One minute ago I will have posted the winners of the 2008 Rattle Poetry Prize. (I’m writing this before I go to bed on Sunday night, which should explain the unusual verb tense — what is that, pluperfect?)
As I type this, Megan is wading waist-deep in SASEs, which she’s filling with notifications to all of those who didn’t win. It’s quite a sight. Each letter is sealed with a bit of regret — I never win anything; I know what it feels like to get the thin envelope in the mail and not even bother reading it.
I don’t think it’s possible to judge a contest honestly without worrying that you’ve made the wrong choice — worrying that you may have missed an amazing poem because you were too tired, or your brain too numbed from the dull poems that happened to precede it. There’s always the temptation to read through the large stack of poems left over at random, and see if you might come across something good you missed. And I always give in.
But one thing is certain. I read the 50-odd semi-finalist entries at least a dozen times each, and Joseph Fasano’s winning poem was the only one that became more enjoyable and moving each time. That’s a rare thing. And when we got down the the final three, Alan read each of them aloud in his raspy baritone (think Garrison Keillor, only Alan doesn’t mangle with melodrama), and immediately the decision became unanimous.
More assurance that there’s rhyme to our reason (or reason to our rhyme?): Two of the honorable mentions, Ted Gilley and Hilary Melton, already have poems appearing in the December issue of Rattle, and another, Douglas Goetsch earned an honorable mention in 2006.
As we were reading these poems, we had no idea who the authors were — we even made a game of guessing gender before we unveiled the winners to ourselves, and performed pitifully. That we chose the work of poets we’re already publishing demonstrates that, as subjective as our tastes may be, at least those tastes are consistent. We can pick the needles out of the haystack. So while I’m sure another team of editors might have chosen differently, I’m confident that we selected the best eleven poems we received, according to our own proclivities.