Graybeal-Gowen Prize Results



This Year’s Judge

“Writing on the Window” by Margaret Mackinnon

[Mackinnon’s work has appeared in various journals, including Poetry, New England Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Southern Humanities Review, Quarterly West, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Her new work appears in the South Carolina Review and is forthcoming in Image, RHINO, and Midwest Quarterly. Mackinnon completed the graduate program in creative writing at the University of Florida, and she has been awarded scholarships from Bread Loaf, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. For the summer of 2010, she was awarded a residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Currently, Mackinnon teaches literature and creative writing at a private high school in the Washington, DC area, and lives with her husband and daughter in Falls Church, Virginia.]

 “a silver gleaming in the west called us to proceed”
Sophia Hawthorne on her wedding day, 1842

In their myth of middle-aged love,
they traveled down a long lane
lined with black ash trees, toward
something like paradise
if only for a season. Soon,
it would be full summer.
And with all the windows open,
the rooms of their rented house
showed gold, a neighbor said.
In the high study upstairs,
these two, joined in their wariness,
looked out on a night capable,
it seemed, of such conciliatory brightness—
Sophia scratched with her diamond on the glass:

on the gold light
The smallest twig leans clear against the sky.

That July, the yard behind the house
was wide as Hawthorne’s old dream of the sea.
The invalid artist. Her husband who brooded
on the world’s deep strangeness,
murky and bottomless—
how the landscape had changed for them.
The shaggy larch repeated its deep greens
in the far glint of the water.
And Hawthorne kept a garden, called his plants
my vegetable progeny, loved, especially,
the yellow squash, my round fellows.
He found in his bride something like the moon,
that light that enters night, his night.
She danced for him to the tunes of their music box
until the old rooms grew too cold,
before he tried to settle all their debt
by selling apples, potatoes, even grass.

 I think of all the ways we try to find
a name for love,
with our own misfit inventions:
Sophia’s arm will shine in the light
when she leans on the sill downstairs
to write on the glass,
Endymion painted in this room.
Her last painting. A lost one.
Soon they’ll pack for Salem.
Sophia puts away her paints.
Eden couldn’t last.
But shaping that figure, a naked man,
won’t she think, again, of her husband?
The way he lay beside her—
and will again—
the way his skin could hold the full
smell of the sun, even into evening,
the way the words on the windows are still visible.


The winning poem, “Writing on the Window,” delineates credibly and movingly Sophia Hawthorne’s marriage to Nathaniel. The poem shows us their house and garden, the couple’s financial difficulties, the husband’s creative imagination, and Sophia’s serious engagement with painting and her sensitivity and intelligence. Humor, sensuality, and sadness are almost equally weighted. I particularly applaud the poet for retaining linear integrity in her narrative. Finally, what cinched my choice was that I read it aloud (to my husband): the music of this poem is wonderfully persuasive!            -Kelly Cherry



“Virginia Letters” by Patsy Anne Bickerstaff

[Patsy Anne Bickerstaff, B.A., J.D., is a former president of the Poetry Society of Virginia, and the Society’s 2011 Ellen Anderson Reader.  Her most recent book is Mrs. Noah’s Journal  (San Francisco Bay Press, 2007.)]

                 From LUDWELL
Deare Love, I have surprising tayles to tell
of this wild land… both lush and foule, startling
with savage wonders:  blooms lyke dishes, beards,
crosses, festooning trees with unknown names,
in jungles muttering with panthers, bears,
masked monkeys, tigers with no tail, great rattes
whose babyes are born and reborn at will;
blue sparrows,  brown peacocks, red nightingales.
There is sweet, yellow food:  I have eat maize,
Cimelings, pompions,  fat carrot-thinges called, “yam.”
These Native people are inscrutable
as Orientals.  Some rejoice to trade
meate for our baubles.  Some, incensed  that we
intrude, become invisible by day
and retribution mayke, killing, by night.

