The Sexton Prize for Poetry is now in its third year, and continues to celebrate the trans-Atlantic bridge between British and American poetry, by being the only UK prize solely dedicated to American poets; this year's judge, Pulitzer-winner Professor Lloyd Schwartz, follows in the footsteps of our two previous exceptionally distinguished and discerning judges, Don Share, and Kimiko Hahn.
Here are the 12 shortlisted poets, in alphabetical order for their first names, with a brief statement from them about their collections. Eyewear is proud to offer a diverse and inclusive shortlist. We will be announcing the winner on or before May 1st, 2019.
Congratulations to the shortlisted authors, drawn from many hundreds of often very impressive submitted collections.
Alison Palmer is the author of the poetry chapbook, The Need for Hiding (Dancing Girl Press, 2018). She earned an MFA in Poetry from Washington University in St. Louis where, working with Carl Phillips and Mary Jo Bang, Alison was twice nominated for the AWP Journals Project. Alison received her BA in Creative Writing from Oberlin College where she was the recipient of the Emma Howell Memorial Poetry Prize. During her junior year at Oberlin, Alison studied abroad through Syracuse University in Florence, Italy, with a focus in Creative Writing. The Poet’s Billow chose Alison for their 2016 Atlantis Poetry Prize. 2017 Alison was a Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets nominee, as well as a recent Nimrod Literary Awards: Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry Quarter-Finalist. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in FIELD, River Styx, The Cortland Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Hayden’s Ferry Review and elsewhere. Alison currently lives and writes just outside Washington, D.C.
Poet's statement: In To Stay Until Almost Nothing Is Left, I reflect on the emotional parallels we find in Humans and in Nature, asking, “What is left to love?” I question the relationships we form with one another, and the relationships that form in Nature. Although seemingly separate, these interpersonal experiences often mimic one another. In “The Horse and the Rider,” Louise Gluck writes, “But to abandon you, said the other, would be to leave a part of myself behind, and how can I do that when I do not know which part you are?” Gluck expresses this idea of the “other” as something desperate, wishing to adhere itself one lover to another. In this collection, I highlight the tenuousness of our closeness. I shed light on feelings of deep sadness and longing for love, intimacy and connection. We crave protection from the chaos that plagues us as emotional beings, for we require gentleness and acceptance that is rare to come by in today’s violent age. Because of this, we are driven to look for shelter at every turn, never abandoning our suits of armor. We are often compelled, even against better judgement, to stay until almost nothing is left.
Migration, sensations of being between territories, and inhabiting porous borders, are central to Anne F. Walker’s located urban poetic. Born in Berkeley California, Walker migrated to Toronto, Canada, as a young child, and grew up on its outskirts. Through her youth she spent several extended periods on her grandmother’s farm in Oaxaca, Mexico. Frank Davey, bpNichol, and Susan Swan were her mentors as she earned a BFA in Creative Writing at York University. For several years she lived in downtown Toronto, writing and pre-producing films then she returned to California to complete a MFA in Creative Writing at Oakland’s Mills College. Settling into the San Francisco Bay Area she worked with Alfred Arteaga, Lyn Hejinian, and Robert Hass in completing an MA in Urban Social Geography and a PhD in American Urban Poetics at the University of California, Berkeley. Her full-length published poetry books include Six Months’ Rent, Pregnant Poems, Into the Peculiar Dark, and The Exit Show. The poetry has won multiple Eisner Prizes at UC Berkeley, Canada Council Arts Grants, Ontario Arts Council Works-in-Progress Grants and Writers' Reserve Grants.
Poet's statement: Ink and Ink and Flesh and Length Ink and Ink and Flesh and Length is a series of mixed-genre prose poems in 100-word frames, reflecting landscape and bodies and the memories rooted there. This form connects linguistic precision, sound, rhythm and image. Sometimes the language lets the beats breathe, expand, move, and make intricate music. Sometimes it tightens into imagistic brevity. Each poem is like a small framed photograph on a long gallery wall, sometimes linking to others, sometimes containing a singular image, and sometimes letting its contents run past the frame. The work is located in the motions of travel, memory, and conceptions of home. Its sections, “The Train to Water,” “Hometown Return,” “Kaleidoscope Box,” and “Demeter’s Country,” string interlinking associations to past and present geographies.
