to Mark Elber
from Fall River, Massachusetts
the 2022 Henry Morgenthau