To Stephen Dunn, In Memoriam
We dedicate this Summer Contest Issue to Stephen Dunn, whose life on our earth ended on June 24, 2021. As many know, Stephen was a man of great gifts. His oeuvre includes twenty-one poetry collections and two essay collections, the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, and countless other deserved accolades.
In the midst of fame, over two decades ago, at age sixty, he wrote his own obituary in the poem “A Postmortem Guide to my eulogist, in advance” which concludes: “I learned to live without hope/as well as I could, almost happily, in the despoiled and radiant now./ You who are one of them, say that I loved/my companions most of all./ In all sincerity, say that they provided/A better way to be alone.” This despoiled and radiant now resurfaces eighteen years later in “A Postmortem Guide (2) once again to my eulogist, in advance” yet here Dunn also writes of an incurable disease that “can no longer be hidden.”
We were close friends for twenty-five years, and as with so many whom he befriended, Stephen was unendingly loyal even while unwilling to admit his generosity. He was generous also to Solstice Magazine in giving his name to our Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize. He also served as Guest Poetry Editor for an issue which includes some of our leading poets, and we have published one of his poems.
During these last years, when his illness prohibited Stephen from traveling, he’d send me some of his new poems, and I’d respond by writing “impressions,” not critiques. Then we’d discuss his pieces on the phone, even when he was gradually losing his voice, although he did not lose his voice on the page. Nor did he lose his humor, consistently upending our conversations with wit and wisdom. His poetry is infused with this unique blend, its seemingly transparent language intermixed with paradoxical twists, binary oppositions, riffs and reciprocities, so the meaning often hides in the juxtapositions, the ricochets; consequently, the reader is looped into the poems again and again. Stephen was still writing these profound poems to the end.
In fact, he was still writing even after he’d gradually given up another gift, his physical grace in sports, first leaving basketball, then tennis, and last ping pong, a game he played with such force and dexterity that the little white ball vanished, as the mental effort behind his poetry vanishes, so that his words seem effortless, even while we are immersed in his complex, rebellious, cynical, loving world.
As a fiction writer, I hope to write more impressions in a short essay, but for now, I will say that Stephen Dunn has disproved the notion that each of us is dispensable. Although he challenged a belief in a god or in an afterlife, in true poetic form, he lives on.
Please click on the Poetry, Nonfiction, Fiction and Graphic Lit Editors’ notes to learn about the award-winning work in this Summer Contest Issue. Read our Winners, Runners-up, Solstice Finalists, Solstice Editors’ Picks, and Notable Work. This collection is not to be missed. Also, please view the superb cover photo and photography of veterans by the distinguished Suzanne Opton.
With deep, abiding thanks to our judges: Tim Seibles in Poetry, David Mura in Nonfiction, Whitney Scharer in fiction and Franklin Einspruch in Graphic Lit. Please see their bios to order their books. And abiding thanks to our Editors: Richard Hoffman, Robbie Gamble, Anjali Mitter Duva, Brenda Sparks Prescott, Andrai Whitted, Barbara Siegel Carlson, and all of our fine staff.
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