James Cittie seems quite oddly fraile and smalle
to found a colonie;  lords in perukes
and silks, with noble names and coats-of-arms,
drink, brawl and loiter here as common folk.
Therefore, I would not open my sea-chest
to wear my finest garments, till I roof’d
my manor-house; then I beheld, my Love,
one more amazement.  I lyked to have wept
to find your bridal-flowers, dried and press’d,
tucked in my waistcoats.  Englande’s precious scent
of lavender and roses touched my face,
and broke my harte.  As you asked in your note,
I shook the seeds of shattered Queen Anne’s Lace
in meadows I had ploughed, and by the road.
this summer, my tobacco shares its earth
with English elegance, with dreams of you.

A seconde sonne can earn his fortune here.
Two years, and I shall sell my house and fields,
return to Home, and you, if I but live.
Too many die, and if I never see
Englande again, pray, have my harte returned,
and buried there, at last to sleep at  Home.

       From ELVIRA
Husbande, you aske too much.  Too many months
have snailed.  I languish in my father’s house,
living a widow’s life, my robust youth
wasted lyke honey poured out on the ground.
When flutes and fiddles sing from distant balls,
I long to dance.  Too many nights, I sit
alone beside my candle, reading words
of  scarce, late letters. Far too many times,
I grieve and wonder whether I shall hear
your voice again, what perils you have faced,
what hardships suffer’d, in that brutish world.
Now you aske two more years, and promise me
that if you live, you will return with wealth
And happiness forever.  I refuse.

My gownes are folded, harp and teapot wrapped.
On Monday nexte, I shall depart from here,
without a thought of when I shall return,
if ever.  I have pray’d and sought my mind.
I am determined now.  I mean to kiss
my mother, and step firmly on the ship –
For fierce Virginia!  Where you are is Home.
I fear no natives, beasts, or drunken lords,
But only losing you.  Our manor house
Must  thrill with children’s laughter, amber feasts,
Songs, flowers.  Proud Virginians, we shalle build
A gentle place from turmoil.  At our last,
Our hartes will rest together, side by side
In that fair bit of Englande we shall grow
From fertile meadows white with Queen Anne’s Lace.


“After Bird Hunting” by Matthew Blakley

[Matthew B. Blakley was born and raised in Orange County, Virginia and is currently an MFA candidate at George Mason University.  This is his first publication.]

The pheasants would be set on the table
cleaned of its grime, the stretch of sawdust,

the used nails; the birds’ necks falling limp
onto one another, their heads now curved

as though to see the knife—my father—
that would open their skin.  The incision

in place, he would peel away their
bodies’ body, their autumnal strokes, moving

his hands, then, to the quick separation
of breast and wing.  It was clean, he’d say,

hosing their blood over the concrete
into its low drain.  Easy, he’d say, tossing

the sharp remnants into a bucket,
their hollow bones whistling in that flight.


“Seven Metaphors” by Sarah Crossland

[Sarah Crossland is a Poetry MFA candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is the Managing Editor of Devil’s Lake. She plays both the harp and the lyre.]

     When it gets lonely, I sit by the river & read.
Correction. There is no river. Mostly, I read.
Srikanth Reddy, “Palinode”

There is nothing the space where you sleep at night smells like
when it is empty:
not hot cotton, not ivy, not the quieted ratio
of dry spearmint
to yellow thorowax.
When I make lists of flowers I do not know I label them
as follows:

yarrow: a flower
buckthorn variegated: a flower

and this is what it feels like to watch you wash
your fingers: the water a strange orchid
as soon as it hits your hands—bloomed and white,
penumbra’d, the reciprocal arc of it
fountained onto porcelain…

What I mean is: I don’t know
how else to make you seem unforeign
but through the ways in which
you are exactly like everything else:

When I was eight I learned to sew but have since
forgotten.  I would carry around threads
of peacock, pink grapefruit or onion,
moderate to heavy black—I would wind
each of them around a paper bobbin,
tuck the ends in so no frayed parts
stuck out.

