Tor House Prize for Poetry 2018

The annual Tor House Prize for Poetry is a living memorial  to
American poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

We are pleased to announce that the 2018 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry, an honorarium of $1,000, is awarded to:

Deborah Pope
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
for her poem
“Take Nothing”

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

Susan Cohen
Berkeley, California
for her poem “Letter Home”

Steve McDonald
Murrieta, California
for his poem “Prayer”
Deborah Pope
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
for her poem “Waiting for the Perseid Meteor Shower”

Tori Sharpe
Little Rock, Arkansas
for her poem “Buenos Aires”

Finalist judge for the 2018 Prize was poet Richard Blanco.

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 and Board member Lacy Buck. This year we received some 1,050 poems from 40 states, the District of Columbia and six countries.


Deborah Pope

Deborah Pope is the author of three poetry collections--Fanatic Heart, Mortal World and Falling Out of the Sky. She has been nominated for the National Book Award, the Walt Whitman Award and the Pushcart Prize. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Threepenny Review, Michigan Quarterly, Southern Review, TriQuarterly, The Georgia Review, Poetry Northwest, Southwest Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, The Birmingham Review, Poetry Northwest, among others.

The Award Winning Poem

Take Nothing

Not the great blue skimmers warming their wings
in the May sun before flight,
the red-eyed vireos’ here I am, where are you,
or the radiating catenaries of the weaving spider,
lingering, dew-strung,
not the intricate machinery of the wonderous foot
with one-quarter of the bones in the body,
or the fascicles of nerves firing in the lightest touch,
not the easy assumption of motion
in neck, limbs, torso,
not the syrupy evening light of summer,
somewhere bees gravid with pollen
and the promise of rain, not August’s crickets
whirring their incessant clockwork,
not the white-bearded waves following in furrows,
the boom and bravura of surf,
or its lace and small applause,
not the guttural rubato in the throat
at the end of the barn owl’s call,
or the orange Chinese lanterns of persimmons,
not the way the light bends in autumn’s russet afternoons,
or the fraying draperies of fog in the hollows,
not the faithful bellows of the lungs,
the free-flowing tributaries of the heart,
or the black, rickety branches of trees against
a full winter moon, like the raised hands
of Giotto’s saints in prayer, 
not the tellers of night tales,
or the light from extinguished stars,
not the friable fabric of memory,
nor any love’s precarious survival,
not even the soul at night---
take nothing,
nothing for granted.
Not in this world.

Honorable Mentions

Susan Cohen.jpeg

Susan Cohen

Susan Cohen’s second full-length book of poems, A Different Wakeful Animal, won the 2015 David Martinson-Meadowhawk Prize from Red Dragonfly Press and was a runner-up for the Philip Levine Prize. She was a newspaper reporter, contributing writer for the Washington Post Magazine, and faculty member of the University of California Graduate School of Journalism before studying poetry while on a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University and then earning an MFA from Pacific University. Her poems appear in many journals and anthologies, including most recently: Greensboro Review, Nimrod, Poetry Flash, Spillway, Tar River Poetry, and Know Me Here: An Anthology of Poetry by Women. She's received the Rita Dove Poetry Award and the Milton Kessler Memorial Poetry Prize among other honors. She lives in Berkeley.

Letter Home

I’m staying among strangers.  On the shelf, A History of Finland.
I spent three days in Helsinki once.  When I left, a man saw me off
on the train, made me promise to write, but I couldn’t spell his name.

I know nothing about the history of Finland, the way I know nothing
about the strangers I’m living with here, each a country with allegiances
and anthems and alibis.  A History of Finland makes me think

it is one of many Finnish histories, and possibly not definitive.
My history of Finland has a chapter titled: “Autonomy Lost
and Independence Gained.”  Could that be us, love?

The Finnish man was a stranger, a blind date the night before.
He took the morning off from work to say goodbye and pressed
his folded future in my palm.  To this day I have no idea why.

Maybe he thought I was a country he could live in.
I don’t understand what makes people seek each other out.
So many possible histories, so many impossible endings.

I could be speaking Finnish now, farming fish and naming
each of my babies with three k’s and too many vowels.
But I’m joined with you, sharing the citizenship of a long marriage,

both of us tending our borders.  I’ve never asked if I turned out
to be the person you thought I was, since I’m not the person
I thought I was.  I could say you and I will always be

on a blind date—but I don’t want to scare you.
When I return home this week, you’ll welcome me,
I know, my native land.  Love.


