Tor House Poetry Prize




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2015 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 2015 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry, an honorarium of $1,000, is awarded to:

Ben Jackson
San Francisco, California
for his poem

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

Genean Granger
Iron Mountain, Michigan
for her poem "Dirty Laundry"

Christina Hutchins
Albany, California
for her poem "The Resurfacing of Solano Avenue at the Millennium"

Ellen LaFleche
Northampton, Massachusetts
for her poem "Prayer for the Insanity of Grief"

 Terry Andrew Murcko
Youngstown, Ohio
for his poem "Monogamy"

Rae Paris
East Lansing, Michigan
for her poem "Mardi Gras"

Final judge for the 2015 Prize was poet Marilyn Chin.

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 some 850 poems from 44 states and four foreign countries.

The Winning Poem

Ben Jackson


When Mom taught me to float she said forget
your body.
  I thought of the pine above
our lake house, one she never saw me climb.
Through branches I'd seen her melting
into a statuary repose.
  How could I have known
the weight of her loneliness?
  One winter,
straddling a creek through a blizzard, I lay still
awhile on the ice.
  But then the snowmelt:
a boy waving in a riptide, blue eyes like mine.


Tonight she's stretched out flat on her carpet,
dreaming up a bird's-eye view of her home.
She calls it going inside the cloud, pointing out
her orchids, blue-and-white china, miniature
Oz figurines, and now her body there, skin
sloughing off, hair thinning, fingernails
chipped quarter-moons, injection bruises
blackening, blacker, brain fogging over—
Breathe louder
, she says into the phone.


Dad's house. The halls swell and cough,
allergic to the shifty sea.
  Gull shrieks echo
in the back alley as if a bird were truly
impaled there.
  When it rains we set out
the pots.
  That first night with Mom gone
Dad rocked on the porch with our dog
at his feet.
  I drew a window—no, two rows
of windows inside a square, with a triangle
on top—against which a thief rested his head.


After lightning struck the distillery,
gutting vats by the mill stream, my parents
learned of sinkholes, acid rock.
  Water like
spoiled rye turned up in one river after
another, miles apart, pouring through weird
underground channels.
  Then they knew
their own bodies had grown apart, wired
together by imperceptible scars.
  At the reservoir
I felt empty, free.
  Nothing would flow into it.


Winter I'd bike to the jetty in any hard rain,
return home and forget I'd gone out at all.
I craved runoff:
  syringes and sofa pads, plastic
bags pumping under breakers, rainbow vapors
slithering fat as genies from discarded
gas caps, Styrofoam sailing in an after-breeze.
Once, after I stared awhile at the break-wall,
a flock of roosting turnstones I'd mistaken
all morning for rocks suddenly trembled.


Sutra from Sanskrit:  to sew, suture.  Sacred
sayings inscribed on palm leaves stitched
together with thread.
   Each sewing re-makes
the teaching.
  From Mom I learned tremble,
; from Dad, silence
.  What did they
know about dying?
  There's a karst river
that changes course in heavy rain, flowing

out of a black well, winding through sinkholes,
perplexed as the fish that try to navigate it.


One summer a river withered to stone,
  I was little:  I thought it ran
  I went fishing for my parents anyway,
, stitching them back together.
In a darkroom I watched Dad pull Mom's
portrait from its toxic bath.
  Crow's feet split
beside her eyes as if she were truly there,
squinting, as he assessed her at arm's length.
He moved close, she drew back, he stayed.


How often must I imagine Mom single, lying
in bed with her neighbor's dog after she's set
out her vials, her hand on the syringe calm
as a priest's breath over rows of lit votives?
I still get kind of high on it
, she says, until

the interferon kicks in.
  In a dream I see her
in the mirror even after I thought I looked
  She's holding her liver in her hand.
You look well, I say.
  How long has it been?


The tide's in, raveling pink ribbons in kelp,
settling sand dollars in plain sight.
  A coral
knob like a bread loaf sinks into the surf,
too heavy to lug back.
  All those stories
laid out for tomorrow.
  I'm on the phone
again with Mom.
  To tell my fears apart
from hers, I practiced crying in the dark.
Now, in a voice softer than her own,
I tell her to sleep.
  The story is written.


Ben Jackson's poems have appeared in New England Review, Hudson Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, The Journal, and elsewhere.  He has received residency awards from Vermont Studio Center, Jentel Artist Residency Program, and Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts.  A graduate of Warren Wilson's MFA Program for Writers, Ben teaches at the University of San Francisco and at The Writing Salon, a San Francisco Bay Area creative writing school for adults.

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Honorable Mentions

Dirty Laundry
Genean Granger

It's not the whitened circle from the ever-present can of Copenhagen
worn into the fabric of the right back pocket,
smoke rings blown towards a gibbous moon.

