
Precision is strong here, and surprise: “into each star like the muzzle of a musket / and shot like a firing squad through / a small white handkerchief into our hearts”
Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, Portland, Maine—Deke
Music is what I remember most after reading these poems. Music, and also insight: “Tell me you never dream/a black box, a hidden engine.// What’s inside this force, inconstant /husher and rattler, bender of grass, // flag, leg hair, tear? If I knew/ I could fix hearts: mine, yours.”
Mary Gilliland, Ithaca, New York—Intelligence Of The Water
I thought this book offered innovative, daring, brave, moving work.
Tanya Grae, Tallahassee, Florida—Undoll
I admire how this poet see us, our days, our bodies: “A body is sixty percent / ocean & the rest, sediment– / a ship at sea bears load to / the plimsoll” I admire also how this poet lets us see the music of this very act of seeing: “I close my eyes & lull /against the translation of owls calling out— /If not you, someone. If not you, someone new.”
Matthew Gwathmey, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada—Our Latest In Folktales
I like this lyricism of walking through the walls: “There are those who still put their trust in me. //Tunneling through an ancient wall, / I see you staring out your side-view mirror. / Look ahead / like barges we skim”
Michael Hettich, Miami Shores, Florida—To Start An Orchard
Here is a book of lovely poems, full of the world. Poet’s desire here is to live deeply, as if for the last time. Poems take a larger look, they ask: “If we could imagine that every word we speak /were an animal or insect, the last of a species”
Carlie Hoffman, Fair Lawn, New Jersey—This Alaska
The poet Derek Burleson died this year; he was a great poet of Alaska—and I feel his work should have been far better known. Never Night, his book of poems about Alaska, is really quite marvelous. I visited Derek in Alaska once. While I have no idea who the author of these poems is, or if the author currently lives in the region, I felt I was in Alaska again while reading some of these poems. The place really opened up in this ms, really came to life. “Even the birds, even in the dark they are moving,” writes the poet. And, from the actual place, we go through all kinds of places, all kinds of times, we talk to the living, to the dead: “The dead press the old light of their fingers / along the land-tract of our skin.” We may be here, or maybe elsewhere. May be in Alaska, or maybe in NYC: “You are New York until you are in New York, then you are someplace else.” Beautiful work.
Raymond Hudson, Middlebury, Vermont—The Good Life
“Even death won’t deter me / from misdemeanors” confesses the speaker of these poems. Not a confession exactly, but a kind of wonderful lyric revealing: “I am baptized repeatedly / by every small thing.” This is a beautiful book.
Hannah Huff, Midway City, California—Something Mammalian Caught
Lyric fire, rich portraiture: “I studied myself in the mirror and found / that familiar trespasser on the lawn of my eyes.” Also, an oceanic sweep: “although in water nothing is lost, the ocean / is all underwater and underwater…. the ocean has no need for trinkets.”
Didi Jackson, South Burlington, Vermont—Killing Jar
What I most appreciated in this book were the moments when I couldn’t help but stop. Just stop and think how bewildering it all is. One morning after another. The honesty of our bewilderment in this book won me over: “Sometimes, when I am in front / of the sink, I hold a ceramic white place / and cannot remember / what I am waiting for.”
Leah Claire Kaminski, Irvine, California—In Case It’s Catching It Quick That’s Important
There is an intricacy to the emotion, both watched, and lived-through, that is compelling: “I make the different mouth mine / almost/ I ride in its more brilliant / cage of teeth, and she’s so lonely / she thinks it’s her fault / that she can’t choose between love / and envy. I do this / so she knows what it is / to be almost, and non-/enough”
Karen Kevorkian, Culver City, California—A Year Of Continuous Narrative
Here is a poet who knows how “day contrives a new architecture of pillows” and can see “Winter light bluish like skim milk / couples with strollers.” The poet is unafraid to speak of “disturbance you see and don’t see” and say “wartime, its ochre horizon.” A voice like “man kneeling on a roof, hammer /echoing in a field.”
Rebecca Lehmann, Potsdam, New York—Go
Unexpected tonalities, imaginative scope in this book swayed me: “Tell me the world. Here comes light, unspoken./ Light hooks a claw on the horizon, pulls itself / into view.”
Brandon Lewis, New York, New York—On The Cannibals
The strangeness and unexpected clarity in these poems startled me, woke me up. The moments I appreciated most combined light irony or humor with a very sober note: “Whether or not // a seat exists in this world and is yours / or that the seat is an illusion // the loneliness is nevertheless being organized and you can’t tell / your ass from another’s.”
Christine Marshall, Charlotte, North Carolina—Match
I was moved by the emotion in these poems, and how that emotion let towards something more timeless: “You dyed your blond hair black. I cut my long hair short. //You bought a white leather jacket. I bought green vinyl shoes / and stacked band-aids on my heels.//Tha man in the piano bar sang like Barry Manilow. // All those years, I thought we were real birds.” And, then, it is timeless, again: “Sky, open // Send your winter whites // for me to wear.”
Derick Mattern, Iowa City, Iowa—Dragoman
The journey of this book appeals to me, particularly its engagement with the great Turkish poets of the 20th century, most of whom are unknown in the States: Cemal Sureya, Orhan Veli, Oktay Rifat.
James McCorkle, Geneva, New York—Manifest
Large, complex, serious vision here. But in this take on history, while the morning radio might report hundreds of dead, the cherry tree is still in bloom, still prays above us, the world still pulls the crowns of trees to bloom at once.
