From the left: Nava, Meghan, Justin, and Jeremy. Photograph: Nancy Crampton.
Boston Review, in partnership with the 92nd Street Y Unterberg Poetry Center, proudly presents the winners of the 2014 “Discovery” Poetry Contest/Joan Leiman Jacobson Poetry Prizes. Now in its sixth decade, the contest recognizes and celebrates the achievements of poets who have not yet published a first book. Many of the contest’s past winners—including Mary Jo Bang, Nick Flynn, Debora Greger, and Mark Strand—have gone on to distinguished writing careers.
This year’s competition received a record number of submissions—more than 1,300—all of which were read carefully and anonymously by preliminary judges Eduardo C. Corral and Timothy Donnelly. After much deliberating, judges John Ashbery, Susan Mitchell, and Rosanna Warren awarded this year’s prizes to Justin Boening (Lewisburg, PA), Meghan Maguire Dahn (New York, NY), Nava EtShalom (Philadelphia, PA), and Jeremy Schmidt (Los Angeles, CA). The judges praised the strength of the entries overall, noting that the final selection was unusually difficult, but also a great pleasure, to make. The three runners-up are Kristina Martino (Sunderland, MA), Chad Bennett (Austin, TX), and Elizabeth de León Barrera (Portland, OR). The winners read from their work at the Unterberg Poetry Center in New York on May 5, 2014.
Gravity, always plump under the atmosphere, welcomes a small cup.
My hand is always small. My knee is warm enough.
2. Pinching in a Passive Fashion
as you would a butterfly or heirloom lace
as you would a sleeping child’s earlobe
3. Elegantly Draped Ring Finger on Otherwise Nonchalant Hand
I was the aristocrat’s first daughter:
when I pumped water from the well, I did it with grace.
4. Left Hand Receptive to the Northern Watersnake
Where I am from the best prayer is a flexible spine.
5. Hands Perched as though above Tangerines
The egg timer is a holy thing,
the bell—a small crisis.
6. Two Clenched Fists
in the Folds of an Opera Cape
7. Holding an Absent Object in the One Remaining Hand
Empty out your devotion: this is the only reasonable approach.
8. Hand Cascading, as if to Feed Lion
To eat a small thing is to submit entirely to time.
Approaching through the mist I spot a deer,
unstartled, at the border of Schoodic Park
and the nearest private lot.
Normally I’d challenge her to a contest
or snap a picture with my phone,
but it’s been an awfully tough day and she
appears in good spirits, full-bodied,
of sound mind, etc. So I think it best to roll
over and stiffen: to wait, lying down,
for her to approach slowly, curiously, ever less
cautiously until she’s feet away, lured
by the smell of the cashews in my palm,
until she’s practically astride me, until
she’s walking then prancing atop,
then stomping my body, prone in the grass,
crushing me out, step by hoofed step.
and in the ground, I stayed under the empty circus tent
and I sat like a nail at the edge of the center ring.
I didn’t know what to say. Hours passed. I sat there.
Then out of nowhere a lioness entered the ring.
And with my hands on her waist, her claws shining
on my shoulders, we forgot the dance we’d meant to dance.
But we danced. And we kicked circles
in the sod, and we imagined the children, the families,
filling the vacant bleachers, the ring master lifting
a bullhorn to his wretched mouth.
glad to dance a dance that made our irrelevance
more real, even though our limbs lacked grace, especially mine,
even if the dance itself lacked grace.
We were glad to be part of the show, and part of the dance
whose primitive lunges and flailing we repeated,
and though the swaying couldn’t be our own,
though we would have never thought to move this way,
we kept dancing.
and after that, the far-off celebration of wolves or dogs
or freaks wafting through the grass.
or I was, and the dance started feeling less like a dance
and more like a language. And she looked up at me,
with a tear falling from her massive amber eye, and said,
“This is it, you know. We won’t be getting a second chance.”
and sunscreen, god of gulls, god of the unlocked bakery,
god of twins, god of all the cities of my youngest years,
god of the nurses who walk those wards, god
of sensible shoes and of Wall Street, god of whales
and their depths, god of the kitchen, god
of the blood clot, god of the authoritative sentence,
god of weight and liquor, god of scarves
and of the required fast, god of the green room
and the downbeat, god of lemons,
god of the disappeared and god of their mothers,
god of the highway’s meridian, god
of all 206 bones and the compulsive catalogue,
god of freckles, god of rhinoplasty, god of narcotics, god
of the Five-Year Plan, god of the solemn
and the sudden, god of the stage,
god of runways, god of release on one’s own
recognizance, god of the unrecognized face, god
of divorce and of lip gloss, god of crosswalks
and alphabets, god of M16s
and god of hands without instructions,
god of attention, god of the tucked
chin, god of the article,
god of the attitude, god of direction, god
of the brownstone and its master bedroom,
god of the pinstriped suit, the knuckles,
but in all of these furious declamatory years the question
has never been, god of what, god of the city’s brick,
god of my palm, god of my open mouth.