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TGC comes close again: Finalist, Barry Spacks Prize

Image of Kellum Ayres, winner of the 2023 Barry Spacks Prize

Hooray for late summer news! My little manuscript is being read and considered by several different publishers right now. I tend to dismiss my chances for earlier versions of the work, as I’ve kept revising it over a two-year period, so I was completely surprised and pleased to learn that a slightly earlier version of the work — earlier meaning it was submitted back in February, which feels like eons ago — had received a finalist nod in the Barry Spacks Poetry Prize competition from the folks at Gunpowder Press.

This was, of course, an unexpected honor, but even more so because I entered this competition after reading about it when a friend I know through poetry, Catherine Esposito Prescott, entered and won last year for her collection, Accidental Garden. Catherine is editor-in-chief of SWWIM Every Day and a co-founder with Jen Karetnick of SWWIM — Supporting Women Writers in Miami —  which is much more than a journal. (More information about the group is here.) SWWIM has published several of my poems over the years and Jen and Catherine invited me last year to be a co-reader at the Betsy Hotel in Miami, which just cemented my bond with them. So I figured if Gunpowder Press had published Catherine’s work, they had to have good taste, and were worth sending to.

But while it’s wonder to receive acknowledgement for my work, a revelation I had with this one was that despite the fact the editors were reading a version of my manuscript that had been, in my mind, improved and honed since then, nonetheless they found something worthwhile in the work as a whole and, I would like to think, the vision behind it. Often I have looked back at earlier versions of poems and tended to dismiss them, particularly when they are accepted and out in the world in a newer version. But I’ve learned over time that the genesis of each poem, where it came from, remains where it came from, and sometimes even a rougher, more raw interpretation can be instructive — particularly if I have begun to feel I’ve lost my way in a poem, or somehow revised it into a version that is perhaps more stylized than the original, but just maybe, lacking in heart.

That’s not to say I don’t feel like revision is important — it’s just that, “re-VISION” — but it is a honing. At least one poem in The Grief Committee had been revised several times and submitted in that updated version as part of the collection, but when it was accepted and published by a good journal in its original form, I went back and compared that version to the newer version, and ended up mostly changing it back. I felt like maybe I’d tried to make the title too clever, so I went back to the original one.

At any rate, I want to congratulate Kellam Ayres, whose work is new to me but outstanding, on her well-deserved win in the Spacks Prize competition! And here’s hoping TGC continues to resonate with readers and soon will find its perfect home.