Bruce MacKinnon wins WWPH Poetry Contest

Bruce MacKinnon teaches creative writing here at GW. His wonderful new book of poems is called Mystery Schools. Here are some endorsements and some information.

“In his attention to detail and in his reverence for the smallest moments of experience Bruce MacKinnon compounds and intensifies the events of daily life. Mystery Schools sings with a passionate and capacious clarity reminiscent of Gerald Stern and like Stern, he portrays our ‘life and death struggles’ that ‘go on without mercy.’”
–Michael Collier

“The ‘glide in slow circles’ may be one means of suggesting the ease of movement and gift for segue inherent in the narratives of these large poems, but it should also define their essential lyricism: how they return and return to their common yet surprising centers of gravity. Mystery Schools is thorough and deeply textured poetry and adult in the way serious poetry should be – by not taking itself too seriously while allowing the writing to take its own good time.”
–Stanley Plumly

“There are truly masterful poems in Mystery Schools . . . Bruce MacKinnon seems to have sprung out of Zeus’s head fully formed and fully skilled—a true original. In poems at once genuine, charming, ferocious and poignant, MacKinnon writes about domestic life as a son, a father, a husband; in his tender tough-guy voice, he tackles the big subjects—fate, mortality, death, love. His long, gorgeous sentences, once cast out, loop back over themselves and continue on with driving rhythms and absolute confidence.”
–Jane Shore

Bruce MacKinnon’s Mystery Schools is a collection of poems that weaves together a life of initiation, grounded in the mysteries of the natural and spiritual worlds.

Mystery Schools has been a finalist for the Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Award, The National Poetry Series Competition, The Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, Ohio State University Press Journal Award, the Four Way Books Larry Levis Prize, and the Utah State University Press May Swenson Poetry Award. MacKinnon’s poems have appeared in Salmagundi, Boulevard, The Sewanee Review, Poetry East, Poet Lore, The Indiana Review, The Nebraska Review, Green Mountains Review, Mid-American Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Literary Review, Sonora Review, The Sycamore Review, The Midwest Quarterly, WordWrights, and Poetry Northwest, for which he won the Richard Hugo Prize. He has also been awarded the Richard Soref Scholarship in Poetry for the 2005 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Poetry, an AWP Intro Journals Prize, and an Academy of American Poets Prize.

David Wagoner, in awarding MacKinnon the Richard Hugo Prize, described his poetry as “strange and lovely.” Peggy Boyer, editor of Salmagundi, praised his work as “very skillfully written and surprisingly powerful – certainly the best poems that have crossed my desk in quite some time.”

Here, for your enjoyment, is a taste of the book: MacKinnon’s keen poem “Atlantis.”


How is it she comes back, resurrected,
always rising like the corn, her body like yours
spread across the motel bed, the ocean still outside,
the rain mapping the sand, the doorway open,
pelicans and gulls drawn in gray and blue. The waves
whisper outside these doors, where desire undresses
each one slowly, first curling as far and as slow
as the eye can see, then building power until the horizon
comes closer, is there at your feet, where you grow
out of the ground, rooted a moment more, before you go
with her and everything tastes of salt and honeysuckle,
the one drop from each bitten, cream-brown flower.
Her legs are here and then there, the nape of the neck,
the shoulders, the grains of sand, clear and white
as sugar that roughs the skin, that bruises the soft inside
of a thigh, the goddess reclining like the history
of the world. And then the instant it takes to see flowers
on the table, Queen Anne’s Lace and Black Eyed Susans,
a thousand eyes bring you into the room,
where the mist curls as she looks up, her hands behind her,
over her head now and beneath a pillow as if grasping
through the clouds for something just beyond
the headboard and through the wall in the next room,
where mermaids become human with desire, and Atlantis
lies buried. You’ll soon see if the mist rolls off,
if the announcer gets it right, the one whose blurred voice
you hear somewhere between the bands of static
the waves make, the sheets make, she makes as she moves,
rolling between planes, fingernails long and red as poppies,
as your bodies rise from the waves of sheets
like the backs of dolphins beyond the black rocks,
or the blink of the lighthouse down the coast,
a warning rising up against the sky for ships
to come no farther, that beyond that point,
they must not go.

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