TOR HOUSE FOUNDATION
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 2014 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry, an honorarium of $1,000, is awarded to:
Salt Lake City, Utah
for his poem
"Seven Circles in The Book of Sharks"
Honorable Mentions, each with an honorarium of $200, are awarded to:
Brian Patrick Heston
for his poem "The Year of Kurt Cobain"
for her poem "Nudist"
for her poem "What we don't see"
Los Angeles, California
for her poem "Seven Ways of Reckoning"
Final judge for the 2014 Prize was poet Wesley McNair.
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. This year we received over 1,000 poems
from 40 states and three foreign countries.
This year we received over 1,000 poems from 40 states and three foreign countries.
The 2014 Prize Winning Poem
Seven Circles in The Book of Sharks
The cousin of a shark is a manta ray;
and the cousin of a manta ray, a hawk;
and the cousin of a hawk is lightning, the ocean reborn,
returned skyward and alive with storm;
and the cousin of storms is a waterfall;
and the cousin of falling is the wind;
and the cousin of wind is erosion
leaving rock, the bones of the mountains, scattered;
and the cousin of the mountains is a row of teeth,
and another, and another behind;
and those teeth are the cousin of the manta ray,
lightning, the wind . . .
In a story seldom remembered, sharks were ghosts
guarding the afterlife
since their rendered bodies had no skeletons,
The shock of that discovery
must have added new verses to songs
and widened the net of old omens, but nobody knows.
Those details aren't the details that lasted.
Only this: The dead step out of their bodies, walk down
to the sea, swim out to the horizon.
For some, the passage is easy—
a day, a night, a warm current there to guide them.
For others, the journey goes on and on—
if they killed a bear, or left a wolf's mate howling—
and the water is cold as a shark's eyes.
And then they see the fins.
Under the first full moon of summer,
they would carry bowls of water,
the light reflected on the surface making more,
a procession of moons moving forward.
In the center of town was a rowboat
being filled one bowl at a time,
and this was the boat of anyone lost at sea,
gone without a burial.
Those in mourning floated candles and petals.
There may have been music on flute or strings,
but we don't know; it's a ritual fallen away,
and all we have left are the wives' tales.
They say their empty bowls filled with quieter sorrow,
and with memories of the dead to carry home.
They say the boat would be gone come sunrise,
just the anchor there, still as a headstone
by others from the years before.
We have one such anchor on display in the museum,
arrangements of fishhooks,
even spears tipped long ago with sharks' teeth,
and figure, That's that,
think the past
fits into our pockets.
We wander about
then buy a bar-code souvenir.
But the past is more like the wind behind us,
and the present more like a ship,
and the only pockets on a ship that matter
are the sails . . .
and they're wrong about the skeletons,
apart from the age of the bones,
bones buried deep but seated upright together,
all of them facing the sea—
so the ancient world believed in guardian spirits
watching over the living,
and a salmon was placed with the deceased
to keep the spirit fed.
Fish bones wrapped in deerskin
were discovered in every grave—
a plausible explanation, but it's wrong.
The living were playing the part of angels,
guiding the dead to the edge of heaven,
seating them upright to find Forever in the waves.
But what about the salmon?
Well, that's counterclockwise too:
The salmon were meant as an offering,
a present for the sharks,
a thank-you for taking our spirits
into their home.
Spearing a shark means seven days of work—
that long to do the rendering—
and all you get is a set of jaws and teeth,
some fragment to hang in a window
or look at over the fireplace
instead of at the fire.
I've heard there are monks somewhere
using human skulls as paperweights.
Not to keep old scrolls from rolling up,
or pages in place while they bind them,
but to bear in mind
we aren't the measure of Creation. Just a part.
The edge of the sea is a teacher—so many bones:
all the shells and the sand dollars,
all the barnacles encrusted on the pier,
even wood—it used to stand upright in forests—
even ash left behind in our fire pits
dug to keep warm, to boil water
and empty our crab pots . . .
even steam rising up like the spirit of rivers,
joining clouds that drift above our graveyards,
and higher still
the moon keeps sailing through its phases,
all of them the color of bone.
|Rob Carney is the author of three books and three chapbooks of poems, most recently Story Problems (Somondoco Press 2011) and Home Appraisals (Plan B Press 2012). His work has appeared in Cave Wall, Mid-American Review, Quarterly West, Redactions, Sugar House Review, Terrain.org (most recently as the winner of the 2013 Poetry Contest; theme: "Elemental"), and dozens of other journals, as well as the Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward (2006). He is a Professor of English at Utah Valley University and lives in Salt Lake City.|
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The Year of Kurt Cobain
Brian Patrick Heston
The year of Tonia Montez: she of the goth-girl
wigs and black gowns and pink bedroom walls
covered with watercolor and charcoal
drawings. "This is one of him as James Dean."