This is what it feels like
to step out of a heart for a moment
and take a look around: cracked and nutted
sky, or—I am getting ahead of myself:
this is what it feels like to hand you
an empty coffee mug, to gift over
a space for filling up with white tea.
Andy Warhol said, An artist
is someone who produces things
people do not need to have.

Whenever I hang up the phone
after we have spoken, when I
replace the books on my shelves
to which I have alluded (The Memory
Artists, Floating City, The 26 Letters
I think of the sound
your hands make when they are silent,
cupped to form a slim stem of space
in which my own hands could easily

It is a sound hovering
at the brink of a water garden
before it burgeons pinkly:
the sound of about-to-petal,
pulled in breath, the sound
a set of lips makes when it utters
such a long and ridiculous word as

Oh God I did not fall asleep tonight as easily as planned.


 “Leaving Texas” by Anna Journey

[Anna Journey is the author of the collection, If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting (University of Georgia Press, 2009), selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series. Journey holds a Ph.D. in creative writing and literature from the University of Houston, and she recently received a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts.]

The gold frequencies of cicadas cinch up, then diffuse
their pressed bruises—you hear them throb through the taxi’s

cracked windows. So you leave town without the white oak swamp’s
humid incense, without its blessing, without telling

anyone. Sunday. You leave without a last banana milkshake with cinnamon,
without the alligator’s bleached grin in the antique shop—the skull

you’d saved for. Later, the girl next to you on the airplane nests
a white rat in a red mesh bag in her lap. After

the rattle of take-off she unzips the rodent and moans,
Lucky’s pierced his lip with his own tooth. You didn’t think you’d cry

leaving the heat that slept beside you each night, the man
and your shared apartment filled with his instruments, his bows

strung with the hair of horses—their follicled nocturnal
songs. You didn’t think you’d sob once but you can’t watch the rat’s lip

shiver its loose pink eyelet. You excuse yourself,
move through the yellow foot-lights

to the slim bathroom where the water
in the steel bowl swirls. It’s the bluest you’ve seen in years.


“Infant’s Arrangement at the Flower Shop” by Charlotte Matthews

[Charlotte Matthews is author of two full length collections:  Still Enough to Be Dreaming and Green Stars.     She teaches in the Jackson Center for Creative Writing  at Hollins University.]

 You’re right, there’s nothing sadder,
but the funeral wreath was menacingly
perfect, lisianhus and waxflower,
disarming as the quail’s bobwhite
that takes up residence in my heart
until I’m back in my childhood
orchard: mottled apples draping above me,
where all I could think was how empty
the branches would feel come winter,
how they’d bear a great longing,
and of how Salma’s foal
kept on nudging his mother lying
too still in the pasture, how he kept on
nosing her, smelling her body turn cold.
The infant’s arrangement was so white
I could see straight through it.
I wanted something less
immaculate, something knowable,
or–more aptly– something not.


“Functions of Absence” by Marielle Prince

[Marielle Prince is a native of Durham, North Carolina. Currently working on her MFA at the University of Virginia, she teaches an introductory poetry workshop and is poetry editor of Meridian.]

        function (n): ( Math): the idea that one quantity completely determines another quantity; also called mapping.

1. Quantity1

Known as distance,
this interval can be calculated
as the bird flies, as the moon twists.
As the globe spins, one observed point
may appear to pursue another.

2. Approximation

This much is the size of my wing span,
is how much I can miss you.
Missing equal to the stretch,
each end touching nothing.

3. Equals

We used to be
waked within the same breath
of sun. Before words,
I counted up your figure
on my fingers. Now
a whole day blazes over you
before I receive its first cold report.
Now this dividing line
we call equator
erases all my work.

4. Quantity2

The relative fondness of the heart
is a variable, said to be multiplied
by absence.

Other half, please forgive me
for doing that math with a fraction.

