New Words for the Win

EC poet wins prize, will have manuscript published

Natalie Rosenkranz, photos by Andrea Paulseth

POETRY ON THE TABLE. Former Wisconsin poet laureate Max Garland has won the Brittingham Prize for Poetry and will have the winning manuscript published.
POETRY ON THE TABLE. Former Wisconsin poet laureate Max Garland has won the Brittingham Prize for Poetry and will have the winning manuscript published.

Some of you may know Max Garland as the former Wisconsin poet laureate or as the City of Eau Claire’s current writer in residence; others may recognize him as a retired UW-Eau Claire professor of English. Now even more people know him as the latest winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry. 

The University of Wisconsin Press annually awards the Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry and the Brittingham Prize in Poetry “to the two best book-length manuscripts of original poetry submitted in an open competition.” Qualified readers screen the manuscripts submitted in this national competition, and an anonymous distinguished poet then chooses the final winners. 

“Many of the poems deal with memory, how we shape and revise what we remember until the memory itself becomes a kind of poem.” – Max Garland, poet

Robert Wrigley was the judge this year, and he chose Garland as the winner of the 2017-18 Brittingham Prize for his manuscript The Word We Used For It. As a result, Garland won $1,000, and the University of Wisconsin Press will publish the manuscript as part of the Wisconsin Poetry Series.

On his work being published, Garland says, “It’s always good when you learn that your writing will see the light of day. Writing is a fairly solitary endeavor, but now and then it’s good to open the door, and see if that solitude has produced anything of value for others.”

There are no restrictions on the subject matter of the poetry in the competition. When it comes to the content of his book, Garland says, “It’s hard to condense a book of poems into themes. We learn to do that in school, but that’s because poetry is hard to talk about otherwise.  But I’d say many of the poems deal with memory, how we shape and revise what we remember until the memory itself becomes a kind of poem. I don’t mean to say that all memory is false, just that it’s a work in progress, and the ‘truth’ is not just what happened, but how it felt, and how that feeling changes. The other theme might be how difficult and yet necessary it is to translate experience into words. But that’s the theme of all poetry.” 

During the writing of this book, Garland took inspiration from mortality and the weather: “Mortality because the decades fly by more quickly than they used to,” he explains. “And weather because I live in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.” 

The Word We Used For It is set to come out by October. As for what’s next, Garland says, “I’m working on new poems and songs, and reading some very old, very fat books in an attempt to rescue my attention span from cyberspace.” In addition, Garland will lead a summer residency for the Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild in July, where writers can ask him about his latest work, enjoy Garland-guided walking tours, and participate in an open reading for the public.

Learn more about the Brittingham and Pollak Poetry Prizes and their submission guidelines, check out uwpress.wisc.edu/poetryguide.html.

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