Presenting the Winners of the 2014 Wabash Prize for Poetry

Thank you to everyone who entered the 2014 Wabash Prize for Poetry. From a list of 10 finalists, poetry judge Bob Hicok has chosen the following poems:

Winner: Matt Morton, “Windfall”

Runner Up: Mark Jay Brewin, Jr.: “Red Hand”

Here’s what Bob Hicok has to say about Matt Morton’s winning poem, “Windfall.”

I find myself wanting to live in this poem every time I read it. To be held by these places and entranced by the things that seem like a gift – a windfall – to this mind, this poet. I like the mix of missing and having, how full the poem is, even as it addresses absence. Little things thrill, like the slide from “cloud cover” into “not if I can help it” and another linebreak driven gear shift, “And if this/is happiness then what.” Most of all I love the ease of movement from thing to thing, moment to moment. Why roundabouts? I don’t know but trust that the ease of passage (usually) through them, their fluidity, is somehow relevant, both to the subject and the nature of this poem. The poem glides in the way it becomes unexpected and yet remains true to itself, its tone. I’m pleased too that the poem begins with a distance it immediately crosses, immediately closes — with memory, perhaps, though certainly through the reach of a warm imagination. It reads and becomes vast – “a whole country” – yet I always feel that I’ve wandered into a privacy that doesn’t know I’m there.

I see your face in a dream, distantly. A different shore:
therefore a different hour, though time is the same. Water
the same, roundabouts at least. Love: sometimes a copper
bottle discovered among the reeds. At others, at odds:
the remnants of a blue star, mere fragments. And if this
is happiness then what. And if not joy, therefore. A painted
fingernail, a blue toothbrush. Dust. Here are my hands reaching
for your hands. A bunting, a lark: What will we offer? Summer
satchels and rain as if from a fountain, boardwalk smiles. Ash-
in-waiting. Miles and miles of sand with no trees: that is a desert.
This weather talk, thunder clamoring for attention, cloud cover
not if I can help it. Here: my notes for the film. Your gown,
dark as in mourning. A tower of cardboard boxes labeled
with black marker. Directions to the old house, cobblestone,
three Japanese maples seasoned red. A separation in name only:
via telephone. Sun wave-woken, land between coasts. And that
is a whole country. It will be a silent film, and the last one.

And, about Runner Up Mark Jay Brewin’s poem “Red Hand,” Bob Hicok writes:

The notion behind this poem, or that was given life as the poem took shape, of how far we’ll go to change, is made vibrant and frightening here. That jolt seems necessary to get at how much we can become possessed by our desires. The ending is great – the cutting away of self to obtain some other self, the severing of worth to finally be of worth – is scary/cool in its reflection of what we often do. The brother’s turmoil acts like a wind in the poem, sending it thrashing our way. As ideationally as this poem can be read, the brother keeps it intimate. Not that I think this was intended, but the title has echoes I find interesting. Red hand brings to mind red handed, brings to mind caught, as we – something deep in our nature – is caught by this poem.

The other finalists were:

Graham Barnhart, “Gas Training”

Allison Davis, “The Heart of It All + A Free Beer”

Lo Kwa Mei-en, “Aubade with Beginning, End, and Zodiac”

Kien Lam, “The Greatest” & “Extinction Theory”


Will Mackie-Jenkins, “A Year In I Was Wind Chimes”

Angie Mazakis, “A Disaster With Angie Telephone’s Name On It”

Bethany Schultz Hurst, “Poem in the Shape of John Wayne’s Stomach Cancer”

Congratulations to the finalists, and as always, thank you to all who submitted! We appreciate your support of Sycamore Review.

Matt Morton has been a Finalist for a Ruth Lilly Fellowship and a Finalist in the Narrative 30 Below Story and Poetry Contest. He has poems appearing in Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, The Paris-American, West Branch, and elsewhere. Originally from Rockwall, Texas, he is a Lecturer in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.

Mark Jay Brewin Jr is a graduate of the MFA program at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.  His poems have been published or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Cortland Review, North American Review, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere.  His first collection Scrap Iron won the 2012 Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry at the University of Utah Press.