Announcing the 2023 MFA Awards
Wednesday, April 19, 2023
Wednesday, April 19, 2023
Academy of American Poets Prize
Judge: Michael Robins
Winner: Rachelle Toarmino
Like branches of a tree, these poems enlarge the relationships and tensions of being human. We might enjoy the petals cascading down the page or, more likely, stand in awe as those same branches rub together and ignite. “So what if love is my form,” one poem affirms. Elsewhere, “tradition” and “constraint” coalesce with urgency and the deeply personal. I admire these poems for their inventiveness and vulnerability, as well as their record of the conscious mind: “Love gets me out of the house / Love always gets me // out of the house…” Like the best writing, these poems allow us to revel anew in their craft—and their consequence—with each reading.
Honorable Mention: Tom Carlson
Line after line, I’m thrilled by the expansive intelligence here. From Holyoke to the Gulf Coast, the truer landscape of these poems is as much planetary as lyrical, as much philosophical as political, all while leaving room to invoke the speaker’s shifting identities and the desire to belong. In poems conceived from “lightning poles” or “stanzas at the summit / of Boreas pass,” the modern world remains: the challenges—and the cost—of participating in this life. I look forward to encountering these poems in literary journals; better yet, I can’t wait to see how they shape their home in a full-length collection.
Best New Poets Anthology
Judge: James Haug
Winner: Scout Turkel
Fresh, askew lyrics. Every line an opportunity met. I admire the surprise in these poems. And the enigmatic Martha.
Honorable Mention: Rachelle Toarmino
Sinewy, conversational, and playfully quotidian, there’s a forlorn charm in these reluctant love poems.
Cara Parravani Memorial Award in Fiction
Judge: Juan Martinez
Winner: Shashank Rao, “Love Jihad”
This story is a high-wire act from its arresting first sentence to the lingering question and uncertain realization in its final few lines. There’s so much here that could go wrong but doesn’t. It all soars: the humor, the collective “we” that judges and admires and tries to make sense of Meenakshi and Ijaz, the class commentary, the Michigan setting. About that “we”: it’s a powerful, funny voice that delivers a cross-cultural encounter story, a Hindu/Muslim topsy-turvy Romeo & Juliet that is equal parts catastrophe and empathy. “Love Jihad” is a marvel and its writer freaking rules.
Honorable Mention: Larry Flynn, “Surfacing”
I have not read a better story about someone wanting to become a shark and then having the universe (perversely? generously?) deliver. “Surfacing” is a delight---strange and loopy in its narrative choices, deliberate in its attention and care for its protagonist and its protagonist’s obsessions, and crammed with beautiful, oddball details, reminiscent at times of Nell Zink and Leonard Michaels.
Daniel and Merry Glosband MFA Fellowship in Poetry
Judge: Mónica de la Torre
Winner: Cameron Cocking
Rife with repetition, these taut poems unfold serially where the self reaches beyond itself and where cadence meets landscape. We owe their poise to delicate enjambment and a fine, omnidirectional attention tracking time’s passage by minding the elemental (dandelions, trees, snow, stars) as much as the manmade (highways and trucks). As an emblem of their fusion, I keep going back to this description of the highway’s noise: “All the letters in all the alphabets pronounced at once….” I can’t tell where one poem ends and another begins; here, that is no small achievement.
Honorable Mention: Riley Jones
These poems attest to a mind restlessly considering poiesis from multiple angles and in conversation with others. The work's intention is specified at the get-go, in “Girl Country (II)”: “I wanted a way to talk about my life outside of the singular.” Whether the poet succeeds or not is not nearly as important as having noted the desire as well as knowledge’s precariousness: “You think you are doing something and really you are doing something else.” Who wouldn't relate?
