Out of more than 900 entrants, Jameka Williams has been selected as the winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry and Emily Bludworth de Barrios has been named the winner of the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry. Each will receive $1,500, and their collections will be published this fall by the University of Wisconsin Press. In addition, Betsy Sholl has been named winner of the Four Lakes Poetry Prize, and her collection also will be published this fall. Next spring, the University of Wisconsin Press will publish finalist collections by Joshua Burton, Dante di Stefano, and Celeste Lipkes.
Brian Teare, editor of Albion Books, served as this year’s contest judge. He is the author of six poetry collections, including Doomstead Days (2019), which was longlisted for the National Book Award and named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven (2015); and Companion Grasses (2013).
Jameka Williams holds an MFA in poetry from Northwestern University. Her poetry has been published in Prelude Magazine, Gigantic Sequins, Muzzle Magazine, Yemassee Journal, Tupelo Quarterly, Jet Fuel Review, and Oyez Review, among others. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has performed her poetry at AWP in 2016 and POETRY Magazine’s Open Door Reading Series in 2021. She is a Best New Poets 2020 finalist, published annually by the University of Virginia, and is featured in New American Press’s New Poetry of the Midwest 2019. She resides in Chicago, Illinois.
About the Brittingham-winning volume, Brian Teare says, “Split between the love of watching and the fear created by it, American Sex Tape guides us through celebrity’s media empire, where ‘men / are cameras’ and the objectified self reproduces the dominant culture one selfie at a time. ‘I think a lot about empires,’ Jameka Williams writes, ‘& how I am supposed / to finish erecting this one,’ before she demolishes misogynist, racist logic with weaponized line breaks and wrecking-ball wit. And then does something stranger, braver: she looks into the camera. Because this is a book about taking back power, it’s also about the thin line between pleasure and collusion. ‘I love to see it,’ she admits, ‘I love to live inside that camera’s eye orgasm.’ Complex and messy and necessary in all the ways sex is, American Sex Tape is brilliant Black feminist truth.”
Emily Bludworth de Barrios, winner of the Felix Pollak Prize, is a poet whose books and chapbooks include Women, Money, Children, Ghosts (Sixth Finch, 2016), Splendor (H_NGM_N, 2015), and Extraordinary Power (Factory Hollow Press, 2014). Her poems have recently appeared in publications such as the Poetry Review, Harvard Review, and the Cincinnati Review. She was raised in Houston, Cairo, and Caracas, and now lives in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, with her husband and three children.
“Marrying novelistic breadth and autobiographical intimacy, Shopping or The End of Time invents a new poetic genre: the sociolyric,” says Brian Teare. “Impersonal and personal at once, these poems shift from collective to individual experience with dizzying rapidity. Their deft lines jump-cut across social experiences connected inequitably by a consumer culture thriving on violence against women and the Earth’s accelerating destruction. And yet buying power is ‘such an intricate trick that we felt that we were finally entering ourselves,’ Emily Bludworth de Barrios writes, ‘our human inheritance.’ Refusing to remain fooled about the ways our psyches are manipulated by capitalism and complicit with its destructive power, her speakers insist on documenting the pleasures and collateral damage of such inheritance, each ‘jagged poem’ fashioned ‘to put the remnants in.’ This is an innovative collection with impressive critical and emotional range.”
Betsy Sholl’s As if a Song Could Save You, winner of the Four Lakes Poetry Prize, will also be published this fall. Sholl is the author of nine previous poetry collections, including House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems (winner of the 2019 Four Lakes Prize), Otherwise Unseeable (winner of the 2014 Four Lakes Prize), Rough Cradle, Late Psalm, Don’t Explain (winner of the 1997 Felix Pollak Prize), and The Red Line. A former poet laureate of Maine, Sholl teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
“Attuned as she is to harmony—musical, spiritual, earthly—Sholl weaves seemingly miscellaneous notes into vibrant wholes. She references Dante more than once and it’s apt, for she is very much a pilgrim, someone who conveys the feeling of being in it—the tangle that is a moment, a street scene, a biblical incident. It could be anything—and is—and that is a key to her achievement, her openness to the ways of being, the here and now, the terribly lost and barely found. Great compassion marks these poems, that inestimable talent for tracing the ways of kinship, how one occasion graces another,” says Baron Wormser.
