Virginia Rucker Walter Poetry Prize for an Undergraduate Student Poet
The Virginia Rucker Walter Poetry Prize for an Undergraduate Poet is named for Virginia Rucker Walter, who was a poet and student at UGA in the 1980s. Virginia Walter was killed by a drunk driver before she was able to graduate, but her family presents this prize in honor of her memory and in celebration of her love of writing poetry.
Winner: Karla Nemanic, for the poem, “Me Rajaron de las Raíces”
From Lindsay Tigue, judge: “Me Rajaron de las Raíces” simultaneously sets up the ties and differences between the speaker and the speaker’s mother, who immigrated from Chile when she was nine. The poet beautifully uses the act of the mother braiding their child’s hair to impart both the space and closeness between their lived experiences. The mother has “bird hands” while the speaker describes their own “chubby fingers”; they have differing appreciation for poetry. And yet they share so much. The wonderfully concrete setting of the peeling peach paint of the bathroom exists alongside the places the speaker’s mother was “torn up from,” even the speaker’s own hair, as it’s being pulled into braids becomes the Andes mountains. Just as the mountains and hair-strewn tile of the bathroom are “criss-crossed and scratched” so are mother and child connected by the history and culture they share.
Diann Blakely Poetry Prize for a Graduate Student Poet
The Diann Blakely Poetry Prize for a Graduate Student Poet is presented in honor of American poet, essayist, editor, and critic Diann Blakely. Before passing away in 2014, Diann was known for her commitment to southern poetry and culture. She taught at Belmont University, Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, and was a former poetry editor at the Antioch Review and at New World Writing. This award is made possible as part of the Diann Blakely Visiting Poet Fund.
Winner: Paul Cunningham, for the poem, “Factory Appetite"
From Lindsay Tigue, judge:“Factory Appetite” considers the deep history of a place—a part of Pennsylvania where the Anchor Hocking/Phoenix Glass plant is located. The poem includes references to the layered history of naming, of disaster, of environmental impact, and what it is like to be another product of a town that’s become indistinguishable from its industry. The speaker “grew up . . . hungry for excess fabric,” a self-indictment inextricable from capitalistic influences at work in this immediate environment and society at large. I am impressed by the way the poet zooms into the precise language of one place—”a tract of land called Appetite,” while accounting for the unknown impacts of disaster writ large, wondering “how long it takes how long it takes a disaster’s ashes / to sky a town with new birds.” I won’t soon forget this turn of phrase—”to sky a town” and to the cyclic evolution of place it represents, showing us that even as a place changes it also—like the speaker—cannot forestall future disaster.
Lindsay Tigue is the author of System of Ghosts, which was the winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize. Tigue writes poetry and prose and her work appears in Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Verse Daily, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among other journals. She was a Tennessee Williams scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and a James Merrill fellow at the Vermont Studio Center. She is an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing at Eastern New Mexico University.