Deborah Slosberg Memorial Award in Fiction
Judge: Kristen Arnett
Winner: Ashley Ruiz-Robles, “Platos Americanos”
This story is as beautiful as it is devastating. I'm always a sucker for the domestic in fiction - its many secrets and closed doors, the way that all families share a particular history that no one else can touch without breaking the seal of its mystery - and "Platos Americanos" deals all this out in spades. The writing here is rich and powerful, transcendent when it comes to describing the messiness that comes not only from being set down in a new place, but what happens to the family itself when roles and traditions are uprooted. This is bodied work in all the very best ways. An incredible work of fiction; I devoured every sentence.
Honorable Mention: Evelyn Maguire, “Primordial Juice”
An impressive piece of writing. Space is important in "Primordial Juice"; the white places on the page provide both breath and pause between each staccato burst of dialogue and scene setting. The work itself becomes the vessel, the pregnant body waiting for release as the reader moves forward in time, gathering information, our minds fertile as the chicken egg. Overall, a remarkable attempt to showcase the fine line between youth and adulthood, and how the latter sits nestled inside the former, waiting to burst free.
Deborah Slosberg Memorial Award in Poetry
Judge: Kristen George Bagdanov
Winner: Riley Jones
These poems undermine the cult of coherence even as they search for the form wholeness might make. “The body coheres against itself” as does the poem. The plot and its incessant reaching toward conclusion is lost, rediscovered, and deconstructed in the long poem “Girl Country (II).” Here, mythologies are unmoored from their origins, especially the myth of the nation and its hegemonic ideals: “Original and pristine. I laughed at this. The myth of the sprawl.” The end-stopped, chopped, juxtaposing lines that cut across these poems demand space for uncertainty to gather at the margins. Their rhythm stayed in my body a long while.
Honorable Mention: Rachelle Toarmino
These lines hold so tightly their objects of desire that they melt within the heat of the poem’s grasp. Here, dream logic is more real than the waking mind, whose rationality cannot be trusted: “I think / I dream myself” reads the poem “Normal Neurotic”—not “I think therefore I am.” The erotics of lyric fragmentation is a force that reshapes sense: “The sentence pulled back by its hair…”—the line only intensified by its passive construction— “settles into a miraculous / decoy for sense.” These poems feel their way into existence, the “freakish heart” wanting what it wants.
Harvey Swados Fiction Prize
Judge: Corinna Vallianatos
Winner: Ella Hormel
These short stories consider the concrete—lemons, pigeons, hearing aids—to get at something larger and looser and more abstract: the passage of time, the density and devotion of human feeling, a family’s dissolution, a mother’s distance. I admire the stories’ directness of language, compressed form, and dramatization of subtle and lasting discoveries. From “Hearing Aids”: “She could hear her thoughts clearly. She was surprised by how uncomplicated they were without the distraction of noise.” These stories struck me like that. They live simply and profoundly on the page.
Honorable Mention: Shashank Rao
“Love Jihad” is sharply comic, filled with the energy and bafflement and keen insights of a collective point of view. Its voice is both larger than life and painfully precise, as is its portrayal of ambition, gossip, the judgment a community renders, and the secrets it keeps.
James W. Foley Memorial Prize
Judge: Shauna Seliy
Winner: Evelyn Maguire, “Primordial Juice”
The story is so well-paced and the characters are so sharply drawn. This is an engrossing read from start to finish.
Jane Lunin Perel Poets Fund
Judge: Jon Ruseski
Winner: Hunter Larson
I appreciate poems that teach you how to read them. "I Was Vivid In The Car," does not withhold anything from the reader, but generously instructs us along its lucid trajectory. Each deft turn imbues us with an expanded understanding of the possibilities of this world. Each moment, crystal clear, surprising, and, well, vivid.
Honorable Mention: Joan Tate
"Cacophony We Leapt Behind" is electrically charged to the point of feeling telepathic. It is quite the rush to spiral through these rapid thought-streams as the poem renders them. Simultaneously cosmic, mundane, historical, and dialectical, it's a reminder that information moves fast, but poetry moves faster.
Congratulations to all!