"This one is of him as Bill Clinton." Another
was a study of his heart, red and green,
wound with razor wire, sprouting daisies.
"Daisies may be weeds," she said. "But even
they need soil to grow. That's why I love him."
We'd listened to Smells Like Teen Spirit as she
rubbed away unexplained bruises with snow white
foundation. When her face was restored,
she'd recite from the Song of Songs by memory:
"I sat down under his shadow with great delight;
by night on my bed I sought him whom
my soul loveth." Her every leaning whisper,
her lips of scarlet, plummeted me into love.
But it was Shawn Minkins she sung for.
The year of the City Hall Rapist, his vague
sketched portrait peering out from newspapers.
We gathered in the firelight of televisions
to learn of the wolf. In bottomless subways,
on horror movie streets, his animal breaths
lurked piss-stained stairwells, colonial
alleys, stalking crepuscular night for
a straggler to sever from the herd. As we
traveled buses, trolleys, and cars through
blighted neighborhoods, we expected
to see him grinning in jaundiced streetlight.
The year of Shawn Minkins:
he of the "Boyz II Men" voice, the mother
who worked mornings bagging for Acme
and nights waiting tables at Arimingo Diner.
His pops went crazy because of Vietnam,
showing up every few months then disappearing
again. You learned never to ask Shawn about him
because later he'd find reason to throw you
to the ground and punch until he drew blood.
He was always sorry after and offered to let you
hit him to make things even. I wasn't with him
the night he walked into the Xpress Food Mart
on Frankford Avenue with a 9mm, demanding
what was in the safe. Mr. Peng behind the counter
(who knew us since we were small) refused.
That's when Shawn pressed the muzzle
to Mr. Peng's forehead and didn't ask again.
The year of Missy Montero, the rapist waiting
patient as a monk until she emerged alone
from some dive to stagger on uneasy heels
into the darkness ahead. He left her unconscious
and half-naked on the sidewalk beneath the El
at deserted Front and Berks. Rain had been threatening
to the edge of daybreak, but passed. The sun shone
dank Berks Street dim when morning broke.
She moaned inaudibly in her unnatural sleep.
Somewhere inside she was bleeding and this slowed
her heart until it stopped. Eventually, the rapist
went away like storms or locusts—never caught.
The year Tonia took the bus every Saturday
to Graterford Prison, to step behind its high hard
walls to talk with Shawn through cloudy
Plexiglas, his boy's face a new scar every week.
The first weeks he grunted his love, then he
only glared, finally telling her to get on
with her goddamn life. I watched as she pulled
the portraits from the walls and piled them
into the bathtub. She shared a bottle of Vodka
with me then poured the rest over the portraits.
Her hands were steady when she lit the match.
The tiled room filled with flashing embers
that floated up until they dimmed into miniscule
shards of ash. She wasn't crying (she never cried)
but held my hand as she watched. She would
graduate at the top of her class and be accepted
on scholarship at Penn. Instead, she packed
her life and left. Five months later,
I received a signed postcard telling of yellow Spain
and the dust filling the streets of Grenada. The boy
she found who never raised his fists or voice. It was
the year of fleeing—the year of being left behind.
|Brian Patrick Heston grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His first book of poems, If You Find Yourself, won the 2014 Main Street Rag Book Award and is due to be published in November of 2014. He is also the author of the chapbook, Latchkey Kids, published by Finishing Line Press. His poetry has received a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize and a Sidney Lanier Poetry Prize. His poetry and fiction have appeared in such publications as Many Mountains Moving, Rosebud, Lost Coast Review, West Branch, Harpur Palate, 5AM, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Poet Lore, and the South Carolina Review. Presently, he is a PhD candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at Georgia State University.|
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I hated the weird zoo—
the hairy, wrinkled snails, slugs, hanging
bird nest things that swung in my face,
thatches of wilderness on the women,
hiding who knew what. Who had asked
for this bare bottom exposure anyway,
this having to eat ice cream next
to naked Mr. Wenzle, so covered
with fur he looked like a bear,
and my father's friend George Abbott
with his elephant trunk appendage
I was supposed to know enough
not to stare at who challenged
me to a licking contest. Go ahead,
he said, let me see that pink
little tongue. What did I know?
That nickel hadn't really been behind
my ear. That my nose hadn't come off
when Frank somebody pretended
it was his thumb. That if I got in the pool
right after lunch I'd get cramps and drown.