Steve McDonald

Steve McDonald’s second full-length book, Credo, was a finalist in the 2016 Brick Road Poetry Press competition. His chapbook Golden Fish / Dark Pond was the winner of the 2014 Comstock Review Chapbook contest. He has also published the full-length collection House of Mirrors (Tebot Bach), and the chapbook Where There Was No Pattern (Finishing Line Press). His individual poems have won awards from Tiferet, Nimrod, Beyond Baroque, Passager, Sow’s Ear, and others, including Best New Poets 2010. McDonald’s poetry has appeared in Boulevard, Nimrod, The Atlanta Review, RATTLE, The Crab Creek Review, The Paterson Literary Review, Spillway, and elsewhere. Professor Emeritus of English and retired Dean of Languages and Literature at Palomar College in San Marcos, California, he lives with his wife, Marlyle, in Murrieta and can be contacted through his website at stevemcdonaldpoetry.com.


       Golden Shovel after Galway Kinnell

Vivian is almost two she wanders the backyard whatever
        she sees she points at wherever she points the world happens

she crosses the lawn climbs into my arms whatever
        happens now is enough it is dusk I do not know what

will become of her the carrotwood tree is
       thick with low-hanging deep-green leaves Vivian is

reaching for them she says leaf the tree’s growth is
       vigorous threatens to crack the concrete of our patio what

does one do with such robust life this evening I
       hold Vivian her hair carrot red she points up Want

that she says Want that in the evening sky only
        the full moon is visible no clouds no stars that

I guess is what she wants the carrotwood tree darkens but
        the moon is a bright light Vivian points up says Want that

Waiting for the Perseid Meteor Shower

by Deborah Pope

A dogtooth moon, horned and dim,
hangs over the suck of midnight tide,
the skirt of beach, where wet gusts spin
the windsocks, flog the docks of cottages.

We are silent except for the ice
in our glasses, the creak of rockers,
eyes raised to the ruined
theater of stars.

We have come here
to the continent’s edge,
like plunderers, to see what
can be salvaged from the wreckage

we have made.  Here is a spar
of pain, is that some rigging
of hope?  I don’t even know
what we are looking for—

stars flashing from black curtains,
some fire-fall of legend,
red snakes in the sky,
a revelation so obvious

they say the casual eye
can’t mistake it.  Wordless,
we wait for signs, earthy
or celestial, something more

than the remote Morse of a plane,
a whittled moon and the wheel
of Orion into the sea.
The August night steams on, 

yields nothing to the watch
we keep.  What’s become
of all the storied gold
our nights once showered down?

Is there nothing left within us
to pick the lock of dark?


Tori Sharpe

Tori Sharpe holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing from The University of Texas and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from The University of North Texas. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry Daily, The Hopkins Review, Blackbird, The Southwest Review, Tar River Poetry, Stand Magazine and other journals. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Arkansas Tech University.

Buenos Aires

January 2010

I told myself the place
            would make a difference:
                       busy, humid, distant, utterly

foreign.  For a month, we walked
             or trotted, trying to catch a subway car
                        or train to take us to whatever site

we had settled on that day:  cemeterio,
            museo, jardin botánico
.  The heat
                        was piercing, solid as the ice.

Most nights we ate late, midnight
            or one, leaning our elbows against
                      the table to hear the other clearly, to watch

the stream of people outside, oblivious
           to the hour. The home we made was small—
                     two rooms, a balcony—but there,

so many miles beneath the everyday
            that had defeated us, I thought
                      I felt the change I wanted, a release

like the pop of breaking ice early spring,
            the water below still moving as it has
                        all through the frozen months,

                                                         the whole long year.



Tor House Prize for Poetry 2017

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 and Board member Lacy Buck.   This year we received some 1,150 poems from 37 states and five foreign countries. The finalist judge for the 2017 Prize was poet Eavan Boland.

We are pleased to announce that the 2017 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry, an honorarium of $1,000, is awarded to:

Donald Levering
Santa Fe, New Mexico
for his poem
“The Notebook”

Honorable Mentions, each with an honorarium of $200, are awarded to:
Justin Hunt
Charlotte, North Carolina
for his poem “Somewhere South of Coldwater”

Mary Pinard
Roslindale, Massachusetts
for her poem “Late in the Season, Widow Gardening”
Cynthia C. Snow
Shelburne, Massachusetts
for her poem “To Maria, the Naturalist/From Esther, the Arawak Servant”

Chelsea Wagenaar
Valparaiso, Indiana
for her poem “Batrachomancy”

2017 Winning Poem "The Notebook" by Donald Levering. 

Donald Levering

Donald Levering

We are pleased to announce that Donald Leverling, from Santa Fe, New Mexico, is the winner of the 2017 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry, for his poem “The Notebook” with an honorarium of $1,000.

