Sara Henning

Winner of the George Bogin Memorial Award in 2019

ONCE, I PRAYED IN THE WATER
 
Lake Hanson, South Dakota
 
Blessed be the good-time girl  thighs-deep     in a striped inner tube     
cattail fronds & cigarette butts   lush against her toes    blessed be
the empress of chic I was   sixteen   shellacked in Coppertone   tangled  
in a pick-up game   of football     her hands     muscular birds  
gripping deep   through blitz    & tackle   all the jacked-up Fords   
like piss drunk cicadas   pulsing hymns   through rolled-down windows  
Stevie Ray and the Boss   shredding through steam    as I spread
my hips   my legs    & lunged    I was the girl kissing boys  in sit-top
kayaks   another flea-chawed dog    sun-blissed & brined     as if
someone told her   to breach is to breathe   pretty baby   it's time to blow
this mortal coil   every minute of her life   so I rode the twist & flush   
of summer    until even the stars     couldn't look at me    before I
was a woman   sand-hardened    late thirties     I slipped like a fish 
into spume  I quaked all night    in the weeds   I fed on every shine 
that would touch me   so Lord,  will you make a temple  of the water 
will you    brandish your body    in lake-skin for me   I've had
enough of this    lemon-swoon sfumato    this musk-blaze of summer   
genuflecting    like a fool    I've already buried    the shame-slick  
pretty young thing   I was   I smoked that queen   when I kissed my mother   
blown open by cancer    watched strange men    hoist her body    
into an oven    set to the temperature   all things   beautiful & terrible 
begin to burn   
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Khaled Mattawa on Sara Henning

Among a very strong pool of poems submitted, I have chosen the work of poet Sara Henning as the winner of this year's George Bogin Memorial Award. An elegiac spirit gifts these poems their power as well as the various turns of passionate declamation, restraint, and the thoughtful search for solace. The poet revisits memories, probes traumatic moments with enviable objectivity offering tender forgiveness or issuing firm judgments on the self as the case may be. And while the locus of these lyrics is that of personal experience, the poems offer a powerful indictment of the culture of violence against, and degradation of, women surrounding the speaker. The poems deliver these psychological, social and political insights with a great deal of esthetic pleasure. The narrative pacing is quite remarkable as the speaker sets up the dramatic tension then deftly explores the surroundings with equal amounts of revelation and suspense. We are quickly and powerfully drawn into the world of these poems and into the experiences of the speaker, and the by the end of our reading we find that traces of these experiences have lodged themselves within us, changing us. None of this powerful effect could have been achieved without the poet's choice and manipulation of language, which is always intuitive and surprising, creating word by word a group of poems that moves and enlightens. 

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