2015 Black Box Poetry Prize Results:

Dear Friends & Readers,

Rescue Press is thrilled to announce Adrienne Raphel as the winner of this year’s Black Box Poetry Prize. Adrienne’s manuscript, What Was It For, was chosen by our judge, Cathy Park Hong, and will be published in our 2016-17 catalog. We've also selected Vanessa Jimenez Gabb’s Images for Radical Politics as our Editor’s Choice, to be published the same year.

Adrienne Raphel was raised in southern New Jersey and northern Vermont. She has an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard. Her chapbook, But What Will We Do, is forthcoming from Seattle Review. Raphel is a regular contributor to the New Yorker online. Her writing has also appeared in, among other publications, the Paris Review Daily, the Atlantic online, Assignment, Lana Turner JournalPrelude, and Poetry Northwest.

Vanessa Jimenez Gabb is the author of the chapbooks midnight blue (Porkbelly Press, 2015) and Weekend Poems (dancing girl press, 2014). She is the co-founder of Five Quarterly and teaches at Newark Academy. She is from and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Thanks to all of the wonderful poets who sent us work and congratulations to the finalists. We'd also like to remind you that Sara Deniz Akant’s Babette, winner of last year’s Black Box Poetry Prize (chosen by Maggie Nelson), is available for pre-order along with Dot Devota’s The Division of Labor. 

Rescue Press

Kirsten Kaschock: Confessional Sci-Fi: A Primer
Emily Liebowitz: National Park

J’Lynn Chapman: Beastlife
Stella Corso: Eat Island
Claudia Cortese: Wasp Queen
Ginger Ko: Inherit
Sara Renee Marshall: To Be New For the Empire
Jenn Marie Nunes: Those People
Michael Shea: Winner of the Fence Modern Poets Prize
Carleen Tibbetts: Dossier for the Postverbal
CL Young: Overhead Projector

Bridgette Bates (Safety Book #40)

1. Could you tell us the name of a book that you love, and why?

The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees.

I had always loved more dizzying, image-driven poets, but Kees’ crystalline prose-like lines unnerved me with their precision. The dead are named, avenues are numbered, mouths speak extensively with long stanzas of dialogue. So much is illuminated before Kees himself goes missing. The narrative of his life infiltrated my reading of his poems in a way that I typically never read poetry with biography in mind. It is believed Kees either jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge or ran away to Mexico. I like to think he is living in an alcove of the Mayan ruins, finding solace in the cerulean waters.

2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book?

I discovered Kees’ and his collected works during my first Midwestern winter of blinding blizzards. It was my first year at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I was getting little writing of my own done, so I hibernated with a lot of reading. I was reading Donald Justice’s book of essays, Oblivion. Justice has an essay where he praises how none of Weldon Kees’ poems are flawless. I immediately went to Prairie Lights and bought Kees’ collected works. As a young writer struggling to write, flaw inspired me.

3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?

His poems not only haunted me during the coldest winter of my entire life to date—as I spent one late night shoveling my car out of a pyramid of snow, only to realize it was not in fact my car, I heard his fugue: “Falling night/Will cover all”—but beyond that white trench, I have carried with me Kees’ polarizing enchantment with the world—the ephemeral nature of long seasons, dark humor, the beauty of heartbreak.

4. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…

People often critique dialogue in film and books for not sounding believable, which I find ridiculous. I want to be transformed by words on a screen or on a page in a more fantastical way than what I encounter on the street or on my iPhone. Kees was a master at composing utterly beautiful dialogue sequences. Is there anything more breathtaking than this spoken exchange in his poem “Girl at Midnight”?

“Christ, we could die

The way deer sometimes do, their antlers locked,

Rotting in the snow.”

5. Who did you send this book to, why?

I would like to send this to my best friend living in Ohio in honor of the upcoming winter, but she’s a new mom, and that’s such a raw state, that Kees may lead to some type of emotional combustion, so it’s probably best to send her Kees in the summer.

Jonathan Blum (Safety Book #39)

1. Could you tell us the name of a book that you love, and why?

The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary: First Edition.

There have now been five editions of this book—each new one offering hundreds, even thousands, more playable words than the one before—but the edition I’m talking about had a stark gray hardcover (the binding of mine is torn up from use) and had this as a preface:

"This word book has been long awaited by lovers of…SCRABBLE…All who have looked for a guide to settle challenges that arise in the course of play now have one of authority. This is the dictionary of first reference for all SCRABBLE crossword game tournaments."

The first Scrabble clubs, breeding grounds for tournament players, were being formed around North America in the mid-1970s. I found out about the local Miami club from a notice in The Miami Herald; I started playing there regularly on Saturdays in 1977, when I was nine. 

In those days, I studied the OSPD all the time. During the day and at night. In bed and in the bathroom. At school and after school. From age nine to eleven, I spent part of many days trying to memorize as many words as I could, including all the acceptable two- and three-letter words; all the letters (“hooks”) that can go before and after the three-letter words to form other words; words containing J, X, Q and Z; variant spellings of words (CRAAL/KRAAL); then every anagram I came across, particularly potential bingos, which I wrote out in the margins of the dictionary: UTOPIAN/OPUNTIA, STOGIES/EGOISTS, DISCOVER/DIVORCES. I wanted to be a great player. At first, it just seemed a matter of knowing more words—a lot more words—than your opponent. And of being able to find the words in your rack. But the more I studied, the more I realized I didn’t know and the clearer it became how far I was from possibly ever becoming an excellent player.

