MFA Foundation Awards Winners!

The University of Arizona MFA Program Announces the Recipients of the 2017 Foundation Awards




Winner: “Merck Manual” by Eshani Surya

Modeled on what appear to be pharmaceutical instructions, Merck Manual proved an arresting sequence. On the surface, it’s an unflinching glimpse into the processes of the body when put through various traumas or conditions: the paces an adult cancer patient endures; a child breaking a limb; a new mother coping with postpartum depression; or an allergic food reaction in a young adult, to name four. But it’s the fifth, titled “Upon the Urge to Falsify Trauma, Expect the Following Symptoms:,” that underscores the most bracing aspect of this series—how these processes affect the human psyche, including questions of self worth (“was she loved in the first place or was that love only for those healthy, uncomplicated parts of her”). The strategy or device (pick your term) of pharmaceutical instructions felt wise and necessary, lest a more traditional approach result in poems bordering on the sensational. I also appreciated the shifting points of view across the five poems, insinuating how these experiences can deeply affect not only the subject, but those proximate to the subject. This interesting, never-seen-before-by-me formatting (pharmaceutical instructions), coupled with the vivid writing, made for a riveting read that stuck with me for days. —Francisco Aragon


Runner-up: “Resurrection Rights” by Laura Esposto

“Resurrection Rights” felt like a harrowing family saga—but one which fiercely resists spoon-fed linear narrative. The poet takes effective advantage of titles by having them to do some heavy lifting (“Bodega Bay, CA”; “Inherited Family Photos at 3 am”; “The Body is Cleaved”; “San Xavier Rez”; “Beg”). The opening piece—a paradigm of word-choice and compression—reads like a 16-line epic! The rest of the sequence is deft in the way it marries discursiveness with power-packed verbs (“It feels longer than the truth—a pull / at the end of childhood hair hacked off.”), employs evocative idionsyncratic phrasing (“the boned caverns”), and well-deployed repetition and enjambment (“not the casita, not / the children, not the burn / kit.”). Something else I admired about this quintet is how each poem tries something slightly different where formatting is concerned, culminating with a block of prose that experiments with punctuation (and the lack thereof), culminating with a risky closing that, in my view, is successively pulled off (“This is the short way of saying get on your knees and beg”). —Francisco Aragon


Runner-up: “The Straddle,” “The Passion,” and “The Mantis” by Sophia Terazawa

“The Straddle,” “The Passion,” and “The Mantis” became with each re-reading a “triptyph,” which is to say: if it were visual art, it was “color” (as with the best of Rothko) that first seduced me. But since these are words on a page, let’s say “rhyme,” marveling at the way the poet arranges a subtle ecology of sound (“afternoon/green”; “bone…/ floats”;  “dusk…// love”; the penultimate line of poem #1 ends with “air”; poem #2 starts with, “A pear,” etc.). Sticking with this analogy, the poems, like Picassos, have one foot in the world of “story” or “fable” or “myth” (subtly dark with hints of violence—“what fractures/never floats”; “skinned then strung up by its neck”; “the mantis on a rose piercing the moth”) and another foot firmly planted in the pure play with medium (language). And like any fine work of art, it reveals, with each successive encounter, another layer of possibility or, if you insist, “meaning.” —Francisco Aragon





Winner: Miranda Trimmier "Cisco Trash Map"

“Cisco Trash Map” feels both bright-eyed and jaded, amazed by the ways in which structurally all things are doomed to fall apart, and yet resigned to it in a way that’s curious enough to propel the reader forward. The language succeeds in ways that so few essays do, marrying a sharp, pseudo-casual and conversational voice with beautiful staccato sentences and precise storytelling. We feel close to the speaker but yet somehow enchantingly outside, and the result is disarming and a little intoxicating—just as ruins and ghost towns are. —Kristen Radtke


Runner-up: Danielle Geller, “23andNDN Identity”

“23andNDN Identity” does what so much of my favorite nonfiction seeks to do: investigates something seemingly banal and everyday to expose the complications that live inside it. In this case, that’s a DNA test that it’s often advertised on daytime television to bored, self-made genealogists. In turn, the essay investigates what it means to belong, what makes us “American,” and what we add up to as humans. —Kristen Radtke


Runner-up: Dorian Rolston "P.S.: After Marriage”

“P.S.: After Marriage” is epistolary, humorous and unexpectedly vulnerable, enacting the cognitive dissonance of a relationship in retrospect. It’s rare to find an essay that writes its consciousness onto the page with such open precision, or an essayist who can bring their reader in as confidant and conspirator so deftly. —Kristen Radtke






Winner: Patrick Cline, "Prep List"

"Prep List" won me over with its extraordinary attention to detail: to the minutiae of life in the restaurant industry, to the way personal interactions in such a field can be hemmed in by the difference between cooks and servers, between employees and managers and customers. (And of course there's the bad behavior.) There's a longing and a frustration I know all too well here. The many many fine observations makes the story feels lived in, much like Merritt Tierce's Love Me Back, my favorite contemporary novel about restaurant workers. —Matt Bell


Runner-up: Dorian Rolston, "Self-Portrait in Black and White”

"Self-Portrait in Black and White" possesses what at first felt like an admirable amount of self-assurance—it makes a formal promise at the beginning that it not only fulfills but also subverts--and as we proceed that self-assurance becomes off-putting in the best way, a kind of malevolence or maladjustment that both interests and repels. Something about it reminds me of Joe Wenderoth's Letters to Wendy’s, which builds out of similar small narratives and proceeds with similar kinds of confidence and aggression. —Matt Bell

Published Date: 



College of Social and Behavioral Sciences