Tor House Poetry Prize




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2012 Prize For Poetry Awards

Click on a poem title to read the poem, on a poet's name to read his/her bio.  Prize winners for past years can be viewed on prize pages for past years, available here.

We are pleased to announce that the 2012 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry, an honorarium of $1,000, is awarded to:

Max Somers
Champaign, Illinois
for his poem

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

Ann Filemyr
Santa Fe, New Mexico
for her poem
"Love Enough"

Benjamin Garcia
Ithaca, New York
for his poem
"Queso de Patas"

Hugh Martin
Tempe, Arizona
for his poem
"Sorrow Awareness Training"

Veronica Patterson
Loveland, Colorado
for her poem
"To You, Pain"

Final judge for the 2012 competition was poet Cornelius Eady.

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.

The 2012 Prize Winning Poem   

Max Somers

between the foot and everything—the stairs, the bed, the tongue of another, the
other foot as they march along.
Dialogue between the inhale and the thought, between the exhale and forgetting
one’s point.
Between the one lit window and the blackness of night.
Between blackness, blueness, and deepness, which do and don’t describe the night.
Between the word and
–ness, as in wet-ness and how worked up one can get, leading

to a dialogue between the bed  and the wall.
Dialogue among the small faces of the books standing on the shelf.
  What does
Kenneth Koch say of baseball’s official rules and the Gebusi?
Dialogue between the spear and the tight belly flesh of the kill. The gasping mouth.
Greek and Latin dialogos of death and resurrection.
The dialogue of French cinema.
  I love you, I loathe you. Bonsoir. 
Between the pockets of the jeans and the curve of denim around the ass.
Between the ass and the circle, the circle and the sphere, the sphere and the planets, and
suddenly we’re in a dialogue between religion and science.
A colloquy.
Dialogue on stage.
  Dialogue between the curtain and the actor’s steps as he exits.
Critical dialogue.
A little macho dialogue.
Cowboy and Indian dialogue. Howdy. How. Pow.
A dialogue between the train and the tracks.
  The high, old diction of it moving
slowly over a long bridge.
Between the gun and the forge that forged it.
Dialogue between the fox and the hen’s bloody neck.
Between the farmer and the fox and that gun.
Between the fable’s lesson and the real lesson, if we can separate them.
Between the snow and the dirt beneath.
Between her silence and his when there’s still something to be said.
Between the unsaid thing and the moment for saying as it passes.


Max Somers was born and raised in Indiana.  He holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Illinois.  He has been a teacher, copywriter, and short-order cook.  He also races motorcycles at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.  Recently, he was a runner-up for the 2012 "Discovery"/ Boston Review Poetry Prize.  His work appears or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, [PANK], Fugue, Ninth Letter, and The Greensboro Review.


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Honorable Mentions

Love Enough
Ann Filemyr

We met because s
acred groves were felled
to build the king's fleet. We met after sailors
learned to nail magnetic north to Polaris criss-crossing
the cold cod Atlantic, waves battering
and crumbling against the hull.
Your African ancestors forced in chains.
My Irish ancestors huddled below deck.
Stench of feces, filth and hunger
the blind driving night beneath the black moon
salt in the sharp air. The first time I saw you
belly down on a faded carpet
in Deb's squat wooden house
we slid closer, eyes alight, excited
kinship ignited in that circle of women writers.
At the end of the evening we hugged
not knowing when or if. Think of it.
The falling forward of a thousand births
generation upon generation
just so we could meet


Driving down the empty dogged streets of Cerillos
a herd of half-wild horses graze. I pull over
and one comes to your open window
white mane rippling, she meets your eyes
thrusts her muzzle toward your hand
you touch her, electric, the wildness
making a choice to come forward
and be beheld, be beloved.
I understand completely. My crazy youth
wanderlust hitch-hiking Europe
with my backpack and shaved head
before coming to you, straight toward you
of all the myriad beings in this world
to let you touch me


I note the angle of the raised rifle
beside the wooden porch
on a Sunday morning in Milwaukee.
The rifle aimed at her head.
Me stupid as a cardboard pin-up
hiding behind a screen door.
I watch the first cop pull out handcuffs
shouting in her face,
Tell me! Your name! Now!
She clasps her hands behind her back
so he can't cuff her wrists, drag her downtown.
For what offense? He will not say.