Honorable Mentions

Justin Hunt

Honorable Mention, with an honorarium of $200,
for his poem “Somewhere South of Coldwater”. Justin resides in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Mary Pinard

Mary Pinard

Honorable Mention, with an honorarium of $200, for her poem “Late in the Season, Widow Gardening”. Mary resides in Roslindale, Massachusetts.

Cynthia Snow

Cynthia C. Snow

Honorable Mention, with an honorarium of $200, for her poem “To Maria, the Naturalist/From Esther, the Arawak Servant”. Cynthia resides in Shelburne, Massachusetts.

Chelsea Wagenaar

Chelsea Wagenaar

Honorable Mention, with an honorarium of $200, for
for her poem “Batrachomancy”. Chelsea resides in Valparaiso, Indiana.

The 2017 Award Winning Poem

The Notebook
by Donald Levering

Abda, Hungary, 1944

Miklós Radnóti’s poem inches along
his forbidden notebook.
He can’t see his words
as he writes of his wife, Fanni,
and of a wiser death waiting back home.

In the dark he doesn’t imagine
today’s torched houses and haystacks,
but home with its plum trees and honeybees.
He almost tastes the sweet preserves
instead of the moldy potatoes.

His writing scarcely mentions the long march
on ruined feet, the beatings.
He wants us to picture him younger,
swimming in the little stream,
its ripples and jeweled dragonflies.

The poem discloses blood in the drool
of oxen hauling artillery,
but not his own crimson piss.
Milklós tells himself not to listen
to the hellish ravings of prisoners

gone insane. We must downplay
their miserable shame. He wishes instead
we would see him welcoming the dawn
that counts him one day closer
to sleep untroubled by fleas.

We’ll linger with him on the drug of dreaming,
on the vision of his devoted Fanni.
We’ll open the notebook tucked into
his exhumed body’s overcoat
with his final fevered verses.

In Radnóti’s work our ears won’t throb
from point-blank gunshots. He left us
no lines on tumbling into a pit
with fellow captives. No poems
on seeping rain and cold

he could no longer feel.

Donald Levering’s most recent book, Coltrane’s God, published by Red Mountain Press, was Runner-Up for the New England Book Festival contest. His previous book, The Water Leveling with Us, placed second in the National Federation of Press Women Creative Verse Book Competition in 2015. He is a former NEA Fellow, a finalist for the 2016 Dana Awards, Runner-Up for the 2016 Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, Finalist for the 2016 New Letters Award, and First Runner-Up in the 2015 Mark Fischer Prize. He has been a Willapa Bay Artist-in-Residence, a judge for the New Mexico state finals of the Poetry Out Loud competition, and a volunteer with Earthwatch. He lives in Santa Fe with his wife, the painter and poet Jane Shoenfeld.

Honorable Mention

Somewhere South of Coldwater
by Justin Hunt

for Reid 

As night thickens, we slip
into lawn chairs, pour
a glass of merlot. Wichita’s
dim glow reminds
us where we are, though
you and I both know
we’re nowhere
but the edge of empty—
the hollow where our sons’
last steps, their self-inflicted
deaths tap and spatter.

Childless now, leaden
with legacies unbestowed,
we stumble into final
years and hereafters
we distrust, kingdom-comes
come and gone already,
nothing left
but all those miles
we still drive—dirt roads
and wind our solace,
silence our guide.

We uncork the bottle,
pour again.  A breeze
sweeps August into dark
fields.  The catalpa
by your ditch rustles
above a throb of crickets,
and I’m grateful
for this moment, the quiet
sense this is all
there is and ever will be.

But in the morning,
my friend, we’ll steer
again to Comanche
County, somewhere
south of Coldwater—
into dust and treeless sky,
the long horizon
of what we cannot speak.

Justin Hunt grew up in rural Kansas and lives in Charlotte, NC. In 2012, he retired from a long international business career to write poetry and memoir. His work has won several awards and been published in a number of journals and anthologies, including The Atlanta Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Comstock Review, Dogwood, Crossroads Poetry Journal, Freshwater Review, Pooled Ink, Kakalak, and What Matters, among others. Hunt is currently writing a full-length memoir about his relationship with his father, who was born in 1897 to Kansas pioneers.

