2019 Frost Farm Prize for Metrical Poetry

Thank you everybody who entered this year's contest! Your entries provide much needed support to the Hyla Brook Poets and the Trustees of the Robert Frost Farm in their mission to promote the teaching and writing of metrical poetry--the kind of poetry Frost wrote. Below is the 2019 prize announcement:

The Trustees of the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, NH, and the Hyla Brook Poets are pleased to announce that the winner of the 9th Annual Frost Farm Prize for metrical poetry is David Southward of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for his sestina, "Mary’s Visit."

 Southward receives $1,000, and will be a featured reader at The Hyla Brook Reading Series at the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, NH, on Friday, June 14, 2019, 7:00pm. The reading kicks off the 5th Annual Frost Farm Poetry Conference (June 14-16, 2019).


 David Southward grew up in southwest Florida and earned degrees in English from Northwestern University (BA ’90) and Yale (PhD ’97). Since 1998 he has taught literature, film, and comics in the Honors College at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His sonnet sequence Apocrypha (Wipf & Stock 2018) reimagines Gospel narratives from a humanistic perspective; a full collection, Bachelor’s Buttons, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books (April 2020). Since he began writing poetry in 2011, David’s work has appeared in Light, The Lyric, Measure, POEM, and other journals, as well as the anthologies Van Gogh Dreams and Love Affairs at the Villa Nelle. In 2017 he was awarded the Lorine Niedecker Prize from the Council for Wisconsin Writers (selected by Tyehimba Jess) and the Muse Prize from the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (selected by Mark Doty). In his spare time David enjoys cooking, gardening, and traveling with his husband, Geoff. To read more of his work, visit davidsouthward.com.

 He said this about receiving the award, “What a thrill to be chosen by Bruce Bennett from a no doubt formidable pool of competitors. Thank you, Mary, wherever you are. And thank you, Frost Farm.”

The 2019 Frost Farm Prize judge, poet, educator, and editor Bruce Bennett, selected the winning poem after reading all 978 anonymous entries.

 Bennett said, “It was an honor to be granted the opportunity to read so many poems by authors who not only willingly but joyfully embrace the constraints of writing in meter and traditional forms. Except—as those who choose to do so know well—such ‘constraints’ are not truly constraints at all. Rather, as masters of poetic craft—Robert Frost preeminent among them—invariably testify, it is these seeming barriers to ‘free expression’ that actually liberate and propel practitioners to the delighted discovery of precisely what it is they themselves, albeit at times unconsciously, need and wish to say.”

The winning poem by David Southward:

Mary’s Visit

We watched her car pass slowly by our house
and circle back with purpose. It appeared
she’d spotted us, nestled in our dream
of a stone cottage from an earlier time.
She parked out front and asked to come inside.
Naturally we concluded she was lost

or peddling religion. All she had lost
however, was certainty: could this house
have been her Great Aunt Gertrude’s? “Look inside
if you want,” we told her. Something might appear
to bring back vanished memories of the time
she played here with her siblings. “I’ve had dreams,”

 she said, “of finding it again”—one dream
in which the porch was sloped like ours. Half lost
in the wistful currents pulling her through time,
I pictured the aunt living in our house—
and how, whenever relatives appeared
on the doorstep, she’d hold the pain inside

her knotted joints, and smile. Here inside
our damp, shade-darkened rooms, her niece would dream
that Gertrude was a witch, that ghosts appeared
behind the bathtub curtain, and that lost
in the woods out back of the spinster’s house
were her missing children. This stored-up time

had become a burden to our guest, a time
that had no place. It rattled around inside,
where doubts began to creep: although our house
looked like the one she’d come to in her dream,
its lines were off; the floor plan did not match
a pattern that had all but disappeared.

“Maybe”—she tapped her head—“it’s all up here.”
One’s memories grew entangled over time
with longing, hope, regret. The thread’s soon lost
that leads out of the maze we live inside—
bumping against the glass doors of our dreams
in search of some distinct, authentic house.

Her fear appeared to change the mood inside
as time resumed its course. Clutching her dream
of what she’d lost, Mary left our house.


