The Honickman Foundation

2007 APR / Honickman First Book Prize Winner

Gregory Pardlo, Totem

"It wasn't until 2003 that I hit upon the larger themes of Totem and started sending it out for publication. After three or four years the pressure was mounting so it was quite a vindication when I won."

For Gregory Pardlo, 2007 Book Prize recipient, it was also a confirmation of his identity as a poet and as a writer of color.

Suburban Noir

Seed crushed. Husk broken. The game unwon
with heads hung low. Turf turned over and cleated,
the bleachered field, en-fenced, is empty,
sidelines littered with orange peels and puddling
mounds of ice. The good games have all been spoken.
Car doors and the commerce of women with profiles

uplit by taillights and the saplings lining islands
pinwheel leaves like banner wedges strung along
a dealer's lot where late skateboards abrade the blacktop,
bank and glide like tumbling kites bellying off a last
stratum of air with a kick-step; the rise into silence
and the fall to earth, each rampless lift an undressing,

an uncinching of gravity's saddle and the garment
let go. Electric sea-water ripples rec-room windows
in the background through the compound dark
of pine grove and sun down. Beneath a flood light,
a dog's bark breaks across the school's cinder block wall
where a goal is painted, into which a boy percusses

an endlessly relived penalty kick. Phone poles stake
taut strings through eyelets in the blue tarpaulin
night lifting lightly at the edges. Condensation
gambols in the light's slanted dowels, chills
the air against his bare legs.

"I am currently working on a second book and I now have the confidence of knowing that I did it once, so I can do it again. It's not such a scary thing anymore. My writing has improved as a result of that confidence, and my sense of identity has been confirmed: I am a poet, and this is what I do.

And parallel to that, so few writers of color win larger-scale and national prizes. There is a communication gap in the aesthetic taste and cultural awareness of writers of color that hasn't filtered through, so it meant a lot that I should be a Honickman winner."

Getting his book published also positively affected Gregory's teaching career.

"My current position at The George Washington University is a direct result of having this book. There was a striking difference in the number of institutions at which I interviewed after having won this prize."

Gregory is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at The George Washington University and serves as Poetry Book Review Editor of Callaloo. He is currently working on his second book, Marginalia, and a translation of 39 Poems for the Burning Library by Neils Lyngsoe. Since winning the prize he was a Fellow in CUNY's Faculty Fellowship Publication Program, a finalist in the Essence Magazine Literary Award, a nominee of the Pushcart Prize, and received a Research Foundation Grant from the City University of New York.

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