Ocean Vuong, of Queens, New York, is the 2013 winner of the Beloit Poetry Journal’s 21st annual Chad Walsh Poetry Prize. The editors of the BPJ select on the basis of its excellence a poem or group of poems they have published in the calendar year to receive the award. This year’s choice is Vuong ’s poem “Telemachus,” which appeared in the Fall 2013issue.
Although he completed his undergraduate studies at Brooklyn College just a year ago, Vuong is already widely recognized as an important new voice in American poetry. Among other honors, he has been the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, The American Poetry Review's Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize, the Academy of American Poets Prize, the Poets House Emerging Writers Fellowship, a Kundiman Fellowship, the Asian American Literary Review's A Lettre Poetry Fellowship, and a Saltonstall Poetry Fellowship. He has published two chapbooks, No (YesYes Books, 2013) and Burnings (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010), an American Library Association's Over the Rainbow selection. He is Associate Editor of Thrush Press.
Vuong's contemporary rendering of the story of Odysseus's arrival home after the Trojan war and ten years of misadventures is a wise and moving parable about fathers and sons, particularly those caught up in the destruction and displacement of war. Odysseus washes up on shore of a bombed-out Ithaca that "is no longer / where he left it." Wanting both to know and to confront his father--"Do you know who I am, ba?"--Telemachus discovers "the bullet hole in his back, brimming / with sea water." In the poem's final gesture, a kiss transmits both the father's curse and his blessing. Telemachus turns Odysseus's body over to face
The cathedral in his sea-black eyes.
The face not mine but one I will wear
to kiss all my lovers goodnight:
the way I seal my father’s lips
with my own and begin
the faithful work of drowning.
The Walsh Prize, which this year carries a cash award of $4000, 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 published six volumes of poetry, including The End of Nature and Hang Me Up My Begging Bowl; several books on literary history, notably on C.S. Lewis; and edited textbooks and anthologies as well. 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 also taught as a Fulbright lecturer in Finland and Italy. This year's award is also supported by donations from thirteen previous Walsh Prize winners.
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," Jenny Johnson for "Aria," and Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr. for "Albania." All poems published in the BPJ in 2014 will be eligible for that year's prize.