Neighbors gather like stunned pigeons
across the narrow one-way street.
Rifle cocked, aimed at her head.
She does not see the second cop
kneeling beside the porch
finger on the trigger
waiting for the sign to shoot
a short, dark woman. Finally I lunge out
throwing myself between the rifle’s barrel
and her body. Her body: warm, soft, deep, full.
What I would not do for her
who I have held so close
loving the soil in her, in me
the ocean, the stars
our lives entwined as one.
Maybe he won't shoot me.
A cop killing the white woman
cannot be as easily explained.


The season of the killing
frost is upon us and but for this
shared life we would both be less
so I am giving up my fear
of those who call for race war.
Not quite asleep I rest with you
noticing how in the dark
our different colors of skin
become the same
shade of heat. My cheek
pillows your breast. Your breath
grazes my forehead. My belly
anchors your knees. Your ankles
cup my calves. Like the ribs
of a sleeping accordion
soundlessly folded together
before the Creole music of dawn
shouts the birds from their nests
we linger together in the warmth
made by this gift of skin on skin.


We have not forgotten you
who suffer the world over.
For you, we refuse to give up,
stubbornly enacting our simple belief:
we can love enough to conquer fear.


Ann Filemyr, Ph.D. has been writing since childhood.  Poetry became her first love in junior high with Edna St. Vincent Millay.  She has published two chapbooks, two fine art limited edition book collaborations with visual artists, had her work recorded by Claudia Schmidt on Prairie Home Companion and elsewhere.  Her most recent volume is The Healer's Diary (Sunstone Press, 2012).  "Love Enough" is part of a series of new works that are fast becoming a full manuscript celebrating the 30th anniversary of her outlaw love with her life partner, Ondé Chymes.  She was a professor at Antioch College for fifteen years and currently serves as the Academic Dean at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

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Queso de Patas
Benjamin Garcia

Güera they called my mother,
whitest of seven siblings,

though she was never white as snow

or milk.  Her skin was tinged a little yellow
like the Mexican cheese that smelled of feet

that I refused to eat as a child,

convinced the cheese was mixed
by rancher’s bare feet, like grapes
mashed to make some tawny wine

and from brown and cracked soles
achieved its yellow color, inherited
the yellow skin, odorous hard wheel

that did not melt, only crumbled when fresh
or when aged shred upon metallic scales
into a soft snow or long confetti strands

that when sprinkled exhaled a pungent breath
of naked feet that have kissed the earth,
stroked bare cement floors, caressed the skin

of other feet, and from contract grown callused
but beautiful, that if covered must breathe
through open-toed shoes, huaraches.

was my mother, the güera needing air
and when her flesh was tossed into the melting

pot, she resisted, the strength of callused soles,

hard, ungrated as she tread upon this foreign soil
barefooted, an acquired taste that if you smelled
and did not eat, you could not understand.


Benjamin Garcia, originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, recently completed his MFA at Cornell University, where he currently teaches as a Freund Fellow.  He has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, CantoMundo, and the Taos Summer Writer’s Conference.  He was a finalist for the 2011 Indiana Review 1/2 K Prize and the Blue Mesa Review’s Poetry contest; a manuscript of his poems placed as a finalist for the Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press Poetry Award.  His first publication appears in the 2011 Spring/Summer issue of Poet Lore.


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Sorrow Awareness Training
Hugh Martin

            -Fort Bragg, North Carolina



In the Pima Gymnasium, 200 of us sat on bleachers
and sipped black coffee from Styrofoam cups.
We’d had briefings on everything:

                         how to drive in the desert; how to stop
a sucking chest wound; how to conduct yourself
             near a mosque; how to fill out an SGLV 8286
             for Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance,

but the Department of Defense
had ordered all soldiers
to attend Sorrow Awareness Training.



            For instances when
your buddy dies to an IED, or say
you accidentally shoot
two civilians during a firefight
, the captain said
from the front of the gymnasium.



We split into our four-man squads; each squad
was assigned a training NCO; ours was Sergeant Stanton.
              Ok, now say Kenson here’s been shot.  You’ve reacted,
returned fire, now you’re back at base
              and you find out from the medic he’s dead. 

Stanton looked at us and waited. 

First thing you gotta do is cry



I ain’t gonna fuckin cry,  Sergeant Mays said.  This is dumb
Stanton cut him off,
Wait there, Sergeant, these are orders
from DOD and if you don’t comply,
              you ain’t gonna ship out.  Would you like a no-go?

