Tor House Poetry Prize




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2008 Prize For Poetry Awards

We are pleased to announce that the 2008 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry,  an honorarium of $1,000, is awarded to:

Sean Nevin
Tempe, Arizona
for his poem

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

Paula C. Brancato
New York, New York
for her poem
"Her Grandfather"
Kate Hovey
Northridge, California
for her poem
"The Birth of Cain"
Elisa Pulido
San Juan Capistrano, California
for her poem
"On the Mormon Trail"
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
for his poem
"The Late Summer Bear"

The final judge for the 2008 competition was poet Robert Pinsky.

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 K. Mears.  This year we received over 1,700 poems from 47 states and three foreign countries.

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

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 2008 Prize Winning Poem

Sean Nevin


      This white.
                       That yellow.  This blue.
No matter what color pill
                               I crush into the applesauce, this blue bowl,
  to feed you and myself, one
                                            full night of sleep, one night
  without this wandering.  That weeping.
                                             Without the long rattle of doors.
Without the all-night cricket clatter,
    and your struggle to shed that yellow
                                                wallpaper, that stained skin
peeling from walls.  To shed, in this darkness, your bed
     and the white, white infestation of these boards.


Each evening that same urge to slip
     this lumbering form, to step from its wreckage as from a robe
  dropped to the floor.
Each evening the struggle to ditch the feeble disguise
                                  of body, this skin, this jerry-built cage
of bones that holds you, disconsolate and broken
     as the rescued starling, thrashing
                                                 against its cardboard box.


Each evening that blue persistence,
                                                    that voice, telling you
     to keep an appointment,
                                       to catch the bus, to report to a job
  lost fifteen years ago, to keep your word,
           to collect the debt, to make things square.
Each evening the struggle to take off your coat, to sit,
                                                rest, lie back, to be still.
To sleep one night without this broken clock
     that is you, still chiming
                                          in this still-blue hour of evening,
     telling you, you are late, overdue.
You are expected somewhere important hours ago.
Years.  And you rise, rise
                                  like bad clockwork.  Like I have forgotten.
Like I don't understand.
Like I never understand
                              the living-room drapes are engulfed in flame.
Like the whole damn house of mind
     is burning down around you, and the walls
                                              are all swallowing their doors.


Sean Nevin teaches Creative Writing for Arizona State University where he is the assistant director of the Young Writer's Program and is co-editor of 22 Across: a Review of Young Writers.  His poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including The Gettysburg Review, North American Review, 42 Opus, JAMA, Hayden's Ferry Review and anthologies, including Family Matters: Poems of Our Families (Bottom Dog Press, 2005).  He is the recipient of a 2007-2008 Literature Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts and a 2007 fellowship from the Eastern Frontier Education Foundation, as well as both a Poetry fellowship and a Artist Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. He is the author of A House That Falls, winner of the 2005 Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Prize and Oblivio Gate, selected for the Crab Orchard Award Series First Book Prize (Southern Illinois University Press, 2008). 

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Honorable Mentions

Her Grandfather
Paula C. Brancato

She opens a door, steps inside. It is dark. Her nostrils
fill with the scent of leather, shoe wax and the cobbler's
aftershave. Her hands touch
lip-swept glasses of grappa with pear, hips brush
broken crates of ricotta cheese, rinds of parmesan stacked
haphazard on barrels
of yellow beans. Standing on tip toe, she runs her fingers
under the fagioli, drops them back, hard as beads.
Pulling her skirt aside, she steps barefoot on crushed beet
leaves, broccoli florets, snap peas.
The fragrance of basil stops
at the back of the storage room. The smell is musty, fetid, where he
sits, propped up in suspenders and shirtsleeves, head
tipped forward, shoulders hunched, consumed by their broadness.
A ray of light slices the top of his head,
browning apple in one still hand, coring knife in the other, the peel
fallen into the milk crate. By his shiny shoe
a grey mouse rubs his furry back
into the stitches, and nibbles a hunk of cheese.


Paula C. Brancato is a first generation Sicilian-American and an award-winning filmmaker.  Currently on faculty at the University of Southern California, she has been published by the Georgetown Review, Litchfield Review, Southern California Anthology, Rattle, and Natchez Anthology, among others.  In 2008, her book Club Paradise was a May Swenson finalist and poet Ilya Kaminsky selected her first chapbook, Dar a Luz, for publication by the pacificREVIEW.  Additional literary awards include 2007 Brushfire Poet Award, first prize Chester H. Jones Foundation and Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and the Organization of Black Screenwriters, SCIFF Family Focus and WINFEMME awards.  She earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and is a graduate of LA Film School and Hunter College.

