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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Poet Jennifer Key wins 2012 Tampa Review prize

UNC Pembroke creative writing professor Jennifer Key has been named winner of the 2012 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry.

Jennifer KeyKey received the 11th annual prize for her manuscript titled “The Old Dominion.” In addition to a $2,000 check, the award includes book publication by the University of Tampa Press in spring 2013 during National Poetry Month.

Key’s latest work of poetry looks at the role of women through history. Some of her subjects are well known although not necessarily well understood, and other women in her poems are in need of a voice altogether.

“ ‘The Old Dominion’explores the tension between the public and private lives of girls and women in history, art, popular culture and myth, and in doing so seeks to give song to those long silenced by history, time and social mores,” Key said. “My poems examine the complicated, cloistered lives of women whose stories have more commonly been shaped by the male voice as well as the anxieties of growing up female in a culture that is increasingly toxic to girls.”

It is Key’s second award for her work in 2012. She won the Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press poetry award in late 2011, and her chapbook of poetry “Ghosts to Whom We Call” was published by the Virginia publishers.

Besides teaching creative writing, Key serves as editor of Pembroke Magazine, UNCP’s literary journal. Her work has won the Poetry Center of Chicago’s Juried Reading, The Southwest Review’s McGinnis-Ritchie Award for Fiction, and Shenandoah’s Graybeal-Gowen Prize for Virginia Writers. Her poetry has also appeared in The Antioch Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Callaloo and elsewhere.

Key discussed her work in an artist’s statement: “The figures in my collection range from Thomas Jefferson’s dutiful daughters and household slaves, about whom little was known until recently, to the reclusive Jackie O, that iconic patrician screened by a gilded cage, to female figures from mythology, such as Circe, storied seductress who alone exerts power over Odysseus. In ‘The Apprenticeship of Jelly Roll Morton,’ inspired by Romare Bearden’s collage of the same title, I turn my eye to the anonymous sex workers of Storyville, even as: ‘The women are only background,/ where they bend to retrieve their drawers/ and striped stockings where they fell.’ Shadowy and vague, faceless in fact, the women of Bearden’s collage are often undocumented in historical records except as objects of desire or, more truthfully, abuse.

“It is precisely these kinds of figures known to us though art, story and history, whom I am interested in exploring. Grappling with issues of identity, history and setting, my poems must be connected to the world and the specifics of time and place. Rather than rewrite the past, my intention is to look hard at history, literature and art, so that I may delve beneath the various images and stereotypes of women constructed for public consumption that tell us no more about being human than a mannequin does. I want my words to set these women free rather than leave them shrouded in mystery.

“In ‘The Old Dominion’ mythology serves as a central metaphor for women’s separate identities and for the way in which women learn to be two things at once. Myths cast as many lights as shadows, thereby illustrating the twin impulses of revelation and discretion. Rita Dove’s revelatory passage on women and myth stands as my book’s epigraph: ‘Fact is, the invention of women under siege/ has been to sharpen love in the service of myth./ If you can’t be free, be a mystery.’

The Tampa Review judges commented that “The Old Dominion” “spoke to us with exceptional, insistent images and ideas, a collection of continuously engaging poems and peak experiences” in a “gorgeous debut collection.”

“Key’s confident, self-assured voice guides the reader through both sweeping and specific landscapes,” the judges said. “The poet’s deft hand at her craft, and her keen, unexpected details make the reader perfectly comfortable on every plane.

“Yet, for all that confidence, Key reminds us that confidence and certainty are not dominion,” they wrote.  “A line from the last poem of the book reads, ‘Lord, can anyone rescue us from ourselves?’  The question remains unanswered, lingering in the reader’s mind. . . .  Fact is, the invention of everything in Key’s world—knowledge, identities, memories, even the invention of poems themselves—is under siege while safely protected in this poet’s immense talent.”

A selection of poems from “The Old Dominion”will appear as a “sneak preview” in one of the next issues of Tampa Review, the literary journal of the University of Tampa Press. Key’s book will be published during National Poetry Month in April 2013 and launched with a reading tour of Florida sponsored by the Florida Literary Arts Coalition.

The Tampa Review Prize for Poetry is given annually for a previously unpublished book-length manuscript. Judging is by the editors of Tampa Review, who are members of the faculty at the University of Tampa.

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