2014 Rattle Poetry Prize Readers’ Choice Award

Rattle is proud to announce the winner of the 2014 Rattle Poetry Prize Readers’ Choice Award:

Courtney Kampa

Courtney Kampa
New York, NY
Poems About Grace

The 2014 Readers’ Choice Award was selected from among the Rattle Poetry Prize Finalists by subscriber vote. Only those with active subscriptions including issue #46 were eligible. Of roughly 4,000 possible voters, 565 cast ballots, and Kampa’s poem earned 31%. The award is $1,000. Here is what some of those readers had to say about their choice:

So beautifully done, about a subject that could easily have become overly sentimental were it not for the restraint the poet shows. The words, well chosen, perfectly convey the longing of both child and (new) mother. A memorable piece of work!
—Susan Berlin

“Poems About Grace” is touching and significant. Rarely has a poem about motherhood drawn me so completely into the experience. The whole context of the adoption is brought forth vividly and with immediacy, involving the reader in the confluence of needs and yearnings that bring mother and daughter together. This is a poem that deserves to find its way to anthologies and be kept for a very long time. Obviously this is a writer to pay attention to.
—David W. Parsley

The expression of love for one’s child moved with a soft beautiful rhythm. The poem danced in metaphor and sent me running to hug my own children.
—Thomas Leduc

The way her poems connect thought and emotion from section to section produces a vibrant awareness of the interconnectedness between a mother and daughter who find their own familiarity when blood doesn’t lend it freely, a feeling expressed masterfully in the last line: “Our dangling threads/ crocheted into a trellis, like lace—a helix/ we’ve doubled and twisted/ by hand.” In this last line’s holding out of the message for the poem as a whole, the reader is confronted with the truth of Kampa’s words for parents and children generally, whether adopted or no. The trellis shape of each stanza, the transience of thin lace, and the helix which both acts as genetic inheritance and a handmade ladder to what will come in their future lives all rise to the attention of the reader in this last phrasing. Kampa’s final words crystallize for a brief moment the simultaneous feelings of having created a newfound strength and the excitement of the questions and conversations for the mother and daughter that are yet to come.
—Jeremy Reed

I thought this sequence was the most moving and original among the finalist poems, well-crafted yet unpredictable in its turns, with a strangeness that struck me as true to the experience recounted, and not something imposed on the poem from without. Some of the similes and metaphors made me gasp. I love the danger in this work, and the openness.
—Cecilia Woloch

“Poems About Grace” is a heart-breakingly beautiful, poignant poem about grace of all kinds. On the literal level it is a simple story of a couple who longs for a child, then finds and adopts a baby from a harsh, over-crowded orphanage. She becomes the beloved child. The five part poem speaks to the nature of grace during this journey. The “Grace” of the title may be the name of the baby, but “grace” is the poem’s unifying metaphor for the tender-fierce love that throbs in every line.
—Margaret Anne Gratton

To read the poem, pick up a copy of Rattle #46, or wait until the spring, when the poems start appearing online at Rattle.com.

Kampa’s “Poems About Grace” was the clear winner, but all ten of the finalist poems received a significant number of votes, and each had their own enthusiastic fans. It’s always a fun and informative experience reading all the commentary, and to provide a taste of that here is a small sample of what our subscribers said about the other finalists:

On Josh Bontrager’s “My Father Worked Piece Rate …”

As many times as the read the poem to myself, and out loud to my partner who was sitting next to me at the diner, him reading his mortgage blog and saying, “Oh yea, I remember, the Schult Mobile Home Plant was a real thing.” And that’s why my vote for this poem, it’s too real. It’s as tangible in an ephemeral world as the men in work boots sitting in the booths around us, and the steam that comes from their coffee into their own trucks, with their own stories. But we tell the one how they’re all the same.
—Victoria McArtor

On Samantha Deal’s “Taxonomy of an Automobile Accident”

“Taxonomy of an Automobile Accident” by Samantha Deal is one of those poems you want to show to others–I printed it off and shared it with my wife who did a PhD thesis, some years ago, in the acquisition of language in children. I found her comment to be telling: “Naming is where the world begins.” This poem takes the reader to school, and on so many levels. The line “How many hands am I not holding / right now?” is the turn line for me … From that point on I know that I’m in the sort of “good hands” I recognize from having been exposed to forceful work before. Smart work, indeed.
—Roy Bentley

On Stephen Kampa’s “How to Meet the Love of Your Life”

It’s rare that a poem makes me laugh out loud, but Stephen Kampa had me laughing through all four pages. He nails the voice of the self-help book, in a poem styled like no other.
—Melvin Gulley

On James Davis May’s “Reality Auction”

Witty, refreshing and entertaining in a way that lasts like a conversation we keep having about our favourite film or character in a book. I wish I could have attended the auction.
—Vanessa Shields

On Jack Powers’ “Holy Shitballs!”

This is a poem that effortlessly maneuvers within a surprisingly wide range of narrative complexity. It’s funny and touching and not in the least sentimental (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
—Arne Weingart

On Sarah Pemberton Strong’s “A Story”

As a poem that is interested in how we think, it struck me how free of artifice or pretension it is, how clear and honest. It shares a remarkable story, reflects on that story, and in this act it shines light on how we react to the unusual, the unexpected, the miraculous–and that moment we are given where the boy returns to find the snake transformed into the mouse (at least, that must be what the scene first looked like to him)—is as close to a miracle as poetry is able to give us. And to show the reader the search for self in this story, the projection of one’s own identity into another’s situation, another’s body, is shockingly affecting, beautifully honest.
—Brandon Amico

On Wendy Videlock’s “The Night Relies”

The music in this piece is stunning, and though rhymed tetrameter lines can often sound singsongy or contrived, there’s something hymn-like about this piece that invites that form. It is especially effective, in fact, against the content (“the camouflage is in conforming”), which praises the rebellious spirit and the potential to rabble-rouse that live within the mythological and theological icons she invokes; to have a regular meter, a ringing bell of a poem, stands in contrast to the beauty of singing one’s own tune. Anyway, it’s pretty and I’m a fan of sound-play, and she does it well.
—Jessica Piazza

On Mike White’s “Fathers”

“Fathers” is dense and pointed, in a way that allows it to be truly wide and open to its enormous spirit. I also loved the word play. It reminds me of my father’s basement workshop, which was both a place to create and a place to hide.
—Scott Farrar

On Shangrila Willy’s “The Nightly Villanelle of Their Twelfth Year”

Willy dares to speak of impotence in a marriage, not that uncommon due to a variety of issues, often health-related. She uses the villanelle form with its repeating lines in conjunction with carefully chosen words that serve double-meanings for reflecting the unspoken desire (“ache”), the nagging fears (“long”), and wishful thinking (“lie”) that refrain in permutations in the lines as it does in the minds of the couple as they consider their untenable situation. She also conveys the back and forth from dream state to waking state that one often experiences lying in bed thinking intertwined with the other’s thinking, from the contrasting realities conveyed in the 1st and 3rd lines that are repeated in the form: “she lies awake/ he longs for her to wake.” I applaud Willy for her brilliant layering of mind, dream, and state of being.
—Sandra P. Wassilie

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