Robert H. Winner Memorial Award - 2015
J. C. Todd
Look for Raven Pairs Flying in a Pre-Mating Ritual
How they would nest in our bones if they could.
Inhabit a skull, wind-scrubbed, sterile,
line it with the high desert plants, that extra
hour of sunlight, the elevation. Bones bleach
because there's nothing better to do, no books
waiting to be read. Ravens love every little
dead thing, a fur-sack smashed against the road,
a body curled around its own thirst. Strayed hikers,
casualties of friendly fire, someone dying
of a broken heart, it makes no ravenly difference.
Carrion is carrion, you once told me, or maybe
carrion is carillon, the raven voices clanging
like broken bells. There they go, black looped,
long-beaked scribbles, hoping that the world
will end. Tell me they're not the most intelligent
of the birds. The soft parts of us—that's the first
thing we give away.
Alan Shapiro on Karen Skolfield
These poems are distinguished by their sonic and semantic flexibility and range. They take on important subjects—racism, domestic, political and natural disasters, mortality and time, the contingencies of love, the vulnerabilities of flesh ("the soft parts of us...the first thing we give away,")—in language that feels both improvised and exquisitely controlled, highly cadenced even when it looks like prose. Their tone is nothing if not companionable, good humored, fiercely clear sighted, full of passion and heart wrenching wisdom. From poem to poem, and even sometimes within the same poem, they shift from mode to mode, descriptively precise and essayistic, realistic and surreal, conversational and song-like. Simplicity of means, complexity of effect–that's how I'd characterize the marvelous achievement these poems embody in every line of every piece.