HAMPDEN-SYDNEY COLLEGE – ENGLISH DEPT.
CELEBRATING 17 YEARS OF POETRY FROM STUDENTS
Congratulations to the 2015 winner - Sam Forbes!
The Sallie Wright Harrison Poetry Award was established in 1998 by an alumnus, in
memory of Mrs. Harrison, and as a testimony to her love of poetry and teaching. This
fund has been endowed in order to further promote the creation of poetic writings by
students at the College. All students are strongly encouraged to try their hand at this form
of expression, which may be different from what they have previously attempted,
and which they may well find enjoyable as well as enriching. To this end, the poetry fund
generates an annual cash award for a Hampden-Sydney College student who has
proven by his authorship to possess a genuine interest and creativity in verse.
“The poet’s language is a faithful echo of his feelings.
It is emotion – warm, generous, lofty emotion, inspired by a perception
of the beautiful and the grand, such as seems to raise him who feels it
above the sordidness and petty concerns of ordinary life –
which seems to be the essence of poetry…”
Prof. George Tucker, 1830
Selection and Presentation
The award will be made to a Hampden-Sydney College student who has demonstrated
competitive writing ability, by participation in the English Department’s periodic poetry contest.
The Chairman of the English Department will set the amount of the award and may select a
recipient as often as annually. The prize (most recently in the amount of $500) will be
awarded at Spring Convocation. The donor, who will remain anonymous,
will be informed of the designee each year.
Letter and Certificate for the Winner
At Convocation, the student winner will receive: (1) a check or letter from the Business
Office, confirming the dollar amount of the award; and (2) a framed certificate,
with the following inscription in calligraphic form:
Established in 1998 by an alumnus in memory of Sallie Wright Harrison, as testimony to
her love of poetry and teaching, this award is presented to a student who has proven by
his authorship to possess a genuine interest and creativity in verse.
Awarded on (date) at Hampden-Sydney College
To (name of student)
SWH POETRY AWARD WINNERS
What is it that makes you so daunting shotgun?
Your neck is smooth, butt nicely rounded, and carved by hand,
Color of the brightest hue be not your friend,
For your color belongs to the dirt,
To the land. Branches, burrs, and bark unite
To make your hue shine no light.
You are a lady,
Who knows no more that what is told.
So stretch out your body and be gripped,
Until we find a blood that fits
For some warm ruby lips.
Bury your target’s blood into me.
One more we’ll take, you and me.
Do not worry about a lack of shimmer,
But live undauntedly, for your blood is all mine.
The Return of St. George
Evening skies reign supreme
above a cracked icy pond.
The leaves rustle like a requiem
For the souls that won’t respond.
A faint light leaves a gleaming
reflection of a decadent dream
weaved by old storytellers. A fawn
mosies by a moss steaming
from a sword of flames. Beyond
its shadow is a figure from a dream.
St. George stands at ease,
gazing at the strand of stars
that have granted him release.
Upon his hands are the scars
That swelled from the night’s breeze.
The smoldering ashes still
flash in his head from the fight
with the dragon that he killed.
The blazing embers light
A damning dream full of shrill
voices that vanish in respite.
The wind blows out the flames
Of his sword while its bright
Steel plays stranger ingrained
In the moss invisible to the knight.
He greets the fawn and rests
his hand on its head where he felt
a spirit only a saint could attest.
The dragon’s fire he was once dealt
was now a smoke cloud put to rest.
2013………..John Taylor Pannill
Little civilizations of numbers
Greek letters and odd symbols
Divided into classes
Of subscript and common denominators
Squared and square-rooted
A brave .3 wielding a parenthesis
Wages war on the superscript 2
Squaring it from above
While X struggles below
To be found
Crammed next to a slope
That's coming to its end point
And over the hills of bell curves
Through the deserts of scatter plots
Sits Y having an identity crisis
Always equaling this
Or being equal to that
It spends its days talking
To imaginary #'s graphing itself,
And reciting love poems to π
Topophilia for a Goldfish
A measly gallon of water, shape of a cube,
Incased in glass, my one and only home;
I hope one will understand that I am only
Partially upset, I breathe the stale liquid,
Love the miracle of floating. It’s easy!
The food is regular and gently digested,
And my cellmate is my twin. We make kissy
Faces in the dark, and in the light
We flaunt our bedroom eyes at anyone,
Giants through the glass, our Benefactor,
His eyes, unlike ours, anchored somewhere else.
When we bathe (but we always bathe) in darkness,
When we are not playing with ourselves,
We hypothesize the origin of blue,
His blue, his glaciated consciousness,
Which we play at plumbing, but never plumb;
O Benefactor, your would-be definers ache.
In your absences, we have discussed the likelihood
That you are sad, that your experience
Is moraine, and that a formidable mass
Has left you, starkly corrugated and frozen—
You see how much we care! (And see how much
We learn from the books on the table: Icy Tundra.)
Benefactor, you are as much a place
As this water; and I often wonder at
The distinction, my halfhearted satisfaction—
Halved because of clotted glass, fences,
Hearted because your bigger heart exists,
And glass is, after all, only glass.