5. Graph

This world is not a room
I can recognize your voice
from the other side of.
Sometimes there is a consonant
draped in a white sheet
or a vowel that creaks a floorboard
under my skin. It’s not enough
to follow, though I start
and, looking down at the arc
of that misstep,
chart it.


“The Weight of Water” by Audrey Walls

[Audrey Walls’ poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from Controlled Burn, Mason’s Road, storySouth, and elsewhere. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she is assistant editor of failbetter and an MFA candidate in poetry at Virginia Commonwealth University]

 We balanced books on our heads
to prove our posture.
Scoliosis exams

in the back of the girls’ gym –
cold fingers along
our spines, skin

stippling. We were warned
how our bones
could bend.

The nurse displayed a back brace
– her daughter’s.
We flinched

at its growling velcro straps
that she adjusted
& adjusted

& later we found the girl, chanted:
         Saddleback, saddleback,
                  nobody’s gonna love

 you like that. She sobbed,
her hands a sieve.
In Tibet, a woman

carries a great clay jug
strapped to the small
of her back

wrapped in cloth. The children
from the village
circle her, voices

discordant until she stands,
unburdened & beaming.
Her back still arched

from the weight of water.
The girls make bowls
with their hands.


“Flight/Child” by Audrey Walls

In the airplane, I watch as a young girl leans
into the windowpane, cold-glassed & stares
at the lights below shining as gold seeds.
The wing tilts, lifts & her eyes reflect
the horizon we leave. To fly away
from the sun is to seek the start:
shadow, breath, a cricket’s wing.
This sacrament, this first
of firsts, like so much
we cannot name.


“Weaver” by Kristin Zimet

[Kristin Camitta Zimet is the Editor of The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review and the author of Take in My Arms the Dark (1999), a full-length collection of poems. Her poetry is in journals including Crab Orchard Review, Lullwater Review, and Poet Lore.]

How many passes of the shuttlecock
does she send hand to hand beside his bed—
threading from night to morning, left to right
and back again, pushing herself and catching,

baths and pills and feedings, turning him,
tamping the hours down, feeling them lengthen
into the base of some unknown design—
before she wonders at the verticals?

What rough twine is strung, even and tight,
up and down before her, leaning its open lines
toward her and away, forward and back,
forming a gauntlet and a corridor?

And is it hope or fear that runs with her?
A twist of both? Even asleep, she keeps
holding onto his hands, the two of them
are sliding sideways down a double row

of shadow partners, arms overhead
framing an arch, while the Virginia reel
runs on, repeating, back and forth, because
she will not cry the figure done and drop

their joined hands at the bottom,
bowing in the gap, him bowing back.
Cut off. Bearing the weight of the weave.
Her angels hanging loose.



Kelly Cherry is the current Poet Laureate of Virginia, and the judge of this year’s Graybeal-Gowen Poetry Award.  Cherry is the retired Poet in Residence of the University of Wisconsin, and is the author of nineteen books of fiction (novels, short stories), poetry, and nonfiction (memoir, essay, criticism), eight chapbooks, and translations of two classical plays, including The Retreats of Thought: Poems.

A NEW POEM BY KELLY CHERRY, Poet Laureate of Virginia


It snowed in summer in Helsinki,
Nights white, the unsetting sun a hail-
Mary to mania. I was
Interviewing survivors of
The Siege of Leningrad in
Their anonymous apartments. Not
A blizzard, not even a snowstorm,
Just small bright flakes from a sky
Clearing to blue. I recorded
The interviews on microcassettes.
Sometimes I recorded my notes, too.
This was before everyone
Walked and texted all day long.
Pre iPods, for that particular matter.
People looked at me as if
I were crazy, and maybe I was—
Tears on my face; talking to
Myself—but Helsinki is
A beautiful city, made for walking.
Survivors’ stories of eating glue
From wallpaper were immensely sad.
Those who agreed to be interviewed
Lived in a kind of recessive lighting
And spoke in low, soft tones as if
Reluctant to be heard. When
The snow stopped, day was bright as night.


