Graham Barnhart of Columbus, Ohio is the winner of the Beloit Poetry Journal's 23rd annual Chad Walsh Poetry Prize. The editors award the prize, on the basis of excellence, to a poem or group of poems they have published in the previous year. This year, they have selected Barnhart's "Pissing in Irbil" and "Call to Prayer" which appeared in the Spring 2015 issue. The prize carries a cash award of $3000.
After earning a BA from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, Graham Barnhart joined the army, serving tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Special Forces medic. Currently an MFA candidate at The Ohio State University, he is preparing for deployment to Afghanistan in the spring of 2016. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, Sycamore Review, Sewanee Review, Gulf Coast, and Subtropics.
Barnhart's prize-winning poems, written from the perspective of an American soldier in the Middle East, trace the dissonance between his expectations and what he experiences in the war zone. Carefully observed and vividly rendered, they offer moments of revelation hard to forget. In "Call to Prayer," Barnhart writes:
I did not expect the song to be lamb smoke wandering
paper-thin between the furrows of sunset-hammered
rice and poppy—a drifting current of lemon through red wine,
a ribbon sometimes
touching the lips—obliging the lips to touch the hands,
the forehead the ground.
The Chad Walsh Prize was established in 1993 by Alison Walsh Sackett and her husband Paul in honor of Ms. Sackett's father, the poet Chad Walsh (1914-1991), a co-founder in 1950 of the Beloit Poetry Journal. An author and scholar, Walsh wrote several books on literary history, notably on C.S. Lewis, and published six volumes of poetry, including The End of Nature and Hang Me Up My Begging Bowl. He was professor and writer-in-residence at Beloit College in Wisconsin for thirty-two years, serving for many of those as chair of the English Department. He taught as a Fulbright lecturer in Finland and Italy.
Previous winners of the Chad Walsh award are Kurt Leland for "Remedies"
(1993), Albert Goldbarth for The Two Domains (1994), Sherman Alexie
for "Defending Walt Whitman"
and "At the Trial of Hamlet,
Chicago, 1994" (1995), Robert Chute for "Heat
Wave in Concord" (1996), Mary Leader for "For
the Love of Gerald Finzi" (1997), Lucia Perillo for "The
Oldest Map with the Name America" (1998), Janet Holmes for "Partch
Stations" (1999), Margaret Aho for four interrelated poems,
"I dream I'm leaving,"
"Between wand and welt,"
"When he emerged–,"
and "Eye-shaped, mouth-shaped"
(2000), Glori Simmons for "Graft"
(2001), Patricia Goedicke for "Hole"(2002),
Mary Molinary for "from Eve's Epistle to Lilith" and "Ashes
of burned manuscripts adrift in the wind, so" (2003), Jessica
Goodfellow for "A Pilgrim's
Guide to Chaos in the Heartland" (2004), Karl Elder for a group of poems from Z Ain't Just for Zabecedarium (2005), Sam Reed for "from The Book of Zeros"(2006), Susan Tichy for "Stork" (2007), John Hodgen for a set of four poems by Hodgen which appeared in the Summer 2008 issue, Onna Solomon for "Autism Suite" (2009), Charles Wyatt for "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Wallace Stevens" (2010), Jenny Johnson for "Aria" (2011), Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr. for "Albania" (2012), Ocean Vuong for "Telemachus" (2013), and Fiona Chamness for "Choreography for Ensemble" (2014).
All poems published in the BPJ in 2016 will be eligible for that year's prize.