The Telluride Institute’s Talking Gourds Poetry Program announced that Devreaux Baker of Mendocino (CA) has won the 2022 Fischer Poetry Prize with her poem “My Name Means Memory.” She was a finalist for the Fischer Prize in 2018.
Poet and author Anna K. Scotti, past Fischer Prize winner, was this year’s judge. Learn more at www.annakscotti.com or follow her on instagram @annakscotti.
“I’ve judged before, but the depth and breadth of work presented here was astonishing,” said Scotti. “It was no easy task to winnow the selections I was given down to five finalists and a winner. Each poem I selected, while stunning, meant that another dozen interesting or accomplished works went unheralded.”
Finalists were Diana Whitney of Vermont with “Acorns,” Stephen Benz of New Mexico with “Ghost Towns Out West,” Faith Shearin of Massachusetts with “Air,” Rosa Lane of California with “Clothesline,” and Carolyne Wright of Washington with “This dream the world is having about itself…”
Regarding Baker’s poem, Scotti had this to say: “This narrative depiction of a young family’s desperate flight to a refugee camp has a dreamlike quality that defies its nightmarish context. I found myself reading My Name Means Memory again and again, checking to see what images came directly from the poem and which my own imagination had conjured from ‘flowers of witness that bloom even/when I try to forget.’”
“In Acorns, the delightful terrors the Halloween season inspires collide with a parent’s visceral fear for her daughters,” said Scotti. “Using unrhymed tercets, the poet carefully balances narration with imagery, circling from ‘the bearded man who nearly murdered Nonna,’ to the girls who ‘breach the front door, burst inside/in a storm of laughter.’”
As for Benz’s poem, “Deceptively simple, this rhyming poem tells the story of the Old West by cleverly imagining the stories behind the names of 16 abandoned towns,” explained Scotti. “Each cryptic note makes us long to know more and had me googling into the night.”
Shearin’s Air “is a philosophical rumination about time, in the form of couplets about air that take us from Louis Armstrong to the pharaohs. Events are seen at a distance, but this skillful poet keeps us mindful of the present day.”
Regarding Lane’s poem, Scotti said, “You remember concrete poems from sixth grade – Döhl’s wormy apple must have inspired a million bruised bananas and steaming cups of chocolate. This concrete poem, referencing Dickinson, is another thing altogether, billowing across the page in a haunting depiction of loneliness, personified by nightclothes that ‘clipped/side by side, swell/& billow frantic for embodiment.’”
About Wright’s poem, Scotti noted, “Riffing off William Stafford’s titular line, the poet tracks two sisters along a wending path through imagined decades, cleverly referencing the teens, twenties, thirties and so on, until one sister carries her “final thoughts/almost to the millennium’s edge.” Indeed, the terminal dedication makes us realize that the entire journey, as the girls watched “the trail deepen in brilliant shadow,” may have been a dream.
The Fischer Prize is awarded annually to poets around the world writing in English. A $1000 prize is given to the winner and a $250 prize to each of the five finalists.
“Our national poetry contest is the primary way poets and friends can help us support the many poetry projects we do on Colorado’s Western Slope,” said Talking Gourds project director Art Goodtimes, “with the added bonus one might win a prize.”
Past Fischer winners include Ja’net Danielo of California, Jonathan Greenhouse of New Jersey, Carlos Andrés Gómez of New York and Michele Bitting of California.
For more information on the Talking Gourds Poetry Program and its national Fischer and state Cantor poetry contests, visit tellurideinstitute.org/talking-gourds.