Logo for the Anna Sonder Prize of the Academy of American Poets

Hartwick College Announces Winner of Annual Anna Sonder Poetry Prize

January 22, 2021

The Hartwick College Department of English is pleased to announce Rebecca Peakes ’22 has won the 2020–21 Anna Sonder Prize for Poetry from the Academy of American Poets (AAP). Peakes took home the top prize for her poem, “A Desperate Dance.”

This year’s Anna Sonder Prize competition, the 42nd, attracted 22 poems from seven Hartwick students. Judging this year’s competition were Assistant Professor of English Bradley J. Fest and Assistant Professor of English Tessa Yang.

Otto Sonder, late professor emeritus of sociology, endowed a prize in 1978 for the best poem written by a student at Hartwick College, to be awarded annually by the College under the auspices of the AAP in New York City. Hartwick College is a permanent member of AAP, which was founded in 1934 and is the largest organization in the country dedicated to advancing the art of poetry. To fulfill this mission, the Academy administers a wide variety of programs, including the college prize program, which comprises Hartwick College’s Anna Sonder Prize. The prize honors the memory of Sonder’s mother, who died in 1978.

“I am thankful to everyone who has helped shape this piece, from my Hartwick professors to my past dance instructors,” said Peakes. “I am deeply honored to receive this award.”

The College will recognize Peakes at the 2021 Honors Convocation ceremony. Her poem, which the Academy of American Poets will also publish, is below:

“A Desperate Dance”

When I was ten, I taught myself the
Pas de valse by listening to the rain.
Its drops beat out the perfect rhythm.
The three-step timing drummed itself
Onto the front porch overhang above
My head where I stood, eyes shut, listening,
My toes in my red rainboots tapping.
I performed the waltz step perfectly at
My next ballet lesson.

When I was twelve, I figured the pas de chat
Was self-explanatory: step of the cat.
I watched my neighbor’s Persian,
With his long black fur, chase and
Pounce on the autumn leaves that
Cartwheeled across my backyard. Up . . .
And down, up . . . and down. I copied
The pattern of his paws with my feet.

When I was fourteen, the oak tree swaying,
Lurching, brushing its leaves against
My house as the wind swirled and thunder
Rolled, I modeled a port de bra, the sharp
Lightning striking out sauté after sauté.
That night, I choreographed a piece
Titled Storm.

Today, at eighteen, I turned on the news
To find “Global Temperature Rising,
Climate Crisis Immediate.” All my life,
The Earth has been pounding out
A tempo, shaking and vibrating from
Its core to the balls of my feet. But lately,
It seizes me with double-time pirouettes,
Wild fouetté turns, leap after leap after leap—
Gathering heat. It makes sense that,
With each step I take, this planet’s dance
Becomes more desperate, ripples up
My spine like a flame, flushes my cheeks
With red blossoms, builds a crescendo
Of a plea that goes unheard:
Save me.

For additional information on the Sonder Prize, contact Fest at 607-431-4921 or festb@hartwick.edu.