Catherine Faurot’s first poetry book, Plow Harrow Seed, was published in 2006 by FootHills Publishing. She completed an MFA degree at Bennington College and holds a master’s degree from Dartmouth in classics and creative writing. Her poems have been published in Colorado Review, Free State Review, The Christian Century, The New Orphic Review, Westchester Review, and Classical Outlook, among other publications. A recipient of the Dole Prize in Poetry and a Jane Kenyon fellow, she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Ms Faurot is Assistant Director at the Susan B. Anthony Center at the University of Rochester, a social justice institute working on women’s, LGBTQ, and equity issues. She has presented her work in Oxford and China. Dating back to an undergraduate degree from U.C. Berkeley in religious studies, she has a deep and abiding interest in mysticism and spirituality. On the home front, she lives with her family on a 60 acre farm with a flock of sheep, a donkey, Nigerian dwarf goats, and a variety of chickens.
Poet's statement: Theology of the Broken invites the reader into a garden—a messy, sensual place of potential and despair—and into the Garden, where the myth of Adam and Eve is exploded and rewritten into a tale of communion and separation. In a nod to both Milton’s Paradise Lost and the theme of brokenness, the poems are written in a loose pentameter line blasted open visually. Through a bitter and ecstatic language of flowers, the collection addresses spiritual and physical desire, failure and tempered hope.
Elizabeth Hopta is an emerging writer. She is an MA student in English at Penn State with a focus in creative nonfiction writing. Her nonfiction writing has won many local awards, such as the Thompson Literary Nonfiction Award and the Katey Lehman Award. Her poem, “War Wakes My Grandfather Again,” was a runner up for the Steinberg Poetry Award. She typically writes nonfiction, but she dabbles in fiction and poetry. Elizabeth was raised in America, but was born in China and adopted at a young age. As a person of color and a queer person, her work tends to focus on those two aspects of her identity. However, family relationships, adoption, and womanhood are all common themes as well.
Poet's statement: desert me is a collection about blurred lines. What constitutes family and how are we loyal to them, despite betrayal? How are they loyal to us, despite our transgressions? The line of family is more than bloodline in this piece and somewhere less than soul. In Elizabeth’s mindscape of the Arizona desert, family, love, sex, and betrayal all roll together like a desert dust ball, a space far away from reality.
Charlene Fix’s poetry collections are Taking a Walk in My Animal Hat (Bottom Dog Press, 2018), Frankenstein’s Flowers (CW Books, 2014), Flowering Bruno: a Dography (XOXOX, 2006, finalist for 2007 Ohioana Book Award in Poetry), Charlene Fix: Greatest Hits (Kattywompus, 2012), and Mischief (Pudding House, 2003). Her study of Harpo Marx in the thirteen Marx Brothers films is Harpo Marx as Trickster (McFarland, 2013). Charlene won the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award in 2007 and The Louis Hammer Memorial Award in 2011 from the Poetry Society of America. Her poems have appeared in many literary magazines, including Poetry, Literary Imagination, Hotel Amerika, The Cincinnati Review, and in several anthologies. Charlene co-coordinates Hospital Poets at the Ohio State University hospitals, and is an occasional activist for Middle East peace. She earned a BS in Education and an MA in English at the Ohio State University, and is an Emeritus Professor of English at Columbus College of Art and Design. She has three adult children, a husband of heaps of years, and has enjoyed a series of dogs and cats. She currently has an Aussie named Harpo who is channelling his namesake.
Poet's statement: Jewgirl sings of the complex emotional and political legacy of the particularity into which I was born. I wrote the poems over a series of decades, many recently. Because I kept returning to that venerable, contradictory, joyful, angsty mishegoss, I decided to gather them. The poems grapple with the searing numbers tattooed on the arms of the parents of friends. They grapple also with the great moral crisis of my people: the suffering of the Palestinian people. They assert the imperative of "never again" for anyone. But not every poem is so weighted--some are lighter, amusing, I hope. Because American Jews abide in a predominantly Christian culture, that influence surfaces as well. I was raised in a secular Jewish household, so you won’t find much of the rich fabric of tradition in the poems, but you will find, I hope, what is central to that tradition once the clutter is cleared away: the urge to tikkun olam, repair the world.
