|Adam Crittenden, MFA Creative Writing (Poetry) '12|
|Melanie Sweeney Bowen, MFA Creative Writing (Fiction) '12|
The winners of the 2012 Jacobs Prize are
by Adam Crittenden
People We Will Let in the Fortress
by Melanie Sweeney Bowen
Kevin McIlvoy was the judge. Below are his comments on these outstanding manuscripts:
People We Will Let in the Fortress by Melanie Sweeney Bowen
In these extraordinary pages from a linked book of stories, the author utterly transports the reader into the protagonist’s processes of conscience. Fiction only rarely goes this distance in portraying how far inward a person must travel to truly feel the very ground of her heart, how far outward to recognize the figure of another’s ways of being. These are short stories but they have novelistic scale, and it is particularly exciting to know that they are part of a large project reaching deeply into the mysteries of forgiveness and self-forgiveness, of losing trust and regaining it, of deliberately holding back the secret self and of offering it with impulsive loving compassion. The reader cannot hold back from rereading the wise and evocative passages of the two stories, “Earth to Nashville” and “People We Will Let in the Fortress.” Here is one example (from “People We Will Let in the Fortress”) of how this masterful storyteller invites the reader to intimately experience the clear and confounding psychological crises of the characters:
If there was anything she knew with certainty in this world, it was that the bad things never came on when you expected them, but rather when you couldn’t possibly have prepared. They felt deeply personal, yet at the same time reminded you of your irrelevance, how utterly random your brushes with loss and pain. Unlike her, she knew Oliver believed everything happened to him. Nothing felt irrelevant. In some ways, this perspective could make things easier; you could always wind your way back to some choice, some slip that set everything else in motion, and bypass the why-me questioning that plagued others. But it also made the world quite lonely, even cruel. If everything originated in some personal action or desire, then there was no escaping yourself.
There is no doubt: People We Will Let in the Fortress will be a great book.
Empire Mind by Adam Crittenden
The poems in Empire Mind are tolling poems: from a steely distance they toll warning; from a dreamlike condition, they toll nightmare; from a creepy sense of the comic, they toll pain. They call to mind Stephen Dunn’s “Loves” in which the ‘loving’ speaker of the poem invokes “church bells ringing stasis, stasis.” There is an out-of-body voice in these disturbing contemplations of this “garbage island,” of this ‘machine kingdom’ that is our violated planet. The testament of the poems is of individuals and groups who have been shocked past responsiveness and reaction, have been buried alive and must speak to themselves from within the festering heap, from within the crusher (“Recycle, Reuse, Reduce, and Close the Lid”). Reading “Temporal,” one feels the despair of the speaker who has been made mute by the torpor of the earth’s human population and has also become addicted to it: “If we study the past, then / we can better destroy each other / in the present.” In the terrifying poem “The Machine Machine” the reader is given the facts by a speaker calculating the absurd “position” one might acquire in this doomed kingdom: “The Machine Machine is a machine / that eats maggots like me for lunch, / not breakfast. Breakfast maggots are different. // Those maggots are maggots / that wish they could trade in their animal cells / for a few good circuits.”
The writer of Empire Mind has not flinched; in each poem, the result is a powerful fullness of horror.
Thanks to all of you who submitted this year--it was a very competitive pool. And our thanks to Kevin McIlvoy for his efforts in supporting the endowment and carefully reading and considering the submissions. The winners will receive $500 each for the award.