Questions for Virginia Poetry Laureate Kelly Cherry

Shenandoah: How does one get to be Poet Laureate of VA, and how long is the term?

K.C.: The Virginia Poet Laureate serves for two years, but because the press release about my appointment was delayed until January, my term will be one and a half years, ending in July, 2012. The Poetry Society of Virginia comes up with a list of possibilities and votes are taken. The list is then sent to the Governor of Virginia, and he makes the final call. That’s as much as I know about it. There is a PSV website and maybe more information can be found there.

S: Your title has historical implications in other locales involving official and occasional poems for state occasions. What are the official responsibilities that come with your appointment?

K.C.: The Virginia PL has no official responsibilities and receives no state funding or reimbursement (other states have other arrangements). But I think all of us have felt we have a responsibility to poetry and consider being PL an opportunity to interest state residents in the delights and benefits of poetry. My own term has meant giving readings, visiting schools, judging quite a few competitions, including poetry slams, and meeting every other week with a group of seniors in local assisted living. My seniors and I read and discuss poems and I encourage them to write poems, individually or as a group. It is a small but lively group and we have a good time. I do also consent to interviews and continue to give readings outside the state, most recently to Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., and forthcoming in Chicago and Arkansas. I have contributed publication comments to Virginia writers and publishers in particular. I continue to write reviews and critical essays for The Hollins Critic, published by Hollins University, here in Virginia. At the AWP conference this year, one of the panels I’m to be on represents Hollins University and will be moderated by Virginian Cathryn Hankla.

S: The P Ls of N. C. have maintained active websites featuring poets from that state and worked in the schools, and other Poet Laureates have worked with libraries, compiled anthologies, and written columns about poetry. Do you have any plans for specific projects?

K.C.: I contributed the Foreword to the anthology Entering the Real World, an excellent collection of work from poets who have been in residence at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. I continue to publish poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in national and state venues. I am not, however, someone who can create a website or blog. I admire the websites North Carolina has come up with, and maybe the next Virginia PL will be tech-savvy. My chief project has been my group of seniors. It’s my understanding, which may be imperfect, that in North Carolina there is someone—a state employee?—who arranges readings and other events for the PL and that the NC PL now receives a handsome stipend and reimbursement.

S: Do you do much judging of contest like the Graybeal-Gowen or presenting awards to Virginia poets?

K.C.: I do.

S: Has this appointment altered the manner or matter of your work at all?

K.C.: It does take up time. But the people I’ve come to know through this appointment have been wonderful and kind and have enlarged my world. And some of my experiences will find their way into a poetry collection I have in mind to do—after I complete the three partial collections I’m currently working on.

S: Does the appointment empower you as a poet?

K.C.: I’ve been trying to visualize what empowerment for a poet would be, but I’m not coming up with anything. Poets are almost by definition powerless, or rather, any power we might acquire arrives long (centuries) after we can use it. I think the intended question must be whether being PL has strengthened my confidence in my own work, but what I have is not so much confidence as bullheadedness. Well, that’s no longer altogether true; I do feel confident these days, but simply as a result of having written so much. Meanwhile, I have books still to write and concentrate my energies on that.

S: What would you have to say to the reading public (both actual and potential) about poetry in Virginia today?

K.C.: That it is vibrant and thriving. That we have some of the best poets around. That poetry—reading and writing it—makes us smarter than we are and also less cranky than we are. That writing a poem is one of the most exciting endeavors anyone can undertake. That writing poems for a lifetime is one of the most exciting ways to live a life. That the hard work of it is a kind of ecstasy.

S: William Carlos Williams said that though we can’t get the news from poems people die every day from the lack of what we can get there. What is the vital something that can be found in poems?

K.C.: Expansion of the mind.

S: Thank you for both answering our questions, for judging the Graybeal-Gowen prize and for providing us with the poem of your own featured below.

K.C. And thank you for these interesting questions.

recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.