Martin Ott is the author of nine books of poetry and fiction, including Captive, De Novo Prize Winner (C&R Press, 2012) and Underdays (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), Sandeen Prize Winner and Forward Indies Finalist. His newest book, Fake News Poems (BlazeVOX Books, 2019), takes the headline of a news story from each week as a starting point to explore political and personal turmoil in the first year of Trump's presidency. His work has appeared in 20 anthologies and more than 200 magazines, including Antioch Review, Epoch, Harvard Review, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and Zyzzyva. A former US Army interrogator, Ott is a longtime resident of Los Angeles, proud father of two children, and communications professional who develops for TV and film between other projects.
Poet's statement: Prison in the Middle of Nowhere explores the concept of place in a world where we face displacement everywhere: nuclear families scattered, home yawning between dysfunctional childhood memories and more dysfunctional urban landscapes, machines carrying us to workplaces that extract a toll and to homes where our escape is staring into tiny screens in search of connection and soul sustenance. Borders are illusory and still, yet, everywhere. Love is an eclipse that shines the light back on the rocky terrain of self. Words build walls and words can set us free.
Matthew J. Mobley is a poet currently residing in Tampa, Florida. The child of a former traveling, Christian Evangelist, Matt spent considerable time escaping that decidedly “American-South” cultural construct as a U.S. Army Infantryman, Reconnaissance Scout, Sniper Team Leader, Paratrooper, and Ranger with multiple combat deployments around the globe, both as an enlisted Soldier and as an Officer. Recently selected by poet Terrance Hayes to work as an Associate Artist at The Atlantic Center for the Arts, Matt was also a finalist for a National Artist’s Fellowship at Gettysburg National Military Park. A graduate of North Carolina State University (BA, English), American Military University (MA, Classical History) and the MFA program at the University of Tampa, his work has appeared in O Dark Thirty, Bridge Eight, Tahoma Literary Review, McSweeneys, and F(r)iction, among others.
Poet's statement: I Am Not Your Red Rooster explores competing natures of identity and culture found in both formal and informal traditions of poetics, particularly in the hierarchical structures found in societies that revolve around the military industrial complex and the way in which western civilization creates and then fetishizes both the soldier and masculinity, a love affair with a heavily braided conceit in tow.
Ross White is the author of two chapbooks, How We Came Upon the Colony (Unicorn Press, 2014) and The Polite Society (Unicorn Press, 2017), and his poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, New England Review, Poetry Daily, Tin House, and The Southern Review, among others. His poems have garnered such honors as the Nazim Hikmet Prize, the Louis Untermeyer Scholarship in Poetry from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, the Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artists Grant, the Larry Levis Post-Graduate Stipend from the MFA program at Warren Wilson College, and the Pocataligo Poetry Prize from Yemassee. White is the Director of Bull City Press, a small, independent publisher of poetry and prose, the Associate Director of the Frost Place Conference on Poetry, and the Editor of Four Way Review. Since 2007, he has co-coordinated The Grind Daily Writing Series, an international collaboration that brings writers together to finish a new draft each day for a month. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, and teaches creative writing, grammar, and editing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Poet's statement: Careening through ancient Rome, feudal Japan, and present-day Italian parks and museums, Charm Offensive snakes through sewers and roams prairies with equal parts glee and skepticism. These poems examine the compromises people have made throughout history, compromises that leave them loved and hated, and the ways in which our own modern charms can leave us scarred and breathless. Many of the speakers in these poems are searching for meaning, for something magical and mysterious, but when they look at the constellations or the lines drawn by an EKG machine, the shapes they see are distinctly human, distinctly their own.
Sarah Bridgins' work has appeared in Tin House, BuzzFeed, Bustle, Joyland, Entropy, Fanzine, and Big Lucks among other journals. She is a four time Pushcart Prize nominee and the cofounder of the Ditmas Lit reading series. She lives in Brooklyn with her cats Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson.
Poet's statement: Death and Exes explores the complexity of grief and the author's struggle to process loss through consumption; of food, drugs, alcohol, pop culture, sex, and fashion. Buying and imbibing things are often looked at as superficial distractions that keep us from dealing with difficult emotions. In Death and Exes, they are touchstones that help remind us of who we are during the times we feel most untethered and alone. These are poems of mourning, but they are also a celebration of the life affirming power of, among other things, burlesque, RuPaul, Dolly Parton, the movie Hellraiser, and the TV show Columbo.
