Marjorie Stelmach of Manchester, Missouri, is the winner of the Beloit Poetry Journal’s 24th 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 Stelmach’s “The Divestments of Autumn,” which appeared in the Fall 2016 issue. The prize carries a cash award of $3000.
Marjorie Stelmach is the author of five volumes of poems, the most recent of which, Falter, is forthcoming in the Poiema Poetry Series from Cascade Books. Previous volumes include Without Angels (Mayapple), A History of Disappearance and Bent upon Light (Tampa). Her first book, Night Drawings, received the Marianne Moore Poetry Prize from Helicon Nine Editions. Her awards include the first Missouri Biennial Award, the Malahat Review Long Poem Contest, and the Stanley Hanks Memorial Prize.
A high school English teacher for 30 years, Stelmach has also served as visiting poet at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and most recently as the director of the Howard Nemerov Writing Scholars Program at Washington University in St. Louis.
Stelmach’s prize-winning poem, “The Divestments of Autumn,” displays an unusually deft and moving interweaving of the personal and political; it’s a poem that delivers its cautionary lessons with intelligence and insight at a time we surely need such art. She writes:
ii. Twenty-nine Bones
It’s about the people, who have stopped believing,
because the cup of evil has run over.
—Dimitri Shostakovich, speaking of his Eleventh Symphony, entitled 1905
It happened the year before he was born,
but he knew the story, how the Tsar’s soldiers
had dragged a sled burdened with massacred children
through St. Petersburg’s streets, children
who’d climbed the trees for a glimpse of the soldiers,
their uniforms and guns.
The soldiers—laughing—shot them.
The children, too, laughing, their corpses smiling.
Twenty-nine bones in a human face.
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), Fiona Chamness for "Choreography for Ensemble" (2014), and Graham Barnhart for "Pissing in Irbil" and "Call to Prayer" (2015).