2017 Winner

Meet the $20,000 Prize Winner

This year’s winning poem is “Caesura” by Erin Rodoni. For the text of the poem, please scroll down.

The 2017 Prize Judge Michael Harris selected “Caesura” from a manuscript of 50 poems from 10 countries, comprising the 2017 Global Poetry Anthology. The 2017 Montreal International Poetry Prize garnered approximately 2200 entries from 70 countries.

Erin Rodoni Biographical Note

Erin Rodoni is the author of Body, in Good Light (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2017) and A Landscape for Loss (NFSPS Press, 2017), which won the 2016 Stevens Award sponsored by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. Her poems have been included in Best New Poets 2014, nominated for Pushcart Prizes, and honored with awards from AWP and Ninth Letter. She lives in the San Rafael, CA, with her husband and two young daughters.

Erin responded to news of the award as follows: On this ordinary morning, in the rush of getting ready for school, with the baby, now almost 1, crying, and my 5-year-old-whining, I received the extraordinary gift of this award, and feel such gratitude to have these wild, wonderful daughters and poetry in my life. And to have my work recognized in this way.

Asked to provide some background to her award winning poem, Erin had this to say: “Caesura” was the first poem I wrote after my second daughter was born. I hadn’t written for a while, and was starting to wonder when my creativity would return, well, the verbal form of my creativity; I guess having a baby is pretty “creative.” Then, on an ordinary walk down to the grocery store with my 5 month old daughter, I remembered my Catholic grandmother’s belief in “Limbo” and the lines began arriving like gifts.

 

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Comments from the 2017 Prize Judge

Michael Harris said the following of Erin Rodoni’s poem “Caesura”:

“Caesura” is a measured contemplation of the fragility of life in the context of inevitable death, particularly focusing on one family’s history of miscarriages interspersed with successful live births. Not, broadly-speaking, unusual topics for poetry:  there is no shying away from the profound consequences of death on the living, nor from the loss of hope or emotional investment that come from unexpected and untimely tragedy.

Some deal with death in the framework of their religion: the writer’s grandmother considers the miscarried unborn as ‘unbaptised souls.’ The writer herself comes to terms with her daughter’s anxieties regarding the death of the family cat in a pragmatic, secularist way, bringing the child to a plot of ‘dirt full of root and bone,’ letting that implacable image provide the answer to the girl’s query. But whatever the take on mortality, whatever the explanation as to how the cosmos works, life is ineffably precious — the more so because of the tragedies and difficulties that affect us all.

In literary terms, a caesura is a break or interruption modulating the flow of thought in a line of verse. In the case of “Caesura,” as our Leonard Cohen put it: ‘There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.’

What a lovely poem this is, dealing with such difficult matters with such grace and insight.

Read Michael Harris’s biographical note here.

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Without Further Ado: The 2017 Winning Poem!

Listen to Erin Rodoni read her poem by clicking here: “Caesura.”

Caesura

 

I remember hearing about them, the babies               my Grandma never had,
and though I’d never held such a seed            in my body, I felt the want
of them. Five children with ghost-spaces                   between. She believed
unbaptized souls went to Limbo,                    which to me meant low,
so I saw them spread like mica           in the soil beneath her roses,
and in the gauze of grasshoppers                    that rose with every step
through summer grass.                        On my Grandma’s ranch, I watched
a barn cat lick her living kittens                     clean, leaving some still
sacked. Little grapes, their mother’s               warmth unreplaced by their own.
When I bled, I locked the bathroom door.                  Later, I pressed a still-
frame of my only ultrasound inside                my Grandma’s copy
of The Secret Garden. Little unblossom,                    little mausoleum.
I’m not religious anymore, but I grew up                   with God,
the grandfatherly one who knew I was bad                sometimes,
but loved me anyway, and I could always talk to.                  It’s a hard habit
to break in the cathedral of my sleeping daughters,               that consecrated dark
gauzed in white-noise, a halo of nightlight.               My prayers are always
some variation of Don’t you dare, and Please.           Somehow, I know he was a boy.
The middle brother. So little now,                  so nothing. My daughters don’t know
the word God. They know earth and death                and rain. They’ve watched
that silent sleight of hand replace                   a caterpillar with an iridescent bud
of wings. They’ve seen me clutch       a spider between paper and a plastic cup,
only to crush a mosquito against        their bedroom wall, its body smeared
with our family’s mingled blood.                    They are learning to be merciful
doesn’t mean to be good, only powerful                    enough to choose.
After our cat died my oldest kept asking        Where is she? I know she’s dead
but where is she? First, I spun a heaven-place,          then I changed my mind,
stood her barefoot in the garden and said                   Here, look down.
The dirt is full of root and bone.                     Oh, my darlings we are so small.
Lie down, back to summer grass. Feel           how we are always falling
into that star-spread black expanse.                And feel too
the way the earth holds us                  and we are held.

by Erin Rodoni