Hartwick College Announces Winners of Annual Anna Sonder Poetry Prize

The Hartwick College Department of English is pleased to announce Amanda Thurston ’20 has won the 2019–20 Anna Sonder Prize for Poetry from the Academy of American Poets (AAP). Thurston took home the top prize for her poem, “A Series of Spokes in a Wheel.” Honorable Mention was awarded to last year’s winner, Taylor P. Miller ’20, for her poem “Revolutions Per Minute.”

This year’s Anna Sonder Prize competition, the 41st, attracted 62 poems from 17 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.

“To be able to share my writing—something I regard as a piece of myself—is an intimidating yet empowering experience,” said Thurston. “I am honored to receive this award, and I am forever grateful to the English professors at Hartwick for always supporting me.”

The College will recognize Thurston and Miller at the 2020 Honors Convocation ceremony on Wednesday, April 29. Their poems, which will also be published in the 2020 issue of the College literary magazine, Word of Mouth, are below:

“A Series of Spokes in a Wheel” by Amanda Thurston ’20

I.

The magnolia tree of one childhood home saw centuries—
I felt their resonance in her low-hanging limbs,
memories branching off, fuzzing into buds,
and opening into pink and white petals that matured and fell
to join the ringlets of my curls, christened as her child;
free in her loose embrace of boughs, my thoughts would drift to my pet bird’s bones
buried beneath her trunk, entangled in burgeoning bundles of roots,
kept eternally safe in a secure caress of earth and stone.

II.

An old crone lives a house-width away from Mother Magnolia,
a wisterian wyrd sister who would wind-whisper in a wild way
of secrets drawn to the surface like water from the other-world’s well
and divulged toxically in all other parts but her flower,
whose scent rolls in spells on the breeze to deliver dawning truths forgotten
no sooner than they had settled, too frightening for remembrance;
though years have passed since last we met, her sagacity thrills me still
in the quiet corners of my dream-edges, mystic mumblings of a wise woman.

III.

I once met a mimosa who made me think of ghosts—
his wisping flowers performed a danse macabre mid-fall,
a spectacle of spectral forms processing to eternity.
Flickering phantoms appeared to form, faces grimly lit with smiles,
but it was only those finely-needled petals, like fiber optics,
waving in their graves and laughing about it;
I kept one pressed within my breast pocket, let it sear into my flesh:
“Tempus fugit! Memento mori!”

IV.

The ground rolls underfoot where the darkening fruits
of the black walnut tree have fallen and started to rot,
squirming with little worms inside their hulls;
I’ve seen the venues of vultures that come to rest in his arms
and feed on carrion under the shadow-shapes of his bare branches,
reddened beaks buried in the soft expanses of decaying flesh.
Autumn is waning, now—the vultures and I have smelled winter on the air—
soon he will lie dormant as I, yet another blackened husk, lie in eternal rest beside his trunk.


“Revolutions Per Minute” by Taylor P. Miller ’20

shift and cultivate my hands to their rightful place. concealing the figs under the hearth,
filling the cavity so that I might compress your spinal cord into a bow, show me where to
position my teeth and cusp your fingers in silver. poison me with the tetrodotoxin you
found under the pillow leaking into the emissions. shifting gears, we were stuck to one
that couldn’t hold our rpms.
           carry me in a trunk of misery bunching my veins and crunching the catalyst in the
platinum. parked on a lawn, dip down onto the ferns and cradle my hands, my eyes, my
lips; then bottle the fumes. chase me till my sensations revolutionize and clouds escape
my mouth. please love, press the clutch to the floor, and tenderize.
            increase the religious fluctuations and advance your stare that lies on honey-
tinted longitude lines. steady yourself into a low hymn that encompasses my medulla, so
that when jaws pop out of its socket, we will have managed to accelerate to four grand.
            pluck the fig off the branch and place it in the crater outside so that my eyes may
finally match their hue. and when you crush it with conceited tires, you pulverize my
pulp, leaving behind a trail of crusted oil. take a shot of gasoline and burn beside me,
under me, with me, and I’ll tell you I love you.
            shuddering, you skidded into the guardrail, shaking the skeleton we had spent
five revolutions welding. next to me, the emergency brake fell, robbing me of the
alternator that kept our bodies wrapped together. brush away the stalled tears, love, it
seems you were not designed to be anything more than automatic.

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

Hartwick College is a private liberal arts and sciences college of 1,200 students, located in Oneonta, NY, in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Hartwick’s expansive curriculum emphasizes an experiential approach to the liberal arts. Through personalized teaching, collaborative research, a distinctive January Term, a wide range of internships, and vast study-abroad opportunities, Hartwick ensures that students are prepared for not just their first jobs, but for the world ahead. A Three-Year Bachelor’s Degree Program and strong financial aid and scholarship offerings keep a Hartwick education affordable.

Contact:     David Lubell
E-mail:        lubelld@hartwick.edu
Phone:        607-431-4031

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