I’m honored to present the winner of the Stephen Dunn Prize for 2020, selected by Adrian Matejka. Of Tina Zafreen Alam’s poem “& it’s hiding in plain sight” Matejka writes, “This poem is kinetic: rhythmically inventive and it is built from the kinds of sonic textures that surprise the ear and the brain. If that wasn’t enough, the imagery is irresistible and capacious, so the poem leaves the reader lyrically knocked out but still wanting more. In that way the poem itself becomes its own joyous soundtrack full of bright vowels and syllables.”
All the finalists in this year’s contest stake out memorable strategies to engage the reader, from the heartfelt meditations on maternal legacy in in Tatiana Johnson’s “Awake in Elizabeth City” to the dense traumatic repercussions of a military tour in Iraq that echo through Aaron Wallace’s “Alinea.”
This summer has been hot and chaotic and frightening in its uncertainty, and I have often found it hard to focus well on the task at hand. But I recently found some respite, when a friend encouraged me to take a new look at Robert Hayden’s poem “Monet’s Waterlilies,” written at another turbulent moment in this country’s history. Hayden begins, “Today, as the news from Selma and Saigon/ poisons the air like fallout/ I come again to see/ the serene, great picture that I love.” He considers how this work of art transcends the moment, ending, “Here is the aura of that world/ each of us has lost./ Here is the shadow of its joy.” It’s my hope that the poems gathered here in this issue, the contest winners and the other selected and featured works, can help us to transcend our current anxieties, and draw us closer to some essence of the joys and griefs of our shared humanity.
Associate Poetry Editor