Joshua Burton is a poet and educator from Houston, Texas, and received his MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. He is a 2019 Tin House Winter Workshop Scholar, 2019 Juniper Summer Writing Institute scholarship winner, and 2019 Center for African American Poetry and Poetics fellowship finalist. He received the Honorable Mention for the 2018 Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize and was a 2020 Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing finalist. His work can be found in Mississippi Review, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus, Conduit, and TriQuarterly, and is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Grist, and Indiana Review. He has a chapbook forthcoming in the fall of 2022. Mary Karr says, “No poet I’ve worked with in forty years’ teaching has wowed me more with his talent & smarts & heart than young Joshua Burton. His first collection, Grace Engine, is destined to be this year’s star debut.”
Brian Teare adds, “Grace Engine documents the ravages of internalized antiblackness in restless lines whose ‘Language is like a month ending / with a fire.’ To aid in reclaiming himself from Black social and literal death, Joshua Burton assembles an archive of Black men whose minds were troubled by antiblackness and Black folks whose lives were ended by it. In confronting textual and visual evidence of white supremacy, in placing family history alongside it, his speakers confront the decision of whether to stay in a world inseparable from racist violence. Ultimately coming to understand ‘how much my indecision is decision,’ he enters into a tentative, complex relation with Black aliveness. Burton might write ‘in the language of breakdown,’ but his speakers ‘choose to fill my hands with stay here.’ The way to bless once meant to mark with blood, this book is both balm and wound.”
Dante Di Stefano is the author of three previous poetry collections: Love Is a Stone Endlessly in Flight, Ill Angels, and Lullaby with Incendiary Device, which was published in a three-in-one volume titled Generations, also featuring work by William Heyen and H. L. Hix.
Along with María Isabel Álvarez, he coedited the anthology Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump’s America. The poetry editor for the DIALOGIST, Di Stefano holds a PhD in English Literature from Binghamton University. He teaches high school English in Upstate New York and lives in Endwell, New York, with his wife, Christina; their daughter, Luciana; their son, Dante; and their dog, Sunny. Di Stefano’s book-length poem, Midwhistle, is a sprawling digressive love note to an unborn son, a map of the anxieties and ecstasies of poetic influence, and an exploration of selfhood and memory in an era of pandemic, social upheaval, and political uncertainty, written in stepped septasyllabic cinquains, a form he invented.
H. L. Hix says, “Midwhistle proves Dante Di Stefano ‘a child / of cello, air, & mint spears.’ In this refulgent homage, Di Stefano honors ‘what loves / have been thrummed forth & nurtured / into shining’ by poet William Heyen’s august work and person. Surely any reader will leave this book, as I did, more alert and alive, more ‘in love / with the gray undersides of / mulberry leaves & the way / the grass ekes toward twilight.’”
Celeste Lipkes is a writer and psychiatrist residing in Asheville, North Carolina. Prior to medical school, she received an MFA in poetry from the University of Virginia. Radium Girl is her first book.
Lisa Spaar says, “In the breathtaking ‘escape room’ of Celeste Lipkes’s Radium Girl, our ardent guide dons, by turns, the snow-flaked robe of patient, the white coat of physician, the lustrous cape of magician. The word ‘magic’ is rooted in the PIE ‘magh’—‘to be able, to have power’—and in this radiant debut, body and mystery exchange their secrets about what can and cannot be controlled—in illness, in love, and in the salvific art of poetry itself.”
Submissions for the next competition will be accepted between July 15 and September 15, 2022.
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For more information on the Wisconsin Poetry Prizes, please visit https://uwpress.wisc.edu/series/wi-poetry.html.