We are very pleased to announce the winners of our second annual ProForma Contest!
- First Place: Nicholas Gulig, “Denizen”
- Second Place: Cameron McGill, “This Dream”
- Third Place: Iliana Rocha, “Tabloid for Judy Garland”
See below for what judge Hadara Bar-Nadav had to say about each of our winners:
First Place and winner of $750: Nicholas Gulig, “Denizen”
Nicholas Gulig is a Thai-American poet from Wisconsin. The author of two books of poetry, “North of Order” (YesYes Books) and “Book of Lake” (CutBank), he currently lives in Fort Atkinson and teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Judge Hadara Bar-Nadav writes of Gulig’s “Denizen”: C.D. Wright claims “Poetry is nothing if not equipped for crisis. Sharp and penetrating, it cuts through every fear by which we are secretly governed, brings each to the light of the page and names it.” And I can’t help but think she could be speaking of “Denizen,” a wonderfully daring and ambitious poem that charges forth into the political landscape, bringing with it palpable fear and longing and language itself, as it questions how a writer can write about war and destruction and terror while actually doing that writing.
The muscular sound and syntax of this long sequence jostles us, pulls us uneasily into its fragmented, tension-filled world via sinewy phrases (“the noise became the violence of its occurrence” or “Of narrative and nationality, a state of pure emergency.”) “Denizen” captures the warp of war and narrative, of a speaker who writes poems in a café and reads “what lived and died on my computer,” as so many of us do: war is what happens elsewhere until it doesn’t. Form effectively energizes the content, a live-wire pulse that shape-shifts in this hybrid sequence of lineated poems, fragmented bursts, and prose.
Though the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings and the various wars and military action it sparked seem to be the impetus, “Denizen” also considers what it is to be a global citizen in the information age. How do we mediate the distance between the person at a computer watching the war on the news and the person who is in a war zone? How do we mediate language when one is writing about war that happens elsewhere but is intimately felt? “Language is a residue. / I cling,” states the speaker, and the words “residue” and “cling” are at once hopeful and tenuous. Of course, writing about war is problematic in many ways, but also necessary. The speaker in “Denizen” is undeniably culpable (“Here I am: a variance, a violence”) and asks us to consider our own part, too. “Denizen” is challenging, breathless, innovative, and stunning. This is a necessary work in a difficult time.
Second Place: Cameron McGill, “This Dream”
Cameron McGill is a second-year MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Idaho. He is originally from Champaign, IL. He received his BA in Political Science from the University of Illinois. Cameron is Poetry Editor for the journal Fugue. His work has been published in Poetry East, Measure and Split-Lip.
Judge Hadara Bar-Nadav writes of McGill’s “This Dream”: I was immediately struck by the precision and elegance of the form, a mark of craft that is evident from the very first line. Rich specifics supercharge the poem, delicious place names that build a world for the reader and are also notable for their delightful sonic quality (as in “Ruins in Antrim”). Deft syntax also energizes these lines as in the heartbreakingly short sentence: “Little joy,” which is wonderfully ambiguous (how wonderful that there is joy, how tragic that there is little of it). And the last stanza is a stunner: the ghostly aching of loss rendered in concrete imagery, as in “your tenor from the empty living room” and “you subtract your dance from the dark.” The last line is equally surprising and fresh: all the well-wrought imagery, the words, the world, get it wrong; the beloved cannot be reproduced or returned. A dazzling ending for a dazzling poem.
Third Place: Iliana Rocha, “Tabloid for Judy Garland”
Iliana Rocha earned her PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing from Western Michigan University. Her work has been featured in the Best New Poets 2014 anthology, as well as Bennington Review, Blackbird, and Third Coast. Karankawa, her debut collection, won the 2014 AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and is available through the University of Pittsburgh Press. She is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma where she teaches creative writing.
Judge Hadara Bar-Nadav writes of Rocha’s “Tabloid for Judy Garland”: This whole series of poems is wonderfully inventive and fresh, but “Tabloid for Judy Garland” is particularly powerful and balances innovation, tone, diction, and content in evocative ways. I was immediately struck by how absence is articulated through brackets, a kind of self-erasure that mirrors the self-erasure via drugs and alcohol hinted at in “her liver singing ruin, ruin.” This ruptured villanelle captures glimpses, glimmerings, and fracturings of a life all at once, from the “rainbow folded in half” to a woman in red, “skeletal & amphetamine.” Visceral imagery, diction, syntax, and sound work hand in hand in such well-wrought lines as “Voice of limping menthol bell…”. The “we” in the poem is also a resonant and heartbreaking choice; the “we” who “star in opposite directions” are strangers at last and loss lingers on.
The three winners will be published in Grist’s Tenth Anniversary Issue in February 2017. To pre-order Issue Ten, head over to our Submittable page.