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The Birth of Cain
Kate Hovey

"The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all things.”
Genesis 3:20

                        Outside the garden
                        they walked in tall grass,
                        hand in hand, facing east,
                        backs to the burning Cherubim—
                        grim heralds of an apocalypse,
                        the god's mask of fury.
                        She alone felt the flames
                        that did not consume so much as
                        alter, felt what the man could not,
                        the way the grass cut the searing heat,
                        soothing the legs that bore her.
                        I am, she thought, looking back,
                        defiant—and lo, she was,
                        her belly beneath that infernal face
                        ripening still, a delight to the eyes.
                        Only the whispering unsettled her
                        during the hard times that followed,
                        not the exile, being outside,
                        not the heat or the ripening,
                        for, again, the man (calling it "wind”)
                        could not hear it—the voice of the god,
                        close as her own breath, saying,
                        behold, she is becoming like one of us.

                        Fish, amphibian, reptile, mammal—
                        she carried the story inside her,
                        that whole creation, a teeming world
                        small as a dust mote in the beginning, fragile ark
                        tossed on an ocean of her own making,
                        and darkness was upon the face of the deep,
her breath, the wind stirring its waters,
                        her heart, the beating moon.

                        She stood at the boundary,
                        boldly waxing to fullness
                        beneath the fiery sword
                        the god hurled in his jealousy
                        lest she take also of the Tree of Life,
                        foreseeing the sword's trajectory,
                        thrusting deep beneath the body's surface,
                        and the light pierced the darkness,
driving her earthward,
                        unleashing the waters,
                        where that first life
                        ­—my own, my first—
                        breached like Leviathan,
                        bellowing as he broke from her,
                        as she cradled him
                        in the bent grass
                        on her knees,
                        her cratered belly
                        still releasing its bright flood.


Kate Hovey is a mask maker, performer and author of three books of poetry for children, Arachne Speaks, Ancient Voices and Voices of the Trojan War, published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.  Arachne Speaks received the 2002 Marion Vannett Ridgway Memorial Honor Book Award, and Voices of the Trojan War was named a 2005 Notable Children's Book in the English Language by the National Council of Teachers of English.  Her work appeared most recently in the 20th anniversary edition of the Comstock Review.

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On the Mormon Trail
Elisa Pulido

She needs a moment alone, away
from the children, the husband, canvassed wagons,

oxen. Without a good-bye, she vanishes
into wind-waved prairie. Three days the company

searches every bluff, rise, hole. Could have been a brave,
who admired her blonde braid, her pale brow.

Maybe a broken leg. A quiet wolf. Perhaps
she waded out to where tall grass grows overhead,

and lost the horizon. Without chart or compass,
with no knowledge of the stars, she stumbles on the edge

of the known world, slips over its side. Her husband
fears she has been bitten by a snake, fears she has fallen

into the netherworld of the plains.
He would make any bargain and never look back.

For years he sings of her—wandering,
circled by coyotes, treading tall grass.

Elisa Pulido's poems have appeared in River Styx, The Ledge, Another Chicago Magazine, Margie:  The Journal of American Poetry, The North American Review, RHINO, and other journals in the US, and in Interchange and The New Welsh Review in the UK.  In 2007 she was made an honorary member of Academi Cardiff, the Welsh national literary society.  She is a founder and organizer of the Casa Romantica Reading Series in San Clemente, California.

Photo Credit:

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The Late Summer Bear

I had him summarized in square space
and on line along the well cleaned barrel
of the shortened twelve gauge bore;
with hand held butt securely set
in right side midriff, close to waist.

The called upon game warden
hadn't needed to remind me how
this oversized man of the mountains
would want entry force of double ought shot.
In chamber was triple ought whose
lead pellet pattern would split apart
the broad in brains of the state tagged,
larger than usual, outlawed bear.

Forty feet is what stood between us.
And he was stopped again inside this
cleared circle in forest confinement.
He had kept close by for the better of two weeks.

It was just a sense of symmetry's space
he finally succeeded to offend.
The first close sight of him was glorious,
with the second sight certain to ensure
the up from under thrill.
Then I got called back, constrained by
every parcel of devotion which
every caretaker spends the day upon:

the honey hive bees, the apple trees,
the raspberry canes in ripe burden, even
the engineered, domestic animals.
And just as with my alpha girl dog
I was finally affronted, insulted by
the large and inhuman sight of him.

One shot delivered, pump action pulled,
a second shot squeezed to be sure.

There was a moment's stretch before the blast
when I broke the hunter's sensible taboo.
I spatially held his eyesight to mine.
In the cousin contact, the animal stare,
in the deep dark red there shone
my berry boy self unfastened.

The break of shots deliberately aimed
cleared across his solid right shoulder.
And he left the estate just where
I lost last sight and sense of him.

Now it feels lonely here, out of season.


Terreson is an itinerant poet, sometime essayist, short fiction writer, and novelist.  Originally from Florida, he recently returned to the South where he enjoys participating in honey bee research.  About his poetry one reviewer has said this:  "Terreson's is a masculine voice that heeds the feminine, and unites these contrasting aspects into a rich, harmonizing body of poetic expression.”  (Andrea Damm, Women's Work)

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