It's not the leather belt I remove with its weighty
silver buckle that resides beneath his umbilicus.
It's not when they're on a heap on the bedroom floor.

It's when they assume his shape, when those long legs climb
into them, take on that swagger,
It's the blueprint created by many wearings and washings that hide and reveal

the workings of the body I crave, the fly curving around his penis,
weighty and frayed.
It's when I hold the jeans to my face, inhale wood smoke, the musky

male smell that is his alone, a pungent intoxicant that stirs my senses.
It's when I touch the soft cotton, so like caressing his bare skin
that I want to howl.

Genean Granger lives in Iron Mountain in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Her poems won the Kathryn M. Sedberry Prize in 2005 and 2006, published by U.P. Writers.  Sigma Tau Delta/International English Honor Society has twice recognized her, including the Isabel Sparks President's Award of First Place in Original Poetry at the 2012 Convention in New Orleans, LA.  Her collection "1924—A Nun's Life" was the winner of the 90th Anniversary Convention Theme at the 2014 Convention in Savannah, GA.  Her poem "Fishing for Words" was published in the November/December 2014 issue of Borderland Arts and in the Spring 2015 issue of the U.P. magazine, Health and Happiness. Granger's poem "The Road In" can be read at  After a thirty year career as a Registered Nurse, Granger graduated with her MA in English in May 2014 from Northern Michigan University. 

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The Resurfacing of Solano Avenue at the Millenium
Christina Hutchins


Gravel and dust   the pavement gone
Each belled shop-door was still propped open
Solano Avenue was fragmented—
Chunks of sub-road and old pipe

like monuments lifted then shoved aside
Incandescence stretched
onto a lavender roadbed
as if by earthquake or by war

crouched in the dusk
Their massive claws silent   were clamped
and curled inward


Who can bear history?
Each living child
sits beneath the foundations
upon which her necessary world assembles


I would have liked to drive one
roll unstoppable
raise the scooping
arm    high      high


            but the year I turned ten
        there was Night in Fog
From 8mm had tumbled the tractored
human beings
and still the train


                             slowing to pass through
warehouses and intersections

      will not quit sounding
its unyielding    irresolvable chord

I plied my way—    Like a dry riverbed
there was another street below the ruined street
Calm with dusk
    air coolly lifted
chalky musk
    old concrete crumbing

and sifted by smell    the adult earth rolled open
became Karlsruhe 1964
    concrete dust
before the pour
   where brand-new houses
are lifting daily and deserted late each afternoon

Yellow wood and brown beer bottles
half empty
    sand in shovel-stripped piles drenched gray
alive in an unutterable world
    still I breathe
the mute meetings of making and decay—


For before cement was mixed and dumped
         scraped or troweled or set    I too
sat on the scrabbled earth
    under houses and graves

                                 Under road and river
I played—
turning small subterranean

stones in a child's bare palm


Christina Hutchins is the author of Tender the Maker (2015 May Swenson Award, Utah State University) and The Stranger Dissolves (Sixteen Rivers, 2011); finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and Audre Lorde Prize, and Radiantly We Inhabit the Air (Robin Becker Chapbook Prize, 2011).  Her poetry and essays appear in Antioch Review, The Missouri Review (Editors' Prize), The New Republic, Salmagundi, The Southern Review, Women's Review of Books, and in volumes by Ashgate, Columbia UP, Milkweed Editions, HarperSF and Houghton Mifflin.  She holds degrees from UC Davis, Harvard, and Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, and lives in Albany, CA, where she teaches private workshops.

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Prayer for the Insanity of Grief
Ellen LaFleche

Because the snowman in its frozen Buddha pose is contemplating the sun, because
the wind is tingling sea waves into lace-tipped nipples, because
the nurses dressed you in a slitted paper gown like a cut-out doll.

Because you wore a hoodie under the crescent moon like a woodcut of Death, because
an oyster's brittle lips are opening to the awful shock of the boil, because
an erratic hammering is echoing through your heart's four-room bungalow.

Because Hiroshima's moon is blistered with the memory of rivers boiled, because
our never-born sons were hoarded like coins in my ovarian fist, because
I am watching the long sad sigh of your blood pressure cuff.

Because after the radiation leak the monogamous octopus is swimming alone, because
the morphine almost soothed the bang and thrashing of your anguished skull, because
Treblinka's moon is gagging on the memory of ash.

Because a blizzard is ripping the rainbow scarf from the snowman's throat, because
the wind is splattering ice-tipped sea waves into kaleidoscopes of colors, because
I watched your nostrils slurp burbling oxygen through latex straws.

Because hairpins are crisscrossing an old woman's scalp like a row of sutures, because
I hear the eerie creaking of our daughter's childhood swing, because
saliva is drooling from the snowman's contorted mouth.

