Posted in news, Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize

Noah Davis wins the 2019 (Emerging) Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize


Noah Davis, an MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University, has been selected by George Ella Lyon as the winner of the 2019 (Emerging) Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize for his collection Of This River.

About Of This River, Lyon said, “Both mythic and rooted, the poems in Of This River  arrive full of bear and deer, blood and muck. Their beauty is taut, tough, unsparing, like the lives of the people who inhabit this Pennsylvania land. Short-Haired Girl dives, hits her head on a rock, drowns. Lovers are sliced by a train. Meanwhile, life goes relentlessly on: coyote speaks about love for his brother, snapping turtle tells of his loneliness, grandma fries up snapping turtle meat for her grandkids standing by the stove. Of This River testifies to the way all life, for good or ill, is interwoven. We need this visionary voice.”

Davis has won a Katharine Bakeless Nason Fellowship from the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, as well as the Jean Ritchie Appalachian Literature Fellowship from Lincoln Memorial University. His poetry has been published in Orion, North American Review, The Hollins Critic, Atlanta Review, Water~Stone Review, and Chautauqua among others. Davis has received Pushcart Prize nominations for poetry from both Poet Lore and Natural Bridge. His prose has been published in Sou’wester, Kestrel, Chariton Review, The Fly Fish Journal, Anglers Journal, The Drake, Fly Fishing & Tying Journal, and American Angler.

Davis will receive a $1,000 prize, and publication in 2020.

Finalists for this sixth round are 89% by Sarah Cooper, The Pirate Anne Bonny Consults the GPS by Dorsey Craft, Nothing is Always Moving by Nicole Robinson, and What You Call Falling by Yeskah Rosenfeld.

Established in 2016, Wheelbarrow Books is an imprint of the RCAH Center for Poetry at MSU, with publication and distribution by the MSU Press. The Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize is awarded to one emerging and one established poet annually.


Posted in news

2018 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging) Winner Selected

KBrace2Kristin Brace, winner of the 2018 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging).

Congratulations are in order for Kristin Brace, the latest winner of the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize.

Brace’s collection, Toward the Wild Abundance, was selected by judge Sarah Bagby. “Toward the Wild Abundance conjures emotions initiated by the frailty and wonder of our lives,” Bagby writes. “The multifaceted nature of this work demands that it be read for voice and validation.  A second reading reveals a deeper commentary on the nature and value of art and the artist. These kaleidoscopic poems also shine brilliance on themes of memory and the passage of time.  They fluidly transport us from past to present and into the imagination to pose questions about how our experiences inform identity and meaning.”

Kristin Brace writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin and Each Darkness Inside (Finishing Line Press, 2018). Brace earned an MFA in Writing from Spalding University and her work has appeared in journals such as Fiction Southeast, The Louisville Review, Water~Stone, The Chariton Review, and The Other Journal. She serves as executive director of the Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center, where kids become published authors. Brace plays the accordion, studies Italian, and loves Lake Michigan in every season. She makes her home in West Michigan with her husband, the entrepreneur and inventor Neal Brace. She can be found online at

Finalists for this round are Emily Calhoun for Under Long Rains, Ann Miller for The Direction of Flight, Jacob Oet for Inside Ball Lightning, and Heidi Seaborn for Cleave.

In addition to publication in late 2019 by the MSU Press, Brace has been awarded a prize for $1,000. She joins previous winners Cortney Davis (2016), William Orem (2017), and Gary Fincke (2017).

Wheelbarrow Books is an imprint of the RCAH Center for Poetry at Michigan State University, with distribution by MSU Press. It awards two prizes annually, each to an established and an emerging poet. For more information, guidelines, and to learn more about previous selections, visit


Posted in news, visiting writers, workshops

Renowned Translator and nye musician bring new perspectives to annual Translation Conversation 

By Kelsey Block

On Monday, February 22, Director of Arabic studies at DePaul University Nesreen Akhtarkhavari visited the RCAH Center for Poetry to join in the Translation Conversation. The Translation Conversation focused on the work Akhtarkhavari translated, titled Desert Sorrows: Poems on Love and Politics by Tayseer Al-Sboul.

Akhtarkhavari’s reading and talk was accompanied by nye musician Nadim Dlaikan. The nye is a Persian reed flute. Dlaikan crafts his own instruments from bamboo he grows in his backyard in Detroit.

Akhtarkhavari grew up speaking Arabic, Persian and English. She started translating so she could use Arabic works in her classroom.

“A lot of the work that I’m familiar with and that provides an alternative view of the stereotypes of who Arabs are is not translated,” she said.

When the Jordanian Writers Society got wind of what she was doing in the classroom, they invited Akhtarkhavari to translate a novella, You As of Today by Tayseer Al-Sboul. She’s been continuing her translation work ever since. Her latest project is a translation of Rumi’s Arabic poems for the MSU Press.

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Akhtarkhavari is not a poet herself, but she works closely with Anthony Lee, a UCLA poet, on all of her poetry translations.

“He doesn’t speak a word of Arabic.  I like it this way,” she said. “It allows someone to look at the poems from the readers’ perspective in addition to being a poet. A reader doesn’t necessarily have to be familiar with Arabic but still can digest the poem in the English language without too many spices from Arabic.”

Some of those Arabic “spices” that are difficult to convey in English include an expression of grief in which the “she-camel is weeping,” a term of endearment in which parents call children their liver, and the seagull as a symbol of freedom rather than nuisance. In these instances, Akhtarkhavari does her best to convey content and sentiment, rather than opting for a direct translation.

