Tor House Poetry Prize 2004




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2004 Prize For Poetry Awards

We are pleased to announce that the 2004 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry,  an honorarium of $1,000, is awarded to:

George Burns
Santa Cruz, California
for his poem
“Partly Heliotropic”

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

Elijah Imlay
Ventura, California
for his poem “The Burning”

Veronica Patterson
Loveland, Colorado
for her poem “Unreasonable Shoes”

Frank Polite
Youngstown, Ohio
for his poem “The Darkening Wood”

Daryl Scroggins 
Dallas, Texas
for his poem “Thread”

The final judge for the 2004 competition was poet Billy Collins.

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 3,700 poems from 45 states, the District of Columbia, and eight foreign countries.

The Prize Winning Poem

Partly Heliotropic
George Burns

The man my mother chose to be her destruction,
who beat me until I showed some sign of surrender,
the ex-con who as a boy was locked in a closet,
and as a man robbed a Safeway and
locked the grocers in the freezer,

asked me once in our kitchen in Holly Park,
the beer bottle in his hand punctuating his question:
Who's the smartest man in the whole world?

I shrugged. Nobody I knew.
Then he and his ex-con friend argued:
Socrates. Diogenes.
Both having some appeal
to those having done time in cages.

Socrates: People think they're smart, but they're not.
Diogenes: Carried a lantern looking for an honest man,
spent most of his life naked.

I don't know who won the argument.
But after I left home, joined the Army,
I saw Socrates' name
on a paperback book in the PX.
I had to give it a try.

Back in the barracks in the top bunk
I cried as I was led through the turning pages
from the darkness of caves up to the sun.
So many shadows: my mother and Red,
me and my sister, flickering on a stone wall.

I'm surprised at how often - and suddenly -
I find myself a shadow again
like reluctant wallpaper
trying to unpeel myself
from one more wall.
I forget. Then remember:
caves, then sun, all the different
dreamy ways I've used
to come back up.
Even the sun-worshipping poppy
has roots under the ground.

Partly heliotropic, I'm grateful
to Socrates and Diogenes.
All those who briefly stood
with whatever lantern or stub of candle they had
through the generations like fireflies
blossoming in a field
before falling into their darkness.

Naked in the marketplace,
shivering in a freezer,
locked in a hole in Walla Walla,
tucked under an arm,
face bashed, nose broke.

A mother in a dark bedroom
seeing some good in some lost man,
pulling him into her
to save him, to save her,
for a moment, incandescence,
then the darkness
and our shadows flickering
on a stone wall.

George Burns makes his living as an independent analyst in the semiconductor industry and lives with his wife Alyn and dog Wasabi in Soquel, California.  He has been writing poetry regularly for a dozen years and feels there's never enough time.  His poetry has been published recently in Green Fuse, Blue Unicorn, Bellowing Ark, Prairie Dog, Mind in Motion, Willow Review, Sarasota Review, The Comstock Review, Mid American Review, Small Pond and The Steelhead Special.

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Honorable Mentions

The Burning
Elijah Imlay

Camp Eagle, Vietnam, 1972

Before we pushed over our water tower
and riddled it with bullets,
drenched our hooches with gasoline
and strafed them from the air,
before we bombed our bunkers
and blew up the few trucks left

we swung sledgehammers into typewriter keys,
file drawers, and mimeograph machines
while our general shot his bulldog,
and Sargent Geivett shook while killing
wild strays we had taken in.
Then, we army bandsmen removed
horns from cases, bludgeoned those
made of brass, and fed a bonfire
with clarinets, oboes, bassoons
and English horns. A couple of men
roasted hotdogs, others
hummed Spirit of the 101st,
and one man laughed and marched
around the flames. Calkins asked,
Why can't we take them with us?
was told there's no room
for horns and drums.

In my mind, I was back home
talking to Lewis at City Lights
after eating my first artichoke.
I was already a ghost,
so the fire could not affect my phantom arm,
still attached to a bass clarinet.
I ran my fingers over the keys
as they melted in the fire,
afraid to leave that sound behind.

Elijah Imlay lives in Ventura, California, where he counsels emotionally disturbed children and adolescents.  His poetry has been published in ARTLIFE, Solo, Poets on the Line (an anthology of Vietnam war poetry), Daybreak, A Flame of Words, Touched by Adoption and other literary magazines.  He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 1999, received an Honorable Mention for the 2002 Ann Stafford Prize sponsored by Southern California Anthology, and also received a fellowship from the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Ventura to complete a chapbook based upon his experiences in the Vietnam War.  Through  the California Poets in the Schools, he has conducted poetry workshops in high school history and English classes, using his poems and those of other Vietnam combat veterans as a vehicle to teach about the Vietnam War in a manner that brings it to life for this generation.

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Unreasonable Shoes
Veronica Patterson

for my father

He could never have worn them in New York
in January where snow fell as white, sometimes
three feet overnight or ice japanned the trees. Spring
brought mud to waiting janitors. Summers, maybe

summers, but starting in late August, each rain fell
degrees chillier and more horizontal until it caused
November. These were California shoes,
designed for leisure and perfectibility, mistaken ideas

about sun and ocean, leather mimicking sea foam.
In fact, they were late California shoes, to be worn
with a shirt from Mexico, a bargain, white
embroidery on white, though the only wedding

was fabric to damp skin as he climbed the steep garden
that rose from the patio hung with paper lanterns
to pause behind dark, glossy leaves, a green shield
that repelled his second wife's plaintive voice, to feel

the small country inside him, the guerilla warfare
that divided it: in the north, the gray district, secret police;
in the south, tourists and commerce—he hadn't chosen
either, had he? Now, in the indigo dusk,

deep-throated scarlet blossoms—what were
their names? His only botany was chemical—glowed
far above ground cover that almost hid his shoes.
It is the nature of reason to see

to the end; it is the nature of desire
not to. Here unseasonal love enters,
wanting to ask its unreasonable questions:

Where is my father and in what shoes?
In the gloom, the shoes, white shoes, the shoes,
or am I repeating the wrong word?