Honorable Mention

Late in the Season, Widow Gardening

by Mary Pinard

First, though, to determine what must go—
fading dianthus, silvering thistle, and the end of a bee
balm bloom, the ragged crown’s last glow.

Pruning, next, a taking that knows
pressure, where the blade should kiss, cleave,
to undo what was, make way for the slow, low

new growth.  How does it always know
about opening there, where nothing is, despite grief
fuller than all those fragments of Sappho?


Fuller than all those fragments of Sappho
about opening there, where nothing is despite grief,
new growth.  How does it always know

to undo what was, make way for the slow, low
pressure, where the blade should kiss, cleave?
Pruning, next, a taking that knows

balm, bloom, the ragged crown’s last glow—
a fading dianthus, silvering thistle, and the end of a bee.
First, though, to determine what must go.

Mary Pinard teaches in the Arts and Humanities Division at Babson College in the Boston area.  She has published poems in a variety of literary journals, and she has written critical essays on poets, including Lorine Niedecker and Alice Oswald.  Portal, her collection of poems, was published by Salmon Press.  Her poems have also been featured in collaborative performances and exhibits with Boston-area musicians, painters, and sculptors.  She was born and raised in Seattle.   

Honorable Mention

To Maria, the Naturalist
From Esther, the Arawak Servant

by Cynthia C. Snow

You ask me to bring you a humpbacked cricket.
I march in with a tetrio sphinx moth, a huntsman
spider, and fourteen leaf cutter ants.

You send me out again.  “Humpbacked cricket,”
you say.  I saunter back with a mesquite bug, a longhorn
beetle, and a South American palm weevil.

A third time, you plead, “Please, a humpbacked cricket.”
The jungle, a green hoard, reaches,
gropes at the hem of my skirt.

You fail to know, humpbacked crickets favor
the bellyache bush, a bush I visited after that man,
after my belly, after my aunt made me

chew those leaves until black as tobacco, then
swallow, then more, again, until doubled over squat

by that ditch, it was done.

Cindy Snow’s writing has appeared in the Massachusetts Review, Peace Review, Crannóg, and elsewhere. She has been a writing fellow at Cill Rialaig, Ireland, a Platte Clove Artist in Residence, and the recipient of a Vermont Studio Center Writing Residency.  Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart.  Cindy holds an MFA in Poetry from Drew University, where her poetry focused on the 17th Century naturalist and botanical artist, Maria Sibylla Merian.  Slate Roof Press recently published her chapbook, Small Ceremonies.  Cindy works at Greenfield Community College and lives in Shelburne Falls, MA, with her family.

Honorable Mention


    --divination by frogs

by Chelsea Wagenaar

Somewhere they leap on soft wet banks,
crouch in clear waters, their mottled skin
as dew brilliant as the spiderwebs were the spring
my father saved them.  They don’t know how
they were spared, of course, the wrist-thin skin
of their throats pale and pulsing to sound out
the hours, each other.  Perhaps only a few
still survive that spring twelve years ago,
when their mother trekked up from the wooded stream
that bordered our yard and emptied her belly
in our swimming pool—nebulous cluster
of milky globules suspended there, each an eye
with its black, pinpricked center.  There,
to our spellbound disgust, they hatched—
the pool a frantic bevy of heads and tails,
the luck or curse that placed them there.
If I follow them back through their afterlives,
bellowing and skin-darkened to herald
a coming rain, voluble with warning
when storms approached, some lost,
perhaps tweezed apart in junior high labs,
or caught again by my father, cupped too tightly
in the hands of his new daughter—if I follow them
back through their chorused, forested lives,
I can trace them up the garden hose
that poured them in synchronized frenzy
into their rightful waters, the hose
a sinuous lifeline climbing the yard to our pool, 
where its other end siphoned the tadpoles
from a water thrilled with their darting chaos.
Look harder, farther:  I see my father
by the stream, kneeling in damp clay,
his lungs full, his mouth around the hose
inhaling a deep, slow gasp, then another,
until the summoned water met his mouth.
The bodies pouring out into the life
they had not known to imagine.
And his watching them arrowed away
in the current like undoused green flames.
And the bitter, secret taste on his tongue.

Chelsea Wagenaar is the author of Mercy Spurs the Bone, winner of the 2013 Philip Levine Prize.  She holds a PhD from the University of North Texas, and she is currently a postdoctoral Lilly Fellow at Valparaiso University.  Her poems appear recently or are forthcoming in The Southern Review, 32 Poems, The Normal School, and Poetry Northwest.