“The distance between Arabic and English is so wide that there are very few words in common. So I’m not just changing sound, I’m changing structure,” she said. “That’s where it is important for me to understand the poem and then try to bring the pictures back to the target language as close as possible. To repaint the poem with the same colors … For me, the last thing that gets sacrificed is content.”

Context is also extremely important when translating poetry, Akhtarkhavari said.

“You have to really know your audience and you have to make sure you don’t let the transfer of metaphors distract from the meaning. That’s when you drop it, when it starts distracting from the meaning,” she said. “You want it to be different. You’re not turning an Arabic poem into an English poem. If you do that, it loses the novelty it’s bringing to the language. These translations help expand the imagination of the target language reader; that’s why they are profound.”

Posted in news, Uncategorized, visiting writers

Poetry Center director Anita Skeen and former RCAH professor Laura DeLind publish collaborative book

By Kelsey Block

The Unauthorized Audubon, a collection of poetry and prints by Poetry Center Director Anita Skeen and Anthropology Professor Laura DeLind, was recently published by the MSU Press. The RCAH Center for Poetry hosted a reading on February 19 to celebrate the occasion, in which the creators read and signed their book.


The project began after a class DeLind and Skeen co-taught had ended. The course focused on communication across media and how two different media can inform each other. The artists noted that poetry and visual art often deal with many of the same things – point of view, pattern, lines, mass and positive and negative space.

The friends confessed that they both were sad to see the class end. To commemorate their work together, DeLind stuck a print she had created under the windshield wiper of Skeen’s car as a surprise. Skeen said she noticed the print from a distance later that day as she left the RCAH.

“I came out at the end of a very bad day,” Skeen said. “I could see my car in the distance, parked illegally, and I could see this card in the distance, and I thought, ‘oh crap – a parking ticket.’ And as I got closer, I realized it was too big, and thought maybe a student had left something under my windshield wiper. And then, when I got closer, I could see that it probably wasn’t because it hadn’t been ripped out of a notebook. And I opened it up and here was this print with two feathers, and underneath it was written, ‘guess who?’”

In order to thank DeLind for the print, Skeen wrote a poem and invented the imaginary birds from which the feathers came: the “polka dotted dairy pigeon” and the “riverswift.”

After that, it became a kind of correspondence. Skeen wrote a poem for each new print DeLind created.

“It was sort of fun to recognize that you could do something and get someone to respond to it so completely,” DeLind said. “This was totally play. There was no pressure, there were no deadlines. We just did this. And the magic of it was my prints are two-dimensional, flat. And I’d give them to Anita and I’d get them back and these birds that I thought I had invented, that I had created, I found that in fact they had names that I hadn’t known about, they had histories that I hadn’t known about, they had songs that I didn’t know about, they had habitats I wasn’t aware of. They had personalities.”

The pair worked (or played) without forethought until the MSU Museum did an exhibit about the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. One of Skeen and DeLind’s friends at the Museum suggested that the collaboration become a part of the exhibit. There, the MSU Press saw the collection and considered publishing it.

“All the writing I’ve done in the years, all the books I’ve done, nothing has happened like this” Skeen said. “Ideas for books had sort of come out of places I didn’t know they’d come out of, but nothing like this where it just fell into place and we didn’t have to work at it.”

The creators titled their book after the works of John James Audubon, a 20th century naturalist illustrator who drew meticulous representations of birds in danger of extinction.

“Instead of documenting things that were going extinct we were creating new critters that never were before,” DeLind said. “They were imaginary, they didn’t have fine, fine detail, they allowed for all kinds of interpretation and imagination.”

As for the reason she created birds, DeLind said they were an excuse.

“For me they’re an excuse to play with natural shapes and patterns and composition. Birds come in infinite variety and have great body shapes. And the idea of flying is pretty spectacular … There’s no end to what I can do with birds,” she said.

The book combines DeLind’s block prints with Skeen’s poetry. DeLind said she usually works with linocuts, which involves cutting designs into blocks of linoleum.

“It’s like any relief print. What you cut away does not accept ink, what you don’t cut away stands in relief. It’s like a stamp,” DeLind said. “[Linocuts] have a certain democratic nature to them, they aren’t expensive, you don’t need special techniques or training, it’s quick, it’s bold, it’s honest.”

While she is primarily a poet, Skeen also has experience with other types of writing, including short fiction.

“I am in my heart of hearts a poet, and I really love language,” Skeen said. “One of the things I really loved about this book project was that I got to name the birds, and that was just such a gift. Poets are always naming things, but we’re usually naming emotions and we’re naming experience and we’re naming how it feels. But I got to name these imaginary birds and that was the best naming I’ve ever done.

“I looked at some of the birds for a long, long time, because I had to figure out what was at the core of them,” Skeen said. “I had to know things about these birds. I had to know where they lived and where they flew, and then once I figured out some things about them I could figure out what they might be likely to do. But I had to look at them a long time. I would set the print up on my desk or carry it around in my calendar so every time I opened it I’d see the bird. And I had to figure out how to get that bird out of there. They were flapping around and making a lot of noise.”

DeLind and Skeen are hoping to do a calendar next.

Click here to purchase the book from the MSU Press.

Click here to learn more about Skeen’s work.

Click here to learn more about DeLind’s work.

Click here to see a collaboration between Skeen and fellow RCAH Professor Guillermo Delgado