2017 Winner: Terry Ann Thaxton for “Mud Song”
Anele Rubin, “The Quiet Sounds Icicles Make”
Mark Rubin, “October’s Wishbone”
John Tieman, “In Transit”
Kevin Prufer, 2017 Judge’s comments
In “Mud Song,” the swamps, back roads and small towns of Florida transcend setting and become something akin to personality. These are wild, harrowing, brightly colored poems, bristling with violence and trauma. The poet’s language surprises and delights. Her wit is deft and sharp. The engines that power these vivid poems are memory, desire, fear and, at times, a kind of holy rage.
2016 Winner: Alison Moncrief Bromage
Allison Adair, “Ghost Town”
V. P. Loggins, “The Wild Servance”
Diane Martin, “Hue & Cry”
Jennifer Clement, 2016 Judge’s comments
“Daughter, Daedalus” is both original and very often masterful. From the very first poem, the reader is taken in by language and inventiveness. There is also an elevated “High Church” intention – a scent of incense and bells chiming – that T.S. Eliot would have recognized.
2015 Winner: Laura Bylenok
Michelle Y. Burke, “Animal Purpose”
Mary Quade, “Local Extinctions”
Michelle Mitchell-Foust, “Buck Radius”
Maureen Mulhern, “Early Hours”
Arthur Sze, 2015 Judge’s comments
“Warp” is a distinguished book of poems that combines imaginative verve with longing to create a rich tapestry across space and time. With a fresh command of language, demonstrated in poems that harness the vocabulary and structures of science, as well as in poems that deftly handle the more traditional sonnet and villanelle, Laura Bylenok is writing memorable lyric poetry.
2014 Winner: Ilyse Kusnetz
Patricia Hooper, “Separate Flights”
Michael Miller, The Different War
Jeff Knorr, “The Color of a New Country”
Dorianne Laux, 2014 Judge’s comments
“Small Hours” contains poetry of historic and global empathy, various in its subjects—World War II and the Holocaust, the Match Girls of the 19th Century—though not in its voice, which is clear, fierce, precise, and thoughtful.
2013 Winner: Luc Phinney
J. D. Smith, “The Killing Tree”
Gregory Mahrer, “A Provisional Map of the Lost Continent”
Joe Osterhaus, “The Short Drive Home”
James D. May, “American Irony”
Sherod Santos, 2013 Judge’s comments
Luc Phinney recalls the ancient notion of poet as maker, for “Compass” possesses the imagistic substance, auditory sway and verbal materiality of a made thing. Each poem is like an architectural structure whose lines have been measured, leveled and hammered into place, yet for all the hard labor that went into their making, their interior spaces are filled with the spirit of human affection. As tender and open-hearted as it is determined, as intimate and adoring as it is dramatic, “Compass” forms a wonderfully accomplished addition to contemporary American poetry.
2012 Winner: David Livewell
Alan Soldofsky, In the Buddha Factory
Sarah M. Wells, “Pruning Burning Bushes”
Katherine E. Young, “Day of the Border Guards”
Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers, “Chord Box”
Sandra McPherson, 2012 Judge’s comments
David Livewell has an affectionate way of collecting his thoughts, the poems’ impulses, his personal and shared history. In the book’s beginning he collects “Philly Things”: at the summation he and his loved ones collect together. He writes with a formal “at-homeness,” with classic rhythm he warms with imagery of the environment he shares with local and national history. Wasps on a baseball diamond, “flame-cast shadows” singeing walls: Livewell’s poems glisten with surprises of light. Through listing the abundance of his interests, he concludes, “The breathtaking and painstaking are one.” It is a book of marvelous acceptance.
2011 Winner: B. K. Fischer
Katrina Borowicz, “The Bees Are Waiting”
George Looney, Monks Beginning to Waltz [“A History of What Music Can Do”]
Mary Quade, “Local Extinctions”
Katy Didden, “Avalanche”
Tony Barnstone, 2011 Judge’s comments
“Mutiny Gallery” was able to maintain very high quality writing, poem after poem, and to channel its brilliance into a novel-in-verse without dulling the light. I enjoyed the poems’ combination of cleverness, wittiness and innovative technique, for which one usually pays a price: a draining away of heart. Not in this case—these poems all have heart, big heart. I enjoyed a few characteristic techniques used in the manuscript (the telegraphed sentences, the linguistic play, the listing, the use of narrative betrayal, the museum conceit, and especially the consistently wonderful endings that opened up instead of closing off the poems). Finally, I enjoyed and was impressed by the overall arc of the manuscript. It reads like a novel, and like a novel that takes its time with place and character, and I read it with a sense of suspense, wanting to know what was going to happen next. It’s a terrific book, a fine accomplishment.