I remember the voices of the men
were like tubas. I lay down on the hot
cement instead. If I closed my eyes
I could pretend I was in the hubbub
of Griffith Park on the carousel
where the horses chased each other
like horses, like children wearing clothes.
|Marilee Richards was fortunate enough to learn poetry from Charles Entrekin at the Berkeley Poet's Co-op. Her poems have been published in The Southern Review, The Sun, Cimarron Review, Rattle, The Laurel Review and many other journals. Her first book, A Common Ancestor, was published by Hip Pocket Press. Retired from adoptions, she now introduces others to poetry via poetry hikes in Sedona's red rocks through the local Osher Lifelong Learning Program.|
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What we don't see
Sometimes a whale will die at sea
and its body remains a lost
balloon afloat, rising and falling on the rolling
watery bed, turning softly within
to something like cream, until at last
the skin splits, the bones
Its strange coat, washed ashore,
a bewildering softness. Recognizable
only by traces of pigment, by the blowhole's
empty portal. A hill of skin,
enough to hide a house.
And this is what we find.
A man rides his horse down to the beach
toward all of us waiting
beside these remains, the clouds
so low his head skims them, his hat
pulls them into plumes. We stand in the wind,
waiting for him to arrive.
But out at sea the bones are still falling.
I'm sure of it. Slipped from the skin
they descend through the sea's green rooms,
huge bones made small by distance, by depth,
slowly spiraling down.
|Kelly Terwilliger's poems have appeared in The Atlanta Review, Prairie Schooner, Hunger Mountain, Poet Lore, and The Comstock Review as well as other journals. Her chapbook, A Glimpse of Oranges, was published by Finishing Line Press. She is currently working on book-length collection of poems. Kelly works as a professional storyteller and writer-in-residence in public schools.|
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Seven Ways of Reckoning
At the edge of dusk, sea meets the land and sighs,
murmuring rhythmic wind-lost words
as though crooning;
her dark voice of gathered ends
unfolding night, like a lullaby.
We are all the sea, he tells me—water
invented bodies as a way to get
around. I wanted to believe eyes
blue as the darkest ocean, but even
then felt his restless heat. And who can
not love fire? Even air is drawn.
Fire has its ways. As for the rest, wishes
are silky ash or mists of afterthought.
After buying stuffed quahogs at the beach-
shack window, we sit on the seawall eating
salty flesh, toss back the shells. Waves slap,
suck at the sand and take them one by one.
Final arbiter, gizzard and maw, unmaking
what she gave birth to. Even sailor
children who glide away in painted boats,
sunfish or catamarans, are but soft bones
anchored to her belly, and the pulse we need
blisters hulls to remind that she, in time,
will take us back, breath by breath.
There's blood on the moon and trees talking
nonsense, and too loud. But if I cover my ears,
it's the sea that calls and sea that answers,
humming beneath the watery luster of my skin.
Harbor seal. Its mid-section a gaping hole.
Parenthetical printed on the sand: (shark
attack, single bite, escape), punctuated
with drag marks of hauling ashore. Visible
signs of invisible order as when, tonight,
scavengers that have been smelling death
all day, move down from the hills unless,
unless the tide has already come back.
The cubists had it right, you said, ducking beneath
the boom, the seeing and seeing and seeing.
Wind takes the sail; we hiss away. Boyish lover,
reservoir of lilacs and thorns, owning my cheekbones
with a careless touch. I still dream of your prickly
heart and the sad dances when your body whispered
in my hands, still feel brown shoulders damp
from a night swim, and the wrists I tried to hold,
and how you broke away. I still wake seeing
how you ran from the car on the bridge at Buzzard's
Bay, and the way you leapt, not into the water,
but onto the rocks—to be sure.
Falling off the edge of myself, I move inland,
grow excessively fond of roses and wild
jonquils, or is it daffodils? I haunt old graveyards,
walking among broken-winged angels who
long since gave up all pretense of anything but
merely holding on to the pitted stones as they
return to dust. But night comes; wind carries
me back to the water, still humming her tuneless
strains, to breathe all that's falling into the sea.
|Brenda Yates is from nowhere. After growing up in Tennessee, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, Massachusetts, Japan and Hawaii, she settled first in Boston and then Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Askew, Chaparral, Eclipse, Illuminations, Kattywompus Press, Mississippi Review, Mixitini Matrix, Pearl, and in Blue Arc West: An Anthology of California Poets (Tebot Bach), City of the Big Shoulders: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry (University of Iowa Press), Manifest West (Western Press Books) and The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI: Tennessee (Texas Review Press). A Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of the Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center Poetry Contest, Brenda was also awarded the Patricia Bibby Memorial Prize. Her first book of poems, Bodily Knowledge, is forthcoming from Tebot Bach in 2015.|
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Prize winners for past years can be viewed on-line:
2013 Poetry Prize winners
2012 Poetry Prize winners
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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