Anatoly Molotkov, Portland, Oregon—Application Of Shadows
Marvelous things happen in these longish, formally inventive poems– I learned that “Ice is reduced to memory” and that when “you raise your hand…the moon is / back.” The lines of these poems know the art of “skating without a soul.” The voice here is curious, seeking wonders. Perhaps the ultimate wonder here is like a lady who “lives on the street corner. / Her telescopic eyes /seek out / beings like you.”
Joe Pan, Brooklyn, New York–Operating Systems
This book challenges, compels, surprises, and above all it fully engages us in the “fascination of what is difficult.”
Dawn Potter, Portland, Maine—Songs About Women And Men
There is a real wisdom in this manuscript—it comes as a kind of open admission of what the world does to us: “If I say / I want to talk about the nature of fear, / you might assume that I have something precise to say. // But I have nothing precise to say. / I think that fear is not precise. / It is a weight, a stench, a twinge in the bowels”
Marielle Prince, Charlottesville, Virginia—Will You Tell Me If You Will
Much to like here, but what I loved the most was an open moment of intimacy, uninhibited, free: “having cupped my body into the recess / where the spirit of your lungs can rock me”
Boyer Rickel, Tucson, Arizona—Lecons Des Choses
Here are poems that go deeper both emotionally and tonally: “Sometimes his silence like the heat of a wall /pressing through the cotton of my shirt.”
Elizabeth Rogers, Conway, Arkansas—The Tilt Torn Away From The Seasons
There is a large vision here: “Hot is the itch we know/ wen spinning a yarn / about the earth’s ejecta.” And yet the largesse is very specific, particular, familial: “Our own carbon dates us. If I could cut / myself open, you’d see rinks / lapping more rings: my mother / crying for her mother in the same / way her mother wept for hers. / You’d see the silvery orbit”
Lisa Rosenberg, Menlo Park, California—A Different Physics
One instantly notices the imagery of these poems: “Big white dress” is revealed as “a self of moon-cloths.” One is also moved by the poems’ music, their precision: “Do not shed / your DNA here.// Restrain your hair.// Let no exhalation / fog or mist the air. / This jumpsuit, these / tissue boots/ will rein you in.”
Nicholas Samaras, West Nyack, New York—The World As Smoke And Distance
This is poetry of conscience and vision, the kind of writing when the readers feels privileged to say, along with the author: “When travel was new language, we walked”
E M Schorb Mooresville, North Carolina—American Mobile
These poems’ characters are memorable, quickly becoming more than just one person’s voice: “The man who hated cities / moved to a small town / which rapidly became a city / and move to a smaller town / which began to become / a bustling city / and move out to the edge of town but the edge grew populace”
Leslie Contreras Schwartz, Houston, Texas—Nightbloom & Cenote
In the best of these poems the smallest detail opens a kind of world all its own: “I am made of those sweat-filled / sheets of sorrow, / a clothesline of flinching blouses / waiting for that slap and back beat / to dry.” I loved this, and I loved also the intensity of being a single person as exhibited in the lyric voice of this work: “You are possessed of yourself, holding / the hand of holding the hand of your-/self.”
Noah Stetzer, Alexandria, Virginia—Boy’s Guide To Danger And Housework
Philip Levine recently died. His poems had humanity in them, they were kind of possessed by the human voice that lives in our bodies, that fastens itself to the page and won’t let go. I thought of his work when I read some of the poems in this manuscript, their strong intimacy of remembered life: “brings you a brown bag of tart / clementine tangerines, sits at the foot / of your bed, touches your feet. She’s your face, your voice. She wraps red yarn around your big // toe and ties a beautiful knot, leans close / to kiss your ear, and say, “I know you.”
Joyce Sutphen, Chaska, Minnesota—Between The Stars
These poems are elegies without sentiment. A true feeling. Here I also found much humor in midst of loss. Much clarity in midst of confusion. The brief appearance that Berryman made on YouTube in this book was quite lovely. And, also, what a delight to receive that occasional postcard from Wallace Stevens.
Tony Triglio, Chicago, Illinois—Proof Something Happened
This book interested me as a journey: “My soul sometimes floats out of my body. I don’t listen to the radio while driving.”
Jeremy Voigt, Bellingham, Washington—Estuary
Skill at portraiture, coupled with a marvelous ear and metaphorical imagination: “My Mother’s kind face /is a desert wren in flight among the chime /of cactus and pressured stone, its nest displaced /by the wild dogs we heard on vesper air. /She sips her gin and mineral water alone.”
Jonathan Weinert, Harvard, Massachusetts—A Lean-To at the End of the Galaxy
Beauty comes to us in moments, and then these moments are often gone, we cannot sustain them for long periods. Then, beauty returns: “Head on pillow, face on head, // and fly, escaping pigeon, through the wall.” Between moments, if we are lucky, there is wisdom. One sees one’s self: “getting to be nervous / in a painted box / the size of my life”
Corrie Williamson, Helena, Montana—The River Where You Forgot My Name
I appreciated the epic sweep of tone in these poems, their attentiveness to detail.
Sam Witt, Brookline, Massachusetts—The Godless Particle
I very much appreciated the impressive imaginative scope and sweep of these poems, their large thinking, their sway.
John Witte, Eugene, Oregon—All That Matters Now
Many books I read for this competition employed formal invention. Many had lyrical grace. This book is able to combine the two. The first poem was a knockout. I also loved how the historical and the gently surreal come together here: “Lincoln took great pleasure in playing his harmonica / breathing out squalling the reeds his tongue working / the openings in his head.”
Emily Wolahan, San Francisco, California—All Our Space Is Occupied
Although “our tendency is to explain things” these poems know that “intimacy is not in our words.” These lines know something about us, our days which like “children peer through miniature windows cut by jigsaw, /enough for an eye or a nose, /never a whole face.”