At twelve, I became a more observant Jew and would not go anywhere on Saturdays other than to synagogue and, afterwards, to the rabbi’s house for Torah study. Some of my Scrabble-playing zeal cooled off, but it has returned periodically throughout my life.

2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book?

It was at the Miami Scrabble club that met on NW 37 Avenue.

3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?

As a young child, I was fascinated by people who could learn things by heart. I didn’t have an especially good memory but I was very admiring of people who did. My grandmother, for example, had memorized dozens of poems and stories that she recited to me before sleep. At synagogue there were men who knew the entire Sabbath prayerbook by heart. Sports announcers seemed to have hundreds of statistics at their disposal. Musicians knew every verse of their songs. And the best Scrabble players, including one, an attorney, who kindly gave me rides to the club and who was so good that he would soon be vying for the national championship, had word knowledge that I would probably never acquire. Still, there was joy in trying to memorize as much of a book as one could, from BEDIAPER to TRUELOVE to PISSOIR; after all, this book, perhaps as much as any other, was made to be memorized.

4. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…

From the Introduction:

“In most cases, only one very brief definition is given for each main entry since definitions do not play a significant role in…SCRABBLE…”

When I was a boy trying to learn as many acceptable Scrabble words as possible, I was often asked by adults who learned of my passion why I was trying so hard to memorize words that, in many cases, I didn’t know the meaning of. (I did have to know if the word took an S or an R or a D at the end.) I usually shrugged off this question; could these people really not see that words are groupings of letters that have an existence as shapes and sounds that is separate from their existence as holders of meaning? That OXY and DOXY or ESOTERIC and COTERIES are related in ways that have nothing to do with what any of the words means? Also, I did gradually learn many meanings. For example, the definition of FOOTSIE in the OSPD is “a flirting game played with the feet.” I drew a rectangle around this meaning. Likewise, around DOURINE, which meant “a disease of horses,” and ONEIRIC, which meant “pertaining to dreams.” A definition could sometimes help you remember the word.

5. Who did you send this book to, why?

I like giving Scrabble sets together with the latest OSPD as gifts to kids four and older. Although Scrabble is already an extremely popular game, it makes me feel a little like Johnny Appleseed to sprinkle the game and dictionary here and there in the homes of children.


Jonathan Blum is the author of Last Word, a novella, published by Rescue Press in November 2013. He grew up in Miami and graduated from UCLA and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His short stories have appeared in Green Mountains Review, Gulf Coast, New York Stories, Northwest Review, Other Voices, Playboy, Zaum, and elsewhere. He has taught fiction writing at The University of Iowa and at Drew University, and is the recipient of a Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award and a grant from the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. He lives in Los Angeles.

What We've Been Up To

Read our Editress-in-Chief Caryl Pagel’s interview – jokes, heads ups, philosophies of pressmaking – with Entropy Magazine, and take a gander at a new book we’ve been celebrating – Christian TeBordo’s kicking-and-stomping pseudoepic of American splendor and sprawl, Toughlahoma, came out at #17 in Small Press Distribution’s May/June Fiction Bestsellers. Huzzah, CT!

We're turning Sara Deniz Akant’s Babette and Dot Devota’s The Division of Labor – last year’s Black Box winner and editor’s choice manuscripts – into bona fide bound-up books. Until then, mark Sara Akant’s brand new author website and Dot’s superb curation of VOLTA’s Evening Will Come #57 (including – bonus! – this piece from Tribute author Anne Germanacos!)

Whatever you do, don’t miss our beloved Lauren Haldeman doing some of that crucial scrutinizing on PBS: “Poet Examines Harsh Reality of Jealousy” (We find that pride, on the other hand, is not so harsh a reality.) Can’t get enough of Haldeman’s work? Us either – check out Dan Rosenberg’s interview with Lauren at AMRI.

Will you be in Massachusetts this month? Us too! – at least, 2/27 of us. Come to Bash #33 to hear Rescue poet Andy Stallings (To the Heart of the World), Rescue Managing Editor Daniel Khalastchi, and poet Jennifer Jean read at Brookline Books, 7 PM, Friday, September 11th. We (they) would be so happy to see you. 

June Round-Up

What Happened

We were open for submissions during the entire month of June for our fifth annual Black Box Poetry Prize, judged by Cathy Park Hong. It was our most popular reading period yet, and we'll be announcing the winning manuscript(s) later this year. An excerpt from Sara Deniz Akant's Babette, which won last year's contest, can be found here.

The Colorado Review published a review of Anne Germanacos' masterful second book Tribute, calling it "beautiful, neurotic and poignant," while Publisher's Weekly covered the winner of our third annual Black Box Poetry Prize, Bridgette Bates' What Is Not Missing Is Light; Bridgette Bates also discusses her debut poetry collection at the Poetry Society here.

In the latest issue of LVNG Magazine, smoking new work by Calenday author Lauren Haldeman appears alongside In Canaan author Shane McCrae and Open Prose Series editor Hilary Plum. Lauren Haldeman was also interviewed by Dan Rosenberg at American Microreviews & Interviews.

What's Next

Our next reading period begins in January, when we accept submissions for our annual Open Prose Series. Information about our latest selection, Christian TeBordo's Toughlahoma (which is also number seventeen on Small Press Distribution's May/June Fiction Bestsellers List) can be found here.