Hadara Bar-Nadav Captures Poetry Prize

(photo by Sharon Gottula)

Objects reveal inner life in poet’s capable hands

Hadara Bar-Nadav has received major literary acclaim for her newest collection of poems, “Fountain and Furnace.” Bar-Nadav, an associate professor in the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Department of English and a member of the graduate and doctoral faculty, won the Sunken Garden Chapbook Prize for 2015.

Recognition of Bar-Nadav’s winning entry took place in June at the famous Sunken Garden of Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut. Hill-Stead is a National Historic Landmark, a private home donated by its owners as an art showplace and public space. Since 1992, Hill-Stead’s annual poetry festival, one of America’s most important poetry events, has drawn capacity crowds to its picturesque outdoor setting. The museum joined forces with Tupelo Press in 2013 to offer the prestigious Sunken Garden Poetry Prize, a national award for adult writers.

The festival included five performances and writing workshops held over the summer; most conducted outdoors with live music. The Farmington community considers the museum a treasure, and many visitors came early to the readings, to picnic and engage the headlining poets in relaxed conversation.

“As we walked around the grounds and talked with festival-goers,” Bar-Nadav said, “I was impressed by how much they love their museum and its gardens. It was as if they were welcoming me to their own home. And a big crowd for a poetry reading is a welcome sight.”

Bar-Nadav received a $1,000 cash prize, gave a reading from “Fountain and Furnace,” and had her chapbook designed, published and distributed nationally by Tupelo Press.

The Process
Bar-Nadav brought her husband and year-old son to the reading, an exercise in strengthening her life/work/family stability.

“In some ways, new motherhood was the impetus for this collection,” Bar-Nadav said. “I had composed a lot of pieces around a central theme, the ‘soul’ or interior life of inanimate objects; so when my son was born, I grabbed a few minutes here and an hour there to collate and edit my manuscript. It made the prize and the publication all the more meaningful.

“I have always felt that objects have their own stories to tell. I have an assortment of mechanical pencils that belonged to my grandfather, a graphic designer. When I look at them or hold them, I feel a warmth and kinship to this man, although I never knew him. So, through objects, I hold my family close.”

The book’s title is a combination of two works. “Fountain” is a statue of a boy on the Country Club Plaza; and “Furnace” is the heart. Bar-Nadav liked the imagery of cool and warmth that the title evoked.

Before her reading, she laughingly assured the audience that her prize was legitimate. “My winning the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize had nothing to do with the fact that Ted Kooser (former US Poet Laureate) was my instructor in graduate school,” she said. “Sharing the reading with him tonight was completely unexpected, and I am honored.”

The Prize
The Sunken Garden Poetry Prize is a highly competitive national honor. This year, the competition received 648 submissions from around the world; Antarctica was the only continent not represented. Judges over the years have included well-known poets such as Martha Collins, Patricia Smith, Tony Hoagland and Mark Doty. This year’s judge was Peter Stitt.

Tupelo, an independent literary press in North Adams, Massachusetts, is a nationally renowned and respected publisher focused on poetry, literary fiction and creative nonfiction by emerging and established writers.

“What we look for,” their website announces, “is a blend of urgency of language, imagination, distinctiveness, and craft.” A few lines from Bar-Nadav’s poem, “Thumb,” are proof that her writing meets these demanding criteria.

From “Thumb”

Who means what it is to be human
and is scarred by childhood.

Thick and neckless. Your head shaped
like a gravestone.

A smile opens across the knuckle and disappears
every time you lift a tumbler of scotch.

Who holds a pen and lies…

Judge Peter Stitt spoke of the qualities that sold him on Bar-Nadav’s work, particularly how her writing reflected “a bracing pruning of form down to its minimalist essence, a sharp knife trimming away dead branches.”

Bar-Nadav’s earlier works have also been chosen for literary prizes, among them “Lullaby (with Exit Sign),” Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize; “The Frame Called Ruin,” Runner Up, Green Rose Prize; and “A Glass of Milk to Kiss Goodnight,” the Margie Book Prize. She is also the author of “Show Me Yours,” a chapbook that took the Midwest Poets Series Prize. In addition, she is co-author of the best-selling textbook, “Writing Poems,” now in its 8th edition. Recent awards include the Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize and fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.


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