Frederick Morgan Poetry Contest 2023
The Hudson Review has a long tradition of including new writers in every issue, and the Frederick Morgan Poetry Contest arises from that tradition, honoring the journal’s cofounder and editor, who was himself a superb poet. He was also a generous friend to poets and poetry in general, rightly placing the art in the context of broader cultural conversations. It is wonderful to see that heritage extended in the work of our inaugural winners. My fellow judges, Mark Jarman and Lorna Knowles Blake, and I are pleased to present these three distinctive voices.
Voice in poetry is not only a function of conscious technical choices, but also of interior pressures, moments when a poet touches necessity in all of us. All three poets here display technical poise as well as a willing vulnerability to life and the courage to explore real emotions, both public and private. In “Lute Man,” First Prizewinner Chiwenite Onyekwelu juxtaposes images of the Nigerian Civil War to nature and his scientific training, offering an unsentimental vision of survival and more than survival—music, the lute man who, “lived as though capable // of blooming of suspending / time.” His second poem relates the immigration experience of an uncle to the figure of David Oluwale, a homeless immigrant who suffered persecution in England and died in 1969 under suspicious circumstances. The poet becomes a go-between, linking personal and historical experience in ways that ramify beyond Nigeria and its diaspora.
Second Prizewinner Othuke Umukoro is also, coincidentally, a Nigerian. His “Understory” is a beautiful coming-of-age in which an older man takes a young boy fishing: “For breakfast, / we have / the warmth of our boots.” But in the course of their activity a whole village life, a whole world, is revealed. “This” gives us the powerful figure of a mother sending her son to study abroad: “You are planted / she said. Flourish.” Here the local with all its particularity becomes universal, the way we all lose home and encounter the larger world.
The courage to face real feeling also characterizes Third Prize- winner John Mulcare, who writes in “The Light at Dusk” about the tenderness of two boys discovering what might be intimacy: “Our imaginations // failed us as we reached / through the phantom bodies // in the bed, and found one / another.” That line break between one and another treats his subject with delicate control. The subject in “Pines” is even harder to face, the suicide of someone close to the speaker. Here nature is not consoling: “The smell of pine pitch has / become a precursor only to a burning.”
Eloquent and fearless, these young writers expand our experience. The Hudson Review is proud to publish them.