Mays smiled and shook his head.  Stanton suggested
that maybe Sergeant Kenson should lie down,
close his eyes,
It might make it easier to visualize. 

Kenson, tired as any of us, smiled, Yes, Sergeant,
good idea
.  He stretched out on the gym floor,
his arms folded over his chest, Ok, I’m dead.



Stanton looked at a sheet on his clipboard,
Now, guys, here’s the scenario:
you’ve been in combat with this man,
you know his wife, and he’s gone—a bullet to the chest

The three of us looked at each other.
Specialist Jones said, Ok, give me a few—I’m gonna get this.

            That’s right, Stanton said.  You gotta learn to mourn,
                                                 or how else you gonna deal with this?

Groups of men sat all over the bleachers and floor;
most talked to each other or the training NCO;
some stared hard at the walls,
  some closed their eyes.



Sergeant Mays walked off to use the latrine.
Minutes later, he returned
with a wide grin and a hand holding something
in his cargo pocket.

                          Sergeant Stanton, he said,
there’s no SOP rules about how we come to cry,
Stanton looked at the sheet, Not that I know of;
                                                                just gotta cry to get the go.

Alright, Mays said; he reached in his cargo pocket
and held out two onions from the mess hall next door.



Let’s fuckin cry! he said.
He tossed Jones an onion
and both of them lifted a Leatherman
from the back of their belts.

                         They set the onions on the wooden floor
and began to cut down the middle.

By the time they held the halves to their faces,
Kenson was snoring, his chest rising
beneath the desert camouflage uniform.



Stanton called over the captain.  Sir,
these guys are using onions.
Now I don’t see any regulations
about how the men come to cry,
so I said it’s okay.

            The captain looked over at the men holding
the onion halves below their noses.  Well, he said,
I don’t know of any regulations,
but I’m not sure if they’re taking the training
seriously, Sergeant. 

                                    Stanton opened his mouth to speak,
but the captain cut him off—What the hell
is this soldier doin?  Sleepin?

            Stanton shook his head hard, Oh, no, sir,
he’s dead.  We thought it’d be better
to visualize the KIA—
                                      might help make the training more real.



The captain walked to the middle of the gym floor.
Listen up, he yelled.  All the chatter died out.
A small addendum to the training procedure:
I want one soldier in each squad to play dead.
Sergeant Stanton here gave us that good idea.

            He looked around the gym and nodded, Okay, men?
Continue the mission—one man
plays dead.
 When he walked off,                                 

the soldiers turned back to their groups,
and all at once, across the floor and bleachers,
almost every hand went up.


Hugh Martin is a veteran of the Iraq war and a graduate of Muskingum University.  His chapbook, So, How Was the War? (Kent State UP, 2010) was published by the Wick Poetry Center and he recently won the 2012 Poulin Book Prize from BOA Editions, Ltd.  He completed his MFA at Arizona State University and will be a Stegner Fellow at StanfordUniversity in the fall of 2012.

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To You, Pain
Veronica Patterson

               "...the darkness and the light
 are both alike to thee..."

                                                            Psalm 139

You were there, a secret
when my flesh was knitted
in the womb, mistaking
over for under, left for right,

tangling strands of cells
you could not ravel, biding
your time. You were there
when a scalpel made

your works manifest,
watching from under
the numbness, waiting
to emerge. At night,

in the open, you stretched
each hour, leech
and atheist, breaking in
at 3 a.m., as if the incision

were a door left ajar.
When morphine came
you left, muttering,
but didn’t go far. Let

go, let me go. You
were a lesson
I didn’t want to learn,
my eraser,

smudging. You woke
more than the body—
you abraded

until it knew itself.


Veronica Patterson has published three full-length collections of poetry: How to Make a Terrarium (Cleveland State University, 1987), Swan, What Shores? (NYU Press 2000), and Thresh & Hold (Big Pencil Press, 2009).  She has also published a chapbook of prose poems, This Is the Strange Part (Pudding House Publications, 2002), and a collection of poetry and photography, The Bones Remember: A Dialogue, with photographer Ronda Stone.  Her poems "Around the Block of the World" and "The Samovar" co-won the 2006 Campbell Corner Poetry Prize.  Patterson has been awarded artists’ residencies at the Ucross Foundation, Rocky Mountain National Park, Hedgebrook, the Ragdale  Foundation, and the Gell Center and has received Individual Artist’s Fellowships from the Colorado Council on the Arts.

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

2011 Poetry Prize winners
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



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