2014 Hal Prize Poetry Winners

First Place

“Old Lovers”
by Robert Nordstrom

Two lovers lie in bed, air thin
between them, ceiling a black cloud
absorbing their dreams.

Their hands touch,
incidental contact,
and in silence they begin

their climb to gain a view,
see where they have been
where they might yet go.

Over there, one says, no,
over there, the other responds,
but neither sees what the other sees.

The cynic says, see, there is no there
there, only breath at whose peaks and valleys
we die and are resurrected again.

Ah, but these old lovers know better,
eyes closed now to open the view, calling
without you I never would have gone there.

Judge’s comments: The simplicity of this poem brings us to the exact place we need to be to appreciate love in the long haul. Love transports us, this intimate poem says, and in so doing shifts and shapes who we are and what we see. We climb along with the old lovers to new perspectives. This is a poem of the human condition, the old love, the old sentiment, expertly made new. – Heid E. Erdrich

Second Place

by Brandon Lewis

She is not burning, breaking
the little puffy cloud machine
over the water. She is not pouring out

to the priest, the rabbi, the wiccan
who are the real strangers to the story.
As we arrive barefoot

the fatherless girl we do not meet
emblazoned a heart of seashells round our initials
drawn stick-to-sand.

There’s something I want to ask. She walks
away from us now, away from the event
across the field of stones.

Judge’s comments: The elegance and intensity of this brief poem allows the reader to simultaneously engage the notions of sorrow and celebration. An image, perhaps, of cremation – the smoke and the scattering of ashes – compared to a wedding gown and veil gives the reader a moment in which the beloved’s death transcends loss to become union. Graceful, deft, accomplished—a poem of release. – Heid E. Erdrich

Third Place

“My Father in Black and White”
Sturgeon Bay Fruit Company, 1921
by Kathleen Hayes Phillips

I see my father at 19, a young man
I never knew, yet there he is
with my brother’s nose
and a granddaughter’s strong eye brows,
the Brownie Box capturing
the mystery of heritage

He stands in front of a worker’s cabin,
his shadow stretching out behind him,
across the planked wood floor
up the slats
to a small window
that overlooks the orchard I know is there

The lens shows only tree tops but
I remember his stories of long days
on shaky ladders leaning into trees
laden with ripe cherries, arms stretching long
to fill metal pails, hands and mouths
sticky with the sweetness of stolen treasure

He told stories of the rowdy fun of young
workers, city boys ready for adventure,
of sunburned backs and cooling plunges
into the bay, cherry pies for dinner,
strange floating lights bright in the northern sky,

and everywhere,  the smell of cedar

Judge’s comments: I enjoyed the surprise of this poem’s ending, the rise to the sensual after a long listing of historical details and memory. An intelligent and interesting poem – Heid E. Erdrich

About the judge:

Judging this year’s poetry contest is Heid E. Erdrich, author of four poetry collections, most recently Cell Traffic:  New and Selected Poems. Her collection National Monuments received the 2009 Minnesota Book Award for Poetry. She is the author of Original Local:  Indigenous Food Stories and Recipes from the Upper Midwest and teaches in the MFA creative writing program at Augsburg College.