By Pablo Peschiera
About the Prize
The Hope College Academy of American Poets (AAP) Prize award is funded by the University and College Poetry Prize program of the AAP. The academy began the program in 1955 at 10 schools, and now sponsors nearly 200 annual prizes for poetry at colleges and universities nationwide. Poets honored through the program have included Mark Doty, Louise Gluck, Joy Harjo, Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Sylvia Plath, Gjertrud Schnackenberg and Charles Wright. The winning poet receives $100.
Judged by Katherine Bode-Lang
Katherine Bode-Lang’s first book of poetry is The Reformation (2014) winner of the 2014 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize, chosen by Stephen Dunn. Ms. Bode-Lang graduated from Hope College in 2002 with a major in English and Women’s Studies. In 2002 she was the first winner of the AAP prize at Hope College.
Ms. Bode-Lang Writes:
“The Effect of a Sestina on Field Notes” is a rare poem that takes its form as an expansive gift, not a new set of confines. With striking images drawing from nature, music, and the poet’s own life, this poem questions what we might learn from all our observing, asking, and writing. In the surprise interweaving of scientific field notes with the sestina form, it seems the writing of the poem itself might be the answer. In this beautifully crafted poem, there’s an attention not only to the form but also to the music of the language at every turn.
The Effect of a Sestina on Field Notes
40.4220˚N, 105.7411 ˚W
Objective: To explore answers on a human page.
Conditions: In the cold soil, a plant clings
pale green; its thriving forms a text.
Survival as a question
sings in the wind in eighth notes
and finds an answer where roots connect.
To find truth, the dots must connect
between each thinly crinkled page.
The best ones have notes
sprawled in the margins like clinging
lichen spreading across stones. Questions
grow in rocky soil, with texture.
Methods: When you sent a text
message last night, it didn’t connect
until five a.m. and your question
was past, but I wrote it on a page
of my notebook where it clings
in my mind’s furrows. Field notes:
The black rosy finch chirps notes,
singing soprano without a text
to follow. A pika clings
to its cache of seeds for survival, connects
burrows underground. A field guide page
describes their behavior, without questioning.
Maybe the phlox questions
its brevity: two months to flower. Notes
wither too. Decayed pages
in my trashcan, your handwritten text
with no roots that connect
below the surface and cling–
Not just grow and spread, but cling–
to rocks in all the alpine questions
screaming in the wind. Connect
mountaintops to earthworms and note
each detail with pencil-printed text
and then turn to a new page.
Discussion: Don’t cling to these notes.
Questions, forget-me-nots, bloom from a text,
and human truth connects above the tree-line page.
Ms. Bode-Lang writes:
Beautiful in its simplicity, “Anniversary” is sewn together with repetition that echoes the movement of what the poem describes—gulls, wind, a running child. Whatever grand gestures we might assume from the title are broken down by the poem’s spare language and images that, united, convey the weight and beauty of this time. There’s a real tenderness to this poem, and I appreciate its quiet attention to a moment.
A man and a child go where the water meets the sand,
where the water meets also the air, and the gulls who slip
the seam between all three. And the gulls are cotton
snared among the dune grass, or they are kites cut loose
into the air, or they are buoys bobbing out to sea. And the child
points at the gulls and cannot take the point back,
and runs among the gulls, who slip the seam between
the child and the clouds, who cannot take the winds
back. The child names the clouds and cannot take
the names back, and lies face-up to watch them pass.
The man breathes it all in and tastes salt, and with the salt
he remembers, and he cannot take the remembering back,
just as he loves the child and cannot take the love
back, and slips the seam between the two.