Welcome to Issue 16. We’re thrilled to debut the 4th annual Coniston Prize issue. You’re in for quite a treat!
This year, we received more than 400 Coniston Prize entries. We’d like to thank the poet Dorothea Lasky for serving as this year’s contest judge. While the journal can only award the prize to one poet each year, we’re proud to include the work of all 6 finalists in this issue.
This year’s winner is Emily Viggiano Saland with her Semele Sequence. The speaker of these poems revels in her power—her intellectual power, her physical power, her burning desires. These are not poems that tread delicately; they are bold and vibrant. Saland takes inspiration from the myth of Semele, a mortal woman who became a goddess. Saland's speaker is fascinated by Semele’s eternal life, but ultimately despairs as she fights against her own mortality. Her poems are rich with pathos. They are also sincere, urgent, and necessary. Congratulations, Emily!
Finalist Katie Bickham presents 5 narrative poems fixed in place and time. Although each speaker’s story seems foreign to the next, Bickham ultimately writes a story of connection—a boundless connection among women.
Finalist Chelsea Dingman’s group of poems is meticulous. These are lyrics of grief, painstakingly and lovingly made. Dingman crafts an ars poetica of sorrow in which “creation/ theory ends with a thrashing. A drowning.// A body pulled from the dark & soldered/ to the sky.”
As you may know, we read submissions blind. Imagine our surprise when we realized that we had chosen a finalist who is currently a senior in high school! We tip our hats to Jacqueline He and her timeless, borderless poems. This work traces an expansive emotional genealogy—from a hospital to a supermarket to a fisherman’s boat to Qingdao where “rabbits dot the hills like// shiftless wildflowers” and “where/ my mother is only milk teeth & chase,// cheongasm sleeves belled over forepaws.” We can’t wait to see where the future takes this extraordinary poet.
Finalist Nicole Rollender has a remarkable command over the reader’s emotions through the element of surprise. We see this in her line breaks and imagery. Intimacy and violence constantly collide in this suite of poems. The two become inextricable as “[t]he night never ends, a black/ horse quiet at the field’s edge.”
In just 4 poems, finalist Emily Van Kley builds an existential crisis that consumes the reader. She is the classic poet-philosopher, asking “big questions.” Of a dead friend, the poet asks, “What then/ of your hungers, wakened/ that September morning/ as every other?/ What of the vitality/ which rose from you like heat/ from asphalt, more/ than one body could use?” And we also hear the grueling answers—“To speak/ of death as nothingness,/ a silence–gross/ overstatement./ To say ‘death.’// To say anything at all.”
—Rachel Marie Patterson and Dara-Lyn Shrager, Editors
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