Because your shoulders have sprouted cremation flames like softly crackling wings.


Ellen LaFleche is the author of three chapbooks: Workers' Rites (Providence Athenaeum); Ovarian (Dallas Poets Community Press); and Beatrice (Tiger's Eye Press.)   She won the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, the Philbrick Poetry Prize, the DASH literary journal prize, the New Millennium Poetry Prize and the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Prize.    She is assistant judge for the North Street Book Prize at   During a three-month period last winter, she lost her dad, husband and brother.  Along with her daughter and son-in-law, she provided hospice care to her husband, John Clobridge, during the final stages of his ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease.)   "Prayer for the Insanity of Grief" is one of many poems written in the aftermath of overwhelming mourning and loss.

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Terry Andrew Murcko

Gibbons, alone among the primate apes,
Strive to stay loyal, though they sometimes fail.
It lies not in our nature to be true,
But it remains in our nature to choose
To live as others do who have no choice
But one.
  Coupled swans and Canada geese
Mate not just for a season, but for life,
And black vultures fear the law of the flock;
Philanderers must face fierce chastisement.
The wolf pack is, in fact, a family,
Faithful parents and maturing offspring.
Male ants' and bees' devotion to their queen
Is not returned.
  Only among termites
Does the colony ascend from one pair.
The male sea horse commits to carrying
The young, till they are ready, in his pouch.
For pure monogamy, the angler male,
In deep sea dark, one tenth the female's size,
Follows her scent, finds her, bites, hanging on
For life, dear or otherwise; as his skin
Fuses with hers, sharing one blood supply,
He becomes her sperm producing organ.
Love's mystery demystified reveals
Chemistry, concurrent activation
Of the dopamine and neuropeptide
Receptors of the brain, a conditioned
Partner preference we, oxytosin-
Vasopressin puppets, call a pair bond.
But bonding is no bondage; it's a dance
Of particles, light in and out of time:
Bald eagles, locking talons in the air
Spiral down a double, double helix,
Releasing the last moment before death
To swoop off, climb, collide again, enskied,
And like great musicians improvising
Repeat an impossible line to prove
It was no accident, grasp each other,
Surrender to another twirling fall,
Release again mated, true, for dear life.


Terry Andrew Murcko, a poet and song-writer of Youngtown, Ohio, recently retired after 37 years of teaching and play-directing to devote more time to his wife, Linda, and their growing family of grandchildren, to environmental action, to poetry, and to perhaps finding an audience.  He helped Jim Villani start PigIron Press, publisher of Still another Pelican in the Breadbox (1980) the last works of Kenneth Patchen.  Most recently included in the anthology Fallen City Writers (2015) his work has appeared in various journals, the digraph Orphan Trees (with George Peffer) and Emptyshoesongs, a double CD of live performances wherein he accompanies himself on percussion, idiot zither, and punk accordion.  To him, Jeffers and Patchen are the two greatest American poets of the twentieth century.

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Mardi Gras
Rae Paris

824 Canal and Carondelet—an unmarked building known as The Boston Club.
Here, they say, White men played Boston, a card game at The Boston Club.

Little Misery and Big Misery two tricks in the game.  It's tradition
for King Rex to toast his Queen to fame outside The Boston Club.

Miss Annie, a one-time slave, got my grandmother the job,
a cook and a cleaner the same at The Boston Club.

The first King of Rex, Louis Solomon, fought for the Confederacy,
a Jewish businessman of great acclaim in The Boston Club.

If they don't want you as a member, they put black balls in a cup,
erased forever, your name, from The Boston Club.

The last time at Mardi Gras I walked with my father, now dead.  He
used to live uptown.
  He died far from any claim to the Boston Club.

My mother stayed in St. Bernard Projects in the 7th Ward,
much closer to the white doorframe of The Boston Club.

My parents left official segregation in 1958.  I was born redlined in L.A.
They wanted a life more humane, away from things like The Boston Club.

When I call my mother from New Orleans the first thing she asks:
There something down there with the name of The Boston Club?

She remembers tubs of chicken salad her mother would carry.
White people leftovers so good, she said, from The Boston Club.

I roam the streets in a red feather mask, red wire roses pinching
the trail of my cheek.
  I think about shame and The Boston Club.


Rae Paris is from Carson, California.  She is a NEA Fellow whose writing appears or is forthcoming in Women: A Cultural Review, Transition Magazine, Guernica, The Common, Solstice, Hobart Pulp, Dismantle, and others.  Her poem "The Forgetting Tree" was selected as Best of the Net 2013.  A Pushcart Prize nominee, her work has been supported by The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Hambidge, Atlantic Center for the Arts, and VONA.  She lives and writes mostly in East Lansing, Michigan where she's Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Michigan State University.


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

2014 Poetry Prize winners
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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