2010 Winner: Dean Rader
Danielle Cadena Deulen, “Lovely Asunder”
David Lawrence, “Since Hunter College”
Peter Filkins, “Constable’s Clouds”
Claudia Keelan, 2010 Judge’s comments
On the road with epistemology and a company of poets and philosophers, Frog has his work cut out for him. Beginning with a funeral and ending with day’s end, the poems in this ambitious collection seek—not conciliation, not reconciliation—but what you could call real locale in terms of the poetic tradition. Playing with the conventions that—depending upon your aesthetics—either free or bind us, “Works & Days” asks timely questions, never forgetting that Self too, is a fundamental part of the landscape. This is a serious book that never takes itself too seriously. It could be a primer for MFA programs everywhere.
2009 Winner: David Moolten
Jennifer Quercus Boyden, “The Mouths of Grazing Things”
Alison Powell, “I Am Your Tin Ship”
Sharon Fain, “Demeter in the Suburbs”
Danielle Cadena Deulen, “Dangerous Fruit”
Virgil Suárez, 2009 Judge’s comments
The collection makes a quick impact on the reader with an exceptional group of poems at the front of the book. I would say the first ten poems or so are knockouts, absolutely gorgeous and breath-taking, highly memorable. They are the first poems that give the reader a strong sense that the poet is in tune with his world, with the landscape of his/her imagination. Once again, the language is inviting, the titles thought-provoking. The poems on the page are powerful and substantial, extremely elegant in their column appearance. The poet’s view is exact, casting hope on so much immediate darkness of the world. Again, the poet is a capable one, luring the reader in with a reverie detail, image, and lush description. There is a strong preoccupation here on behalf of the damaged, the displaced, the hurt…and it works on the reader’s psyche, rendering many of these poems quite memorable. Hauntingly beautiful, I would be brave enough to call this collection. Just the right potent mixture of reality and modern day fable…quite enchanting, mesmeric…I am thrilled that such poetry exists and it is being written by such capable hands.
2008 Winner: Victoria Brockmeier
Patty Seyburn, “Hilarity”
Bill Mayer, “Articulate Matter”
Sandy Tseng, “Leaving the City”
Grace Schulman, 2008 Judge’s comments
This is magic. The poet’s passion for language will compel you to read on and on, eager to get to the next line, the next poem. With originality and inventiveness, urgency and joy, Brockmeier explores no less than the nature of our changing selves. She exalts the life of American farms and fields, hearing “so many tongues, so many startled throats,” and exclaims: “I want this poem to leave the taste / of the mud-salad ozarks in your mouth. / I want you to feel the mission in our voiceless soil.”
2007 Winner: Carol V. Davis
Lynn Aarti Chandhok, “The View from Zero Bridge”
Jacqueline Berger, “Hundreds of Beautiful Girls and Three Ugly Ones”
Bill Wunder, “Pointing at the Moon”
Bryan Penberthy, “lost-time incident”
Alberto Rios, 2007 Judge’s comments
Russia centers this world, in person and at a distance both. The casual detail and patient telling add up everywhere, giving us meaning where difference had been. Showing us what this particular life in Russia feels like makes it our world, even when the speaker struggles to draw meaning from confusion or frustration. In one poem, the speaker tells of laying out the language of the next day on the back of the chair, quite as if it were clothing. We grasp this moment with depth, startled to make the connection between language and clothing. These are great moments in their small detail, abstractions given recognizable form. Finding meaning—a continual act of translation and its failure in so many things—propels the poems in this book. “I wait for a man I barely know / to return from a place I’ve never been.” That emptiness is replaced with substance, filling these pages, fed to us in “the hours between hours,” a time not time, but understanding itself, as something felt, something tasted, something given, if not freely. “Or perhaps no language at all, just a hand on a shoulder, / a reverse immigration.”
2006 Winner: Rebecca Dunham
Martin Earl, “Obscurity”
Moira Linehan, “If No Moon”
Immy Wallenfels, “The Anti-Nostalgia Riots and Other Poems”
Bill Wunder, “Pointing at the Moon”
Naomi Shihab Nye, 2006 Judge’s comments
This deeply melodious and intelligent gathering of poems, both painterly and literary in context, bears a stunning lushness of language and vision. There’s a mysterious pulse and scent permeating the exquisitely crafted, sometimes slightly ominous, images. Poems about a small son resonate inside a larger context—the wider natural world and all of civilization. One feels hypnotized inside a “slant” angle of perceptions unhampered by an intrusion of artifice.
2005 Winner: Mona Lisa Saloy
Indigo Moor, “Tap-Root”
Jim Peterson, “The Horse Who Bears Me Away”
Jane Langley, “Can’t Take You Anywhere”
Leonard Orr, “Clouders”
Ishmael Reed, 2005 Judge’s comments
This poet has captured the street idioms and culture of New Orleans in a manner that challenge the tourist misconceptions about that fabulous city. She has also succeeded where many performance poets have failed. The poems are music to the ear as well as on the page.