Tim Hunt is the author of four collections: Ticket Stubs & Liner Notes (winner of the 2018 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award), The Tao of Twang and Poem’s Poems & Other Poems (both CW Books), and Fault Lines (The Backwaters Press). Chapbooks include Redneck Yoga, White Levis, and Thirteen Ways of Talking to a Blackbird. Recognitions include The Chester H. Jones National Poetry Prize (for “Lake County Elegy”), and three Pushcart nominations. Originally from the hill country of northern California, he was educated at Cornell University. His scholarly publications include The Textuality of Soulwork: Kerouac’s Search for Spontaneous Prose (University of Michigan Press), Kerouac’s Crooked Road: Development of a Fiction (University of California Press); and the five-volume edition The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (Stanford University Press). He and his wife Susan live in Normal, Illinois. His final teaching post was Illinois State University where he was University Professor of English.
Poet's statement: The Adventures of the Letter Eye offers a kind of road trip through the American culture-scape, especially the culture-scape of its smaller towns of the west, where the hopes of the seeming conformities of the 1950s have rusted into the loss of its current realities in this era of Make America Great Again. In these poems, the implicit figure of the eye alternately measures what is, deconstructs what seems (or seemed) to be, and searches for those glimpses of what we might share within our differences.
Tony Trigilio is the author or editor of 12 books, including, most recently, Inside the Walls of My Own House (BlazeVOX), the second instalment of his multivolume poem, The Complete Dark Shadows (of My Childhood). His books of poetry also include White Noise (Apostrophe Books), and Historic Diary (BlazeVOX), among others. His selected poems, Fuera del Taller del Cosmos, was published by Guatemala’s Editorial Poe (translated by Bony Hernández). He is the editor of Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments (Ahsahta Press) and Dispatches from the Body Politic (Essay Press), and he is the author of the critical monograph Allen Ginsberg’s Buddhist Poetics (Southern Illinois University Press). He co-edits Court Green and is an Associate Editor for Tupelo Quarterly. A past recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry, he is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago.
Poet's statement: The poems in Seeing the Dead are guided by questions of sight and vision, and by the spirit of elegy, ode, and remembrance. Seeing the Dead is situated at an anxious intersection of class identity, illness, loss, and pop-culture pleasure. In these poems, I try to expand the lyric narrative to account for associational logic and multiple voices, instead of reorienting the chaos of experience into a singular, orderly narrative persona.
Zeeshan Pathan attended Washington University in Saint Louis as an undergraduate where he studied poetry with acclaimed poets including Mary Jo Bang and Fatemeh Keshavarz. He speaks several languages and translates from Urdu, Turkish, & Persian. At Columbia University, he completed his graduate thesis in poetry under Lucie Brock-Broido, and worked with other talented poets & translators including former U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand, Timothy Donnelly, and Susan Bernofsky, chair of the PEN Translation Committee in New York City. Zeeshan is interested in world literature and literary theory, the poetry of the Middle East and India, and he also writes short fiction. He has been invited to several prestigious writers' conferences, including the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Sewanee Writers' Conference. His manuscript The Minister of Disturbances has recently been a finalist for a number of poetry prizes.
Poet's statement: As a poet, I am interested in consciousness and how language can give voice to a particular mind. I also write through tradition and I am attracted equally to forms (such as the sonnet or ghazal) and the inner music of words—is very important in terms of how I construct my lines. Poems are like membrane and skin protecting one’s body. They give me a space to use metaphor and magical thinking to break out of a kind of ideational stasis. I feel a poem is true if it makes me halt suddenly, pay attention, and engage with language in a new way. In this manuscript, I have attempted to write about the changing social world and my own history as a poet born into the near end of the 20th century in America. I have taken permission from the work of other poets including those with whom I’ve studied such as Mary Jo Bang and the late Lucie Brock-Broido of Columbia University. Major poets like Lorca from Spanish or even the wonderous Emily Dickinson have often been my guides to what is real in poetry. The title The Minister of Disturbances works as both a unifying name for the larger collection of poems and gestures toward the themes inherent to my work & the different speakers that I have invented here to tell of such disturbance and ruptures.