Gunpowder Press is excited to announce that judge Jane Hirshfield has selected Aaron Baker’s Posthumous Noon as the winner of the 2017 Barry Spacks Poetry Prize. The editors are grateful to Jane Hirshfield for being our final judge and for her constant outspoken advocacy of poetry and its power.
There were 195 manuscripts submitted for consideration. Ten finalists were selected. In addition to Aaron Baker, Posthumous Noon, The other finalists were:
Steven Huff, A Fire in the Hill
Barbara March, Here Is a Woman
Jeff Oaks, Little What
Lisa Rosenberg, A Different Physics
Lynn Schmeldler, History of Gone
Emily Schulten, The Way a Wound Becomes a Scar
Melissa Stephenson, After Mating for Life
Angela Voras-Hills, The Account of Worms
Pui Ying Wong, The Feast
Of selecting the winning manuscript, Jane Hirshfield wrote:
Posthumous Noon is a book of grief and its bearing. It is also a book of language’s largess and leaping—as all true poem-volumes must be—and a book of the treasure house of the living: of largemouth bass; of the eros of moths and of humans; of cities and fields, stories and waters. It is a book holding as well many kinds of migration: the migration of the body in illness, of love’s witness, of souls, of creatures, of aftermath. In word, music, and image, Aaron Baker confirms his book title’s promise: even amid loss’s darkness, the full dimensions of light cannot be kept from this world.”
Aaron Baker’s first collection of poems, Mission Work (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), winner of a Katherine Bakeless Prize in Poetry, is based on his experiences as a child of missionaries living among the Kuman people in the remote Chimbu Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Judge Stanley Plumly wrote: “How rare to find precision and immersion so alive in the same poetry. Aaron Baker’s pressure on his language not only intensifies and elevates his memories of Papuan ‘mission work,’ it transforms it back into something very like his original childhood experience. Throughout this remarkably written and felt first book, the reader, like the author himself, ‘can’t tell if this is white or black magic,’ Christian, tribal, or both at once.” In 2009, Baker won the $2,500 Shenandoah/Glasgow Prize for a poet who has published only one book. Judge Alice Friman noted that Mission Work touches “the essential mystery that underlies all things.”
Aaron Baker earned his B.A. from Central Washington University, and his M.F.A. from the University of Virginia. His honors and awards include a Stegner Fellowship, a Henry Hoyns Fellowship in Creative Writing, a Ludwig Vogelstein Literary Fellowship, and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He is currently Assistant Professor of English at Loyola University Chicago.
Congratulations to Aaron Baker, our finalists, and the several manuscripts that were selected for publication elsewhere during the contest. The editors were impressed by the quality and variety of work submitted. Our gratitude to all the participants for their support of poetry. We also recognize our previous winners: Kurt Olsson, whose book Burning Down Disneyland was selected by Thomas Lux in 2016; and Catherine Abbey Hodges, our inaugural winner with Instead of Sadness, selected by Dan Gerber in 2015. Catherine’s second Gunpowder book, Raft of Days, was released August 1 of this year. Finally, thank you to our mentor and friend, Barry Spacks, who continues to guide our work.