Award Winners

Robert H. Winner Memorial Award - 2008

Jocelyn Emerson


"... but infinites also past out of this life, not having any witnesse, how, when, or in what manner they departed. So that few or none there were, to deliver outward shew of sorrow and grieving." —Boccaccio, The Decameron


Continuation before the event.
Elusive in its hue.


Gnarled rhizomes (lily)
protect against sudden fever
or the body's response
after exposure
(as the outer, gaseous layers
of a star's core erode in death).
More lilies.
And baths of lavender to bring reprieve—


Nature will send
such poison
far from the noble organs….


The moon changed positions slightly
in the night,
but to no great effect.
The plough failed to cut
the field.


Sometimes they lived and sometimes
they died, the one or the other,
the earth taking them in
after the unlawful hiding, the illicit care
when stricken, or abandoned.
An accident of pain of the body….
A refusal indistinguishable from salt.
Salt of refusal
in the physical—
in the hammer, the lathe, in the loom—
something revelation could not destroy.


To hide inside the visible,
within the opacity of noon.
Occasionally an appointed official saw the forbidden
oscillation, some movement in a passageway,
or courtyard, or window.
Then an illegal step out of doors—
into the density of that light—

Note on the poem: the italicized lines are from Miguel Parets, A Journal of the Plague Year: The Diary of the Barcelona Tanner, 1651.

Annie Finch on Jocelyn Emerson

In judging the Robert H. Winner Award, which celebrates a group of poems by a mature poet who has not yet received appropriate recognition, I hoped I might come upon a body of work that had been given room to grow: to develop into its own complete ecosystem without undue interference from outside influences. And I feel that I did. Through the winning group of poems speaks a voice extraordinarily consistent yet not monotonous, unique yet at peace with itself.

I believe that a central goal of poetry is to balance all the aspects of a human life: intellect, senses, emotions, and spirit. A common temptation in contemporary poems is to pull back in one or more of these areas, in order to avoid overwhelming the others; so, for example, a poem will avoid abstraction or complexity out of fear of sounding pedantic, or avoid direct emotion out of fear of sounding sentimental, or avoid sensual language or music out of fear of sounding mannered. But the poems in this group do not pull back out of fear of being overwhelming in one area. Instead, they explore all of the other areas more fully as well.

So, it is all here in these poems. There is the intellect, with the startling and unusual use of complex Latinate diction, and the senses, with the hauntingly consistent and detailed imagery of the sea, always bringing the intellect back to earth (or to water). And there are emotion and spirit, sometimes subtle and sometimes courageously explicit. This is a hopeful poetry. The influences of the tormented poets Crane and Hopkins surface repeatedly on these waves, and finally, ineluctably, they are brought to rest on a quiet beach. I applaud this poet, who has earned the rewards awaiting those who dare to take considered risks.