2004 Winner: Michael Sowder
Richard St. John, The Pure Inconstancy of Grace [Kant’s Three Questions]
Julie Fay, Blue Scorpion
Terry Ann Thaxton, “Getaway Girl”
Judith Harway, “Fortunes”
Diane Wakoski, 2004 Judge’s comments
This earthy yet elegant poet is a true heir to all the exciting poetry of the 20th century. Reading these poems, I felt the possible power of all poetry: a way of understanding and connecting to the primal and expanding universe. This poet, evolving from the American Modernists, transforms the ordinary into magic. A journey, a quest: I could not stop or be distracted from his path.
2003 Winner: Barbara Campbell
Daniel Bourne, “Where No One Spoke the Language”
Cynie Cory, “Clink Street”
Richard Lyons, “Pure Geography and Trembling”
Deborah Bogen, “Landscape and Silos”
C. D. Wright, 2003 Judge’s comments
“Erotic Distance” is an unsettling confrontation with the unending entanglement between man, woman, and child. The poems are raised under a pressured field of plain nouns: room, light, mirror, birds, tree, earth, body. Occasionally the angles soften into circle, the body and the song unburdens itself. But “sitting unopposed in the trees outside thinking” is a privileged position, and the poems allow only the mercy loss can sustain, for as their author says, “I have come a long way, to surrender my body / To the body of the horse.” The singing burns and yet the days open into one, “Now, reach into the quiet for the name of the beloved / into the mouth of the apple.” Who can refuse this chastened exhortation to love?
2002 Winner: James Gurley
Joshua Poteat, “Ornithologies”
G. A. O’Connell, “The Force of Ice”
Lisa Bickmore, “Hymn”
Patty Seyburn, “Mechanical Cluster”
David Wagoner, 2002 Judge’s comments
Its range of interest, its penetration of normal surfaces and limitations, its mature emotional balance make “Human Cartography” a very strong first book.
2001 Winner: Christopher Bakken
Glori Simmons, Graft [“Manifesto for the Hands”]
Daniel Bourne, “Where No One Spoke the Language”
Benjamin S. Grossberg, “This Dream of Swimming the Hellespont”
David Weiss, “Vox Humana”
Lynne McMahon, 2001 Judge’s comments
The language is lucent, calm, introspective, and empathetic, never self-centered, and the questions about interpretations, history, the transitory nature of pleasure, and of seeming self-suficiency of objects I found important and compelling.
2000 Winner: H. L. Hix
Deborah Warren, “Just Above Our Frequency”
Scott Brennan, “The Contours of Fixation”
Gaylord Brewer, “Kill Everything”
Bruce Meyer, “Anywhere”
Dana Gioia, 2000 Judge’s comments
When I agreed to judge the T. S. Eliot Prize, it never occurred to me that I would find a book so ambitious, consummately achieved, and deeply unified as “Rational Numbers.”
1999 Winner: David Keplinger
Jean Nordhaus, “Dinner on the Fault Line”
Jennifer Rose, The Old Direction of Heaven
Susan Donnelly, “Transit”
Carol Henrie, “So Thin on the Bone”
Mary Oliver, 1999 Judge’s comments
This is a wide book and a deep one, alive with marvelous composition and outcry. And yet, for all its zest of expression it is real life and real feeling that is most honored.
1998 Winner: Rhina Espaillat
Charles Clifton, “After the Rapture”
Nathalie F. Anderson, “Following Fred Astaire”
Richard Moore, The Naked Scarecrow
Robert Lunday, “The Wild Dust”
A. M. Juster, “Vulgarian at the Gate”
Kathleen Aguero, “Daughter of Sycorax”
X. J. Kennedy, 1998 Judge’s comments
Poem after successful poem add up to an impressive total. Such developed skill and such mastery of rhyme and meter are certainly rare anymore; so is plainspeaking. All in all, it’s a collection likely to persuade readers who think they don’t like poetry that they do, after all.
1997 Winner: William Baer
Ann Townsend, “Dime Store Erotics”
C. G. MacDonald, “Human Noise”
Jack Butler, “The Lost Poems”
Karen Krebser, “Benedictine Hours”
Andrew Glaze, “Carnal Blessings”
Samuel Maio, 1997 Judge’s comments
“The Unfortunates” is carefully and very well planned, structured on a moral premise distinguishing truth from falsehood, duty from expediency, and virtue from custom…all pointedly and dramatically illustrated through the many characterizations draw in [the book]: portraits, in essence, of the inhabitants of Eliot’s “Waste Land,” here in full life at the end of the century.