Maybe we’re just lucky, but the first annual Coniston Prize Contest could not have gone more smoothly if we had engineered it that way. (We did!)

Our winner, Flower Conroy, was chosen through a blind reading process by contest judge and poet extraordinaire, Mary Biddinger. As if this wasn’t exciting enough, after reading hundreds of submissions by talented women from around the world, we also came away with four outstanding finalists: Carrie Meadows, Anna Meister, Mai Der Vang, and Rachel Richardson. Their poems appear in Issue 4 alongside the winning submission.

Flower Conroy's poems, selected and introduced by Mary Biddinger, boldly ask, "What is at stake?" and answer through language that is commanding, yet melodic: "seed, pulse, measure. The beating, after- / wards (meaning, its silence)." Conroy's poetry explores obsession and repetition, but it never loses momentum; this is a world of arresting images driven by an authentic voice, sophisticated in both its syntax and its music.

Rich with grit, Carrie Meadows’ work is filled with unforgettable images and anchored by an unwavering sense of place and history. In these poems, "boys paint bullet holes into their skin" and "sirens outlast the crackle of a gravel road" in a South where "angels and devils / wear the same color white."

Above all, Anna Meister’s poems stand up in their honesty. Her speaker inhabits a domestic landscape distorted by grief, a "house / where the light lives & is / a knife." She also confronts the disorienting limits of memory: "My nervous highway dance, / this sorrow-dog constellation, / this goodbye I pulled/ from the darkness."

Sometimes a sorceress, sometimes a sage, Mai Der Vang is a poet in strange communion with nature. While these poems will unsettle you, you will admire their quiet power. Her speaker is "the ghost / with creosote mouth // hiding behind / your silent head / in the vermillion portrait."

Rachel Richardson’s poetry is marked by an incredible attention to craft. She measures each line with subtle restraint, leading the reader confidently, heart-rendingly through the difficult terrain of love and separation—"the depth of such desire / not to have a body // at all, but be / phosphorescent."

Please join us in applauding these five fine women poets. We hope you are as delighted by their poems as we are.

Rachel Marie Patterson and Dara-Lyn Shrager