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"Turning the Leaves" Wins the Rhysling Award

My birthday was this past weekend, and in addition to enjoying a fantastic evening of good food, good drink, and good friends sharing their art with me at an open-mic style celebration in my favourite cafe, my poem “Turning the Leaves” was announced as winner of the Rhysling Award for Best Short Poem, while two Goblin Fruit poems — Mike Allen’s “Hungry Constellations” and Rose Lemberg’s “I will show you a single treasure from the treasures of Shah Niyaz” — were Rhysling honorees in the Long Form category.

Well, I’m agog.

According to Mike Allen this makes me the first woman to win the award three times. I’m very happy that this poem in particular — written for Lynne M. Thomas on the eve of her leaving Apex magazine — should be so honoured. It’s also a Glasgow poem, and to see it win an award on the eve of my leaving my adoptive city stirs all kinds of things in me. I’ll miss its stray, streaming, fingerling light, its magpies, jackdaws, gulls, more than I can ever say.

Huge thanks are due to Lynne for inspiring and accepting the poem; to Apex magazine for publishing it; to Elizabeth R. McClellan  and Ashley Brown for their hard work assembling the Rhysling Showcase; and to all who nominated and voted for the poem. The latter in particular is such a strange sort of relief: the last time I won a Rhysling felt unfair and tainted for reasons I’ll detail below, so to have a poem win free and clear is pretty great.

The last time I won the Rhysling award, for “Peach-Creamed Honey” in 2011, was as a correction administered to a bad situation. Another nominee, Juan Manuel Perez, had stuffed the ballot box with votes made from a large number of memberships bought in the name of several family members for one of his poems. He was disqualified — but not for having stuffed the ballot. Instead, it turned out that the poem supported by the stuffing wasn’t eligible for award consideration that year, having been first published in 2009 instead of 2010.

With Perez’ poem taken out of the running, and Janis Ian’s second-place poem also having been found to have been first published in 2009, “Peach-Creamed Honey” was bumped into first place. This has never sat well with me, and I have a hard time thinking of it as a win, since the votes for Ian’s poem weren’t, so far as I know, redistributed — just eliminated along with the poem. It was disheartening all around, and in order to prevent such a thing from happening again I sincerely hope the SFPA’s members will take the trenchant organizational criticisms raised in Elizabeth McClellan’s Editor’s Note to heart.

All that to say, I’m genuinely bowled over to have my poem honoured with a Rhysling this year. It was very unexpected — I’ve had no connection to the Rhysling’s awarding body for a few years now and no sense at all of its reading atmosphere — and very welcome. Congratulations to all the other honorees, and thank you again for a truly splendid birthday present.