Michael Bazzett, a Minneapolis poet, has won the third annual Lindquist & Vennum Prize from Milkweed Editions for his manuscript, “You Must Remember This.” The prize, which includes $10,000 and publication, is one of the top poetry prizes in the country.
Bazzett is a graduate of Carleton College and teaches at the Blake School; his work has appeared in Ploughshares, Pleiades and the Best New Poets series. This year’s competition drew more than 150 submissions and was judged by poet and critic Kevin Prufer, who called Bazzett’s manuscript, “frightening, hilarious, and dark.”
"The big hinge for me was receiving a sabbatical from Blake, for the 2007-2008 school year," Bazzett said in a statement to Milkweed. "I will always be grateful for that year: I essentially read & wrote full-time, for a year. It was the first time writing had been at the center of my life. ... I moved with my family to San Miguel de Allende, in central Mexico, where we could live very well on half-salary, and I just started delving in. In the spring of 2008 I had a pile of poems and other half-finished projects, and I started sending work around in earnest; I won the Bechtel Prize that year and Mark Strand picked one of my poems for Best New Poets 2008."
Milkweed will publish his prize-winning manuscript in November.
Bazzett is the second Minnesota poet in three years to win the prize; Patricia Kirkpatrick of St. Paul won the inaugural award in 2012. Last year’s award was won by Rebecca Dunham of Milwaukee.
Kristal Leebrick's prize-winning love poem has it all: winter, North Dakota, young love, first love, the northern lights, sentimentality, and the wise perspective of later years. It's evocative without being sweet, nostalgic without being mawkish, and it attracted the admiration of the three fine judges of Common Good Books' second annual Love Poems competition, who awarded it first prize.
Leebrick lives in St. Paul, edits a monthly newspaper, and is the author of "Dayton's: A Twin Cities Institution."
The four runners up in the competition are:
Edwin Romond of Wind Gap, Penn.
Kathleen Novak of Minneapolis
Ann Harrington of St. Paul
and Chet Corey of Bloomington.
Judges were Garrison Keillor, Patricia Hampl and Tom Hennen; Leebrick wins $1,000 and the four runners-up each with $250. May they spend it on fine pens, thick journals, and lots of books!
Here is the winning poem:
New Year Love
I remember our breath
in the ciy air
and how the northern lights gathered
in a haze at the horizon,
spread up past the water tower
then vanished into the dark.
I remember that January night in North Dakota:
We left the dance,
the hoods of our dads' air force parkas zipped tight,
our bare hands pulled into the coat sleeves.
into the wind
down the drifting sidewalks of our eight-grade lives
to the brick-and-clapboard row houses on Spruce Street.
We ducked between buildings
and you pulled me close.
A flickering light from someone's TV screen.
A kitchen window.
Your fingers tracing my face.
Your hair brushing my eyes.
Your skin, your lips.
I remember that January night in North Dakota,
but I can't remember you rname.
Common Good Books' second love poem competition drew more than 1,000 entries--"five shopping bags worth," writes Garrison Keillor (pictured) on his Common Good Books blog.
Keillor and fellow poet-judges Patricia Hampl and Tom Hennen read poems about all kinds of love--love of cheese and tomatoes (that's two separate poems), cats and dogs (definitely separate poems), men and women, hymns and helmets.
They narrowed the field from 1,100 submissions to 25 finalists; most of the poets are from Minnesota but definitely not all of them.
The winner will be announced at a public event at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 27, at Weyerhaeuser Chapel at Macalester College.
Here are the finalists--the name of the poem, the author, the hometown:
"Map," Melissa Anderson, Minneapolis
"Love Poem, Late in Life," Chet Corey, Bloomington
"Anniversary," Kathleen Donkin, Lubec MAINE
"Lexiphilia," Julie Excell, Denver CO
"Inheritance," Patricia Kelly Hall, Roseville
"They Will Appear Lovely In Your Eyes," Jennifer Halling, Leavenworth KS
"Shoveling," Ann Harrington, St. Paul
"An Iowa Song," Marsha Hayles, Pittsford NY
"Kinnickinnic," Michael Hill, Austin TX
"Pershing Avenue, 1960," Holly Iglesias, Greenville SC
"The Way You Move," Brett Jenkins, St. Paul
"Custodian," Maureen Cassidy Jenkins, Carnegie PA
"Galaxies," Ken Katzen Columbia MD
"New year love," Kristal Leebrick, St. Paul
"At Louie Arco’s," Kathleen Novak, Minneapolis
"Migration," Nancy-Jean Pement, Thousand Oaks, CA
"String," Jessica Lind Peterson, Brooklyn Park
"Sonnet (for K B)," John Richard, Minneapolis
"One Good Thing," Edwin Romond, Wind Gap PA
"Full Moon, Almost," Susan Solomon, St. Paul
"Parallel Lives," Donna Spector, Warwick NY
"Rondeau for My Grandmother," Marjorie Thomsen, Cambridge MA
"Sonnet for a sister who was once my best friend," Francine Marie Tolf,Minneapolis
"To Carla", Cary Utterberg, Golden Valley
"Every Morning," Mark R. Warren, Phoenix AZ
He was in good form Tuesday night, our Mr. Bly, Minnesota's most famous poet--funny and crotchety, coming alive, as he always has, for poetry. Though he is 87 now and growing frail, he declined the comfortable easy chair that had been set at the front of the room for him, and he declined the help of his old friend and fellow poet, Thomas R. Smith, who was willing to hold the microphone for him, and instead stood strong and firm at the lectern and read and occasionally recited, and made jokes (sometimes the same joke) and offered the occasional poignant aside.