About the poem, Bennett said,

"Among a large number of impressive contenders, ‘Mary’s Visit’ finally stood out for me as the winning poem. Its consummate craft as a sestina is obvious enough. But I also admired its relaxed colloquial quality, which captures the empathy and congeniality of the couple welcoming the slightly befuddled stranger with a vague mission into their cottage. As the poem unhurriedly unfolds, abetted by the almost dream-like repetitive progression of the form itself, we are led deeper and deeper into the visitor’s psyche in the company of the sympathetic speaker who has himself become ‘Half lost/in the wistful currents pulling her through time.’ In his imagination, he enters into Mary’s experience of her larger-than-life Great Aunt Gertrude and her own seemingly haunted childhood. ‘This stored-up time’ which ‘had become a burden to our guest’ persists in her as ‘a time that had no place.’ Having gradually recognized that theirs was not the locale she still believes in and longs for, Mary taps her head, concluding with poignant resignation, ‘Maybe it’s all up here,’ and departs.

 There is a quiet eloquence, even profundity, in the succeeding lines of the sixth stanza:

One’s memories grew entangled over time
with longing, hope, regret. The thread’s soon lost
that leads out of the maze we live inside—
bumping against the glass doors of our dreams
in search of some distinct, authentic house.

Inexorably, time resumes its course, and we are cast out again into its currents: ‘Clutching her dream/of what she’d lost, Mary left our house.’

The one place where the poet breaks with the conventions of the form testifies to his unobtrusive mastery. In the fifth stanza, the fifth line does not repeat the word ‘lost,’ as called for by the sestina’s pattern of repetitions. Instead, he introduces a completely new term, ‘match,’ a discrepancy that reinforces the reality that any possible congruence between Mary’s past and present has been definitively ‘lost.’ But at this point in the poem, one is not surprised by the artistry. One is simply grateful.”

In addition to selecting the winner, Bennett chose the following Finalists from the 978 entries (being a finalist is quite an accomplishment, congratulations!):


Finalists (in alphabetical order):

 “A Backward Glance” by Brian Brodeur from Richmond, IN.

 “From the Memoirs of Mickey the Busboy” by Michael Cantor from Newbury, MA.

 “An Invocation of Fragments” by Ted Charnley from Sykesville, MD.

 “On the Earth of Lincoln County, Washington on Saint Valentine’s Day” by R. J. Keeler from Vashon, WA.

 “Poet Descending a Staircase” by Arne Weingart from Chicago, IL.


Previous Prize Winners and Judges:

2018 Susan de Sola of the Netherlands, for “Buddy” — Judge Melissa Balmain

2017 Caitlin Doyle of Cincinnati, Ohio, for "Wishes" --Judge Deborah Warren

2016 James Najarian of Auburndale, Massachussets for "Dark Ages" -- Judge David Rothman

2015  Kevin Durkin of Santa Monica, California for "Meteor Crater" - Judge Joshua Mehigan  

2014  Rob Wright of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for "Meetings with my Father" - Judge Rhina Espaillat

2013  Caki Wilkinson of Sewanee, Tennessee,  for "Arts and Crafts"  - Judge Catherine Tufariello 

2012  Richard Meyer of Mankato, Minnesota, for, "Fieldstone" - Judge Richard Wakefield

2011   Sharon Fish Mooney of Coshocton, Ohio for "Dimly Burning Wicks" - Judge Bill Baer

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About the Frost Farm’s Hyla Brook Poets

The Frost Farm was home to the poet and his family from 1900-1909. The Hyla Brook Poets, a 501(c)(3), started in 2008 as a monthly poetry workshop. In March 2009, the Hyla Brook Reading Series launched with readings by emerging poets as well as luminaries such as Maxine Kumin, David Ferry, Linda Pastan, and Sharon Olds. The Frost Farm Prize was introduced in 2010, followed by the inaugural Frost Farm Poetry Conference in 2015.




Sponsored by the Trustees of the Robert Frost Farm and the Hyla Brook Poets