Veronica Patterson is a graduate of Cornell University, the University of Michigan, the University of Northern Colorado, and Warren Wilson College (MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry).  Her first poetry collection, How to Make a Terrarium, was published by Cleveland State University (1987).  Her poetry collection Swan, What Shores? (New York University Press, 2000) won the NYU Press Prize for Poetry, was a finalist for the Academy of American Poets' 2000 James Laughlin Award, and won annual poetry awards from both the Colorado Center for the Book and Women Writing the West.  Her chapbook of prose poems This Is the Strange Part was published by Pudding House Publications in Spring 2002.  She has also published one collection of poetry and photography, The Bones Remember: A Dialogue, with photographer Ronda Stone (Stone Graphics Press).  Her poems have appeared in numerous publications including The Southern Poetry Review, The Louisville Review, The Sun, The Madison Review, The Malahat Review, The Indiana Review, Another Chicago Magazine, The Mid-American Review, The Willow Review, The Montserrat Review, The Bloomsbury Review, Willow Springs, The Colorado Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Many Mountains Moving, Coal City Review, Dogwood, and New Letters.  Poems are forthcoming in The Bellingham Review and Prairie Schooner.  She received Individual Artist's Fellowships from the Colorado Council on the Arts in 1984 and 1997.

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The Darkening Wood
Frank Polite

"in which being there together is enough"
- Wallace Stevens

At dusk, in the darkening wood,
on the way to Grandmother's house,
you will meet a Big Bad Wolf.
The rest of the story depends on this:
if the Big Bad Wolf kills and eats
you on the spot, you are forever lost
- that being no outcome you can
live with. If, on the other hand, by
sheer chance or skill, you kill
the Big Bad Wolf, the wood will
imprison you, tree by tree, for the
beast you are. Slaying the wolf
in its own domain is a reward you
will never be able to escape from.
To survive, you will have to skin and
eat the beast, and wear its hide
against a winter already whistling
its approach in the high leaves.
If you are wise, you will disguise
yourself as much as possible when
the little girl arrives so as not to
frighten her off. Ask sweetly, and
she will share her basket of food
with you. Shiver a bit, and she will
enfold you in her woolen cloak
and russet hood to warm your blood.
Lost in the wood, the two of you
together forever, the path winding
in on itself, you discover there
is no grandmother waiting, no
house with a bright fire built up,
no destination. There never was.
There is only this: the differences
between you sparkle and dissolve
as the play of fireflies or stars
on a summer evening, in which
being there together is enough.


Frank Polite lives in Youngstown, Ohio where he directs Fallen City Writers Workshop.  His writings have been widely published in magazines, journals, and anthologies, including The New Yorker, Harper's, Poetry, The Nation, Exquisite Corpse, Commentary, The North American Review, Prairie Schooner, The Ohio Review, Denver Quarterly, and International Quarterly.  Awards include The Hart Crane Prize, 1998 Pushcart Prize, International Quarterly Crossing Boundaries Award, resident fellowships at the MacDowell, Yaddo, and Millay artist colonies, and at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, California.  He is twice recipient of the Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Award.  His published books are Letters of Transit (Pulitzer Prize nominee), Flamingo, and Hyde (A Novella Noire).  He recently won the 2003 Buckle & 5th Anniversary $1000 poetry prize.

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Daryl Scroggins

After years of marriage I see her
raking in her tea rose bed,
and I think—what if a thorn caught
the gauze of her shirt and
traced a path through the maze
of her day's work, into evening?
Her clothes would unravel, and there
she'd be, her skin as pale as the first
time a silk dress floated down
from her shoulders.

I step out of the house and stride
toward her. But thoughts
are quicker than the body: by the time
I reach her, through the lily bed and around
the wisteria, by the time I weave my way
between the bristling peace roses—
she looks up, startled,
to find that I have brought no news,
and not even a glass of cold water
against the heat of the day.

Daryl Scroggins lives with his wife in Dallas, where he works as a writer and a teacher.  His poems and short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies around the country, including Asylum, Best Texas Writing, Carolina Quarterly, Chiron Review, The Comstock Review, Del Sol Review, Double Room, 5-Trope, The Madison Review, Mudfish, Northern Music: Poems about and Inspired by Glenn Gould, Northwest Review, Pearl, The Potomac, The Prose Poem, The Quarterly, Quarter After Eight, Sentence, !TEX! Magazine, Veer, and Web del Sol.  The Game of Kings, a book-length prose poem sequence, was published in 2001 by Rancho Loco Press, and Winter Investments, a full-length collection of short stories, was published in 2003 by The Trilobite Press.  Oracle, a chapbook of sudden fictions, was published by The Trilobite Press in November of 2000.  For several years he taught writing courses (poetry and fiction) at The University of Texas at Dallas; he presently teaches creative writing at the University of North Texas and The Writer's Garret in Dallas.

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