Bly was at the University Club on Summit Avenue in St. Paul as part of the monthly Carol Connolly Reading Series. April is poetry month, and Connolly had packed this month's bill with nothing but fine poets. Louis Jenkins ("Nice Fish") was a crowd pleaser with his humorous prose poems; Freya Manfred, tall and strong, read her earthy poems of nature and family; and Smith opened the evening with a powerful poem of spring, which he read with vigor. "It's amazing how doing a good loud poem clears away nervousness," he said.
Each poet paid a little homage to Bly, the star of the evening. "We're all borrowing so much from Robert that in the next life we're all going to have to do his dishes and take out his garbage," Smith said, before reading a final poem that he acknowledged was inspired by Bly.
Jenkins' prose poems kept the crowd laughing--poems about regret and basements and forgetfulness and the nostalgia of red cars and blond girlfriends and the burden of too much zucchini. He, too, acknowledged a debt to Bly (who was laughing in the front row at some of Jenkins' poems), saying, "We steal from him all the time."
Manfred read a poem about the eye of a loon, telling the audience that Bly had influenced her last line, suggesting she remove one word, "dreadful." She shook her head, in amazement at herself for writing it that way in the first place, perhaps, or in amazement at Bly for the catch. "He was right about that last line," she said.
The audience was studded with poets--Charles Baxter and Joyce Sutphen, Ethna McKiernan and Su Smallen, Tim Nolan and Danny Klecko, James Lenfestey and Patricia Kirkpatrick. It was poets listening to poets on a mild spring evening during Poetry Month. But the star of the night was Bly.
He read some of the poems that he read last autumn at the launch of his latest collection, "Stealing Sugar from the Castle"--some of the old farm poems ("for a while we had goats. They were like turkeys, only more reckless"), "My Father at 86," "Keeping Our Small Boat Afloat," and several poems from "The Man in the Black Coat Turns," including "Snowbanks North of the House."
"That's the first poem I ever wrote that had some of my darkness in it," he said.
As always, as in the past, Bly's comedic timing was sharp, he repeated stanzas and last lines, he dipped his hand to the rhythm of the words. He was enigmatic, and the audience, while drinking in his every aside, wanted more.
At the end of "Snowbanks North of the House," Bly recited the final stanza twice:
And the man in the black coat turns, and goes back
down the hill.
No one knows why he came, or why he turned away,
and did not climb the hill.
"Maybe there's somebody like that in each of us," he said. "If I had known what that poem meant, I wouldn't have had to write it." And the poets and the fans and the readers in the audience sat forward on their chairs, listening, as outside the big windows of the University Club the light drained from the sky and the night grew dark.
April is poetry month, and St. Paul Poet Laureate Carol Connolly is pulling out all the stops with her monthly Readings by Writers. Robert Bly, Thomas R. Smith, Freya Manfred and Louis Jenkins will read at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (April 15) at the University Club on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. I've attended four or five Bly events in the last couple of years, and each time, frankly, have wondered if it would be his last. The venerable National Award Winning poet is 87 years old, his memory is beginning to fade, he has nothing left to prove. But in October, when he launched his latest book, “Stealing Sugar from the Castle,” he rose to the occasion on stage, telling stories, cracking gentle jokes, reciting some of the poems rather than reading them.
Thomas R. Smith is the author of six books of poetry and is the editor of "Airmail: The Letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Transtromer," published by Graywolf Press.
Freya Manfred is the author of "Swimming with a Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle," "The Blue Dress," and many other works of poetry. She is also the author of "Frederick Manfred: A Daughter Remembers."
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