Are our theories unfounded, Benefactor?
Do you feel every facet of the verb deserted?
Dip your hand in the tank, so we will know
If you are lonely; your pulse disturbs the water.
Briefly, you are the molecules we sift
For sustenance—you are the spaces, too.
It will be the same for both of us
He tossed the mulch like shrapnel, lifted it
from a wheelbarrow mountain of shattered
bark to the dirt path under his boots,
an explosion of dust gushing out
each time the weight of mulch came down.
There was a rhythm to the work:
expected clash of steel on steel,
scrape of the tines against the barrow’s bowl
which, every time, gouged at my ears,
relentless as gunfire. When the pile
was depleted, I hauled back up the hill
for more, shoveled the mess in, and turned
back, tripping over roots and rocks to his tired
form. Old as I was, he still seemed to loom
over me, a giant, somehow more
than what he was: ultimately, a man
leaning against the handle of a busted old pitchfork,
dusk falling around him at the edge
of woods we thinned ourselves.
It was his eyes that spelled exhaustion,
the brim of his hat that seemed to weigh him down
most. War, I thought. I have never been
to war. Neither had he,
but something in his leaning form
told me of what war on the body was like—
that any man, at the fleeing shapes
of the foe, collapses, shivered spear
slipping to the dirt.
He would have made a good solider,
I guess, except that he would have felt
too much in his bones for whatever soul
stood across the line where no one crosses,
that pale expanse between your ranks
and theirs. Somewhere in that plain
Aeneas flees with father and son,
his wife’s ghost urging him to run.
Is this what it means to father—that above
all prior duty, he must fling himself
through the bronze-sheathed masses
with past and future in tow?
He pauses now, and tells me this
is good work, the work souls are made of.
He buries the pitchfork in the mulch and lifts.
2010……… Matt MacFarland
That early winter we found the wind thin
and biting—the way a wire fence pricks quick
into skin—in the twilight morning, in the after-
moon night. I stared up through astigmatic
eyes, sifting the prisms of light from the lot’s
lamps and asked you where Orion’s belt
cinched the black in-between, and how Cygnus
filled the sky’s silence with her first (her last)
throaty ode, thrown against our eyes and catching
in our chests. You would find the hunter for me but not
the swan and her death lament, not the words that heard
death breathe hot against her neck the color
of the way moon-shine whitens the lot lights
curving up through the night air.
You whispered something like I’m cold
and that you wanted to leave the stars alone,
that even such great distance as theirs
closed your throat up tight with an awful terror.
You said the fire would be closer and warmer than dead
suns spinning and spending their heat on the vacuum-void,
but I held fast, mooring you tight to me,
wrapping your fingers and fears around mine
and around the breathy, feathered quiet.
Then glidingly the stars began sliding
gentle like headlights glinting along a highway—
some quick, some unhurried, some looked like they were
flashing straight for us, and I felt your hand tighten.
When the spring comes
there is a breath
deep and full. It
hums in the wings of insects.
When the snow melts and dries,
it was there all along,
but hidden from the eyes
of the birds long gone, but soon-returning.
And among the grasses
waving in the warm wind
rabbits play with snakes
a game that has one winner.
Young saplings reach above
the begging arms of weed stalks,
their learning-to-walk branches
dense with unseasoned, babyskin
leaves that crumble wet
in the palm of my hand.
2008………….....Samuel C. Rosten
Fairhope in Spring
The pink flush of azaleas
Covers gardens and borders side walks,
With long grandpa arms of live oaks
Hanging moss over lazy streets.
Fishermen and sailors on the town pier
Stretch out over the calm brackish water.
A child gasps, scanning
Through the public binoculars,
At Mobile’s skyline across the bay.
Wives and children waltz
Down the sidewalks of old downtown,
With Tulips and Stargazer Lilies.
Old men grin in the barbershop and,
Out from the little league park,
Ghosts march, each innocent’s past.
A Magnolia’s white brilliance
Is ignored by children climbing its thick branches.
Next to a yacht club, filled with docked sailboats
Sounding light, hollow tinks as they sway,
A Pelican skims the placid waters,
Swoops up sharply, then dives for its blue mullet dinner.
At night, the streets empty.
If it’s fall or winter, the trimmed sweet gums
Are covered with sparkling lights.
There is only a community college nearby;
But, on Memorial Day the wild ones have returned.
They talk at the pub and the café by the sailboats,
Sometimes oblivious to the treasure of the sleepy town.
The old clock stands handsomely on the corner,
While the dawn soon lights its brilliance,
And city workers rise to maintain our beauty.
2007………………Stephen Leo English
To My 21
I was planted in the Tobacco fields
of Eastern Carolina, reared up
with a gut full of smoke,
sixteen years before America
was told to never forget.
And so, I grew; my rough leaves
rubbing against one another
like pages of a Dickens’ novel
whose words bled black into
the sandy, fertile soil.
Subsiding on words like
French fertilizer: Dumas, Duras,
I grew; my rough leaves
reaching north where the tea
turned bitter and the wind cold.
Reaching north to escape this
Faulkner-weed, this rampant
overbearing shadow, I grew;
what place is there for a
voice that can only mimic?
Exhaling that belly full of
smoke, like three before, and
so many after, I bloom;
uproot to realize the ground is
only good enough here.
Here in the tobacco fields
of Eastern Carolina where
my family dies, black-lunged,
where I stay rooted and solemn
reading words like Seven-dust.
Your oldest shoes
Have beaten the odds
And gotten you home before curfew;
Tracked mud into the basement and
Discovered dog piles on your lawn.
They carried you up the rock
That overlooks the river,
And took a relaxing nap
While you dove into the cool water.
How did they navigate the mud,
The rocks, and the piles
When you never bothered
To tie them.
A camera paraphrases life,
freezing circumstance with
of the shutter release.
Bits of metal, plastic, and glass
form a time machine
incapable of predicting the future,
only revisiting the past.
Film is pulled from its back
like a fetus
delivered too soon from the womb.
The pictures are underdeveloped
and poorly prepared to do their job.
A slim pane of glass
focuses the intended image
and preserves it.
A mere reflection of reality.
Odorless. Tasteless. Silent.
The camera’s product is stillborn,
And folks who only exist in pictures
are still dead.
Linear and Painterly
In one or another way.
It’s linear or painterly
And I don’t know which one am I.
In Germany there is a word
What here would take a page.
Ah, Martin Luther had
A certain rhetorical style
And what if maybe once did I
Use it for my own?
Please don’t tell me how to paint;
Your wall will be
Blue, all in good time.
You poor moon.
You’ve got that weary look in your eye
From people carving craters into your face
With old battered words.
But full and flowering,
You’ve still got it in you
To light my pen.
The waves don’t seem to mind,
Beaten to exhaustion as they are too.
Still they go on,
Licking your light,
To you as you are to the sun
—and I, to both of you the same.
In the end I am most weary,
For the weight of all human longing and joy,
Summed up in your sandy milklight,
Beats down on me,
Trying to squeeze out some drop
That is mine.
After all, everyone else has taken that from you.
glad to see your old habits still reign,
for the white of my paper
Carries on the tradition,
Bouncing up thrice-reflected light,
—excepting of course the scars
carved by my black pen.
I hope I didn’t ruin you with this tattoo.
These new advisors, gushers, poets—
They have to be submerged in Nature
Somewhere to connect:
They cannot tell what then they were,
Up in the Grand Titans once where he
Uncovered a mossy little squirrel’s skull, or
Striding along the strand at Key West
Making song love to the salty sea.
O Organic Epiphany,
You smell of earth and sand,
Like a place where a building used to stand.
Like a place where a building had to fall.
Like a jagged boulder that doesn’t fit,
So wet pilgrims can curl up under it.
I was on Spears Mountain last summer.
We sat back to back to back—
A Greek cross—
Three people I love and me.
The sun dropped.
Distant air blushed yellowred white,
Rings of bleeding light pierced by happy peaks.
I could almost say something.
I could almost feel a wafer on my tongue.
I could almost reach out and grab the sky
Like it was mud, or paint, and smear it
Over all our faces so that it would dry and crumble
When we smiled.
So that we could take little pieces of it
Home with us underneath our fingernails.
The Web, The Box, and the Machine
This spider web of
Grand design catches all
With a gentle, calculated
Touch, or a quick
This toolbox of
Honest joints and obedient
Bones is piloted by
a short, fat foreman,
Who blames all losses
On the weaker link
At the other end.
This love machine strokes,
Caresses and sifts its
Way into her pulsating
Heart, sending streams of
Electricity down her bent
This web; this box;
this machine; this hand.
(Baden-Baden, Germany, 1943)
"Silence the child!"
a heated whisper shouts.
The door opens
a seeming mile away.
The creak of entrance
first made Little Love cry.
Momma does everything:
sugar, comforts, baubles.
Every creak above us,
every light and shadow,
agonizes the unintentional betrayal.
We silently scream,
but a moldy sack of potatoes
and salted pork gone bad."
Mother frantic to silent Little Love:
croons, cradles, breast.
The steps slow above us,
dully drumming, thinking.
We force our gaze ahead.
A hand holding a shawl
passes over my lap,
silences the child.
Dust slowly falls as
the steps stop,
deciding, then decide;
there is nothing of worth
in the cellar.
We are saved
and our secret safe.
We now look at Little Love limp.
All the same as before,
Spiritual (Listening to Eric Dolphy)
The two dimensional man in someone else's three dimensional space;
How does the misfit communicate with God?
He babbles aloud, pokes and prods his weary imagination,
thinks of how thin he is, lying here lonely,
looking for a Leader.
Alas God appears; static syllogism, paper idol...
This cannot be true; there is more to the "I AM" than meets the eye.
There is tropical growth
control and abandon
the thinness of happiness
the thickness of insecurity
And before all this, the surprisingly radical quest,
to be loved.