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Winning Words

by Katie Hubbard '05

"If you believe in what you do, sooner or later you will be published," says Jonah Winter '84, speaking about his forthcoming book of poems, Amnesia.

Jonah Winter '84
Courtesy of Oberlin College Press

A successful writer and editor of children's literature, Winter has reason to be optimistic. His first collection of poems, Maine, won the inaugural book contest sponsored by the publisher Slope Editions in 2003. Amnesia, his second collection, surpassed 500 other manuscripts to win Oberlin's 2003 FIELD Poetry Prize, earning it publication by the Oberlin College Press in February. Winter is the second Oberlin alumnus to claim the prize—the first was Timothy Kelly '73 in 2000 for his book, Stronger.

From Amnesia
by Jonah Winter '84

I enter your eyes through which the clouds pass.
I unbutton your blouse. It's spring. Tchaikovsky's
Violin Concerto in D Major
won't get out of my head. O, it's spring!

It's winter: still dark. The road to the station
darkened even more by snow-covered spruce,
the iron foundry blue and laid to rest
beneath the weight of the long night. Where are you?

Everywhere? Tuesday? Paradise? How
do you climb down from the stars without a ladder?
How do you survive between the lips
and the junkyard, the moon and everything else?

The harvest moon, the date-palms and the boat
that takes me there, the rocking, the silent fish
in silent chambers, some small sound like a word.

The Oberlin College Press, founded in 1969 with the literary journal FIELD: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, has been long publishing both cutting-edge names in poetry and also new talent. FIELD's first edition included poets William Stafford and Denise Levertov.

It makes sense that the Press' editors singled out Winter's manuscript. "I went to Oberlin, so I was weaned on the aesthetics of the Oberlin College Press," he says. "I like the FIELD aesthetic. I think Amnesia reflects it fairly well."

FIELD Editor David Young agrees, likening the poems in Amnesia to those of some of the Press' biggest names—Russell Edson and Franz Wright '77.

In his work, Winter uses the technique of creating a new poetic form from something in the physical world. In "Unrequited Love: A Slide Presentation" (a sequence in Maine), each poem intentionally takes on a boxy, rectangular shape. In Amnesia, "Postcards from Paradise" presents a section rich in imagery (the front of a postcard), followed by a section that is more conversational (the back of a postcard).

Acknowledging that his career has begun to accelerate, Winters recalls the uneasy history of one of his poems, "Sestina: Bob." For 10 years he sent out the poem, amassing a huge number of rejections, until the literary magazine Ploughshares accepted it. "Then I got a Pushcart Prize for the poem," he says. "Perseverance!"

His attitude is opening new doors into the world of poetry, as noticed by both readers and editors.

"We're excited by the quality and originality of his book," says Young. "Jonah's poems combine great delicacy with great strength. Readers will delight in the inventiveness and wit of these poems, assent to their dark and melancholy hues, and experience wonder at the ways they remind us of the size and variety of the universe we inhabit."

Entries for the 2004 Field Poetry Prize are now being accepted. See ocpress/ for details.


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