We often write about the land that surrounds Rockvale Writers’ Colony. Our 65 acres contain hills and slopes, large open pastures, rocky outcrops of limestone, and densely shaded forest. We’ve explored the wildest parts and listened to the voices that still whisper their ancient secrets. The land is alive.
Because we honor and value the land of RWC, we’ve created a new fellowship opportunity for poets to share their important landscapes and environmental heritage. We’re interested in the natural spaces that have made meaningful marks (both positive and negative) upon lives, those places from which we cannot be separated no matter how far away we are. We want to know how that land speaks, and most of all, why it matters.
We are pleased to announce the winner of the Language of the Land Fellowship for Poets:
“Thinking of Effigy Mounds Overlook,” by Rachel Morgan
Rachel’s prize includes a 1-week residency at Rockvale Writers’ Colony and a $100 stipend for food and travel.
Thinking of Effigy Mounds Overlook
Below us, the Mississippi is a flood of marshy,
green and brown, in-between rot and life.
I hear the serrated wind slice rocks. I witness
erosion. We were here last as a family of four.
The overlook wind blusters, it sounds like
your angry puffs of breath in the kitchen.
I swear it’s a lie and a truth. A fisherman would say
a river smells like a fish, a botanist like rotting moss,
but I lick a river’s rough stone and taste metal.
Now, I sleep in my old farmhouse alone,
but I’m afraid I’ll always sleep alone, warm mug
in my webby hands, my puffy succulent heart.
Shallow roots have no place on the prairie, but
I tell myself, there is nowhere else I’m supposed to be.
I swear it’s a lie and a truth, a gift you give yourself
if you can give yourself anything at all, it’s this.
Rachel Morgan is the author of the chapbook, Honey & Blood, Blood & Honey (Final Thursday Press, 2017), and her work recently appears in the anthology Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America (Ice Cube Press, 2017) and in Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Salt Hill, Boulevard, Mid-American Review, Barrow Street, and elsewhere. She is the winner of the 2021 Fineline contest. Currently, she teaches at the University of Northern Iowa and is the Poetry Editor for the North American Review.
RWC is grateful to Hayley Mitchell Haugen, who served as the judge for the contest. She had this to say about Rachel’s work:
In “Thinking of Effigy Mounds Overlook,” the speaker, like the landscape with which they are intertwined, finds themselves in a “flood of marshy, / green and brown,” a space “in-between rot and life.” Here, the speaker bears witness not only to the erosion of their physical surroundings but also to the slow changes and losses we endure in our familial lives. What I admire in this lyric poem is the poet’s restraint. Rather than allowing the speaker’s personal narrative to overwhelm the poem, the poet trusts that the natural landscape can tell the story: “The overlook wind blusters, it sounds like / your angry puffs of breath in the kitchen.” This poem insists that our human lives have left their indelible mark on the land. When the speaker licks “a river’s rough stone and taste[s] metal,” I am reminded of the landscape in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur,” where “all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; / And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell.” In Hopkins’ work, nature renews itself with each sunrise, but in “Thinking of Effigy Mounds Overlook,” the speaker reminds us, through succinct and poignant imagery, that nature resides in each of us, in our “webby hands” and “puffy succulent heart[s].” The “gift” of the poem is its epiphany that no matter how tenuous, how “shallow” our roots, in both our physical and emotional connection with the land, we are always where we are “supposed to be.”
Hayley Mitchell Haugen is Professor of English at Ohio University
Southern in south eastern Ohio. Light & Shadow, Shadow & Light from Main Street Rag (2018) is her first full-length poetry collection. Her first chapbook, What the Grimm Girl Looks Forward To, is from Finishing Line Press (2016), and her latest chapbook, The Blue Wife Poems, is from Kelsay Books (2022). She edits Sheila-Na-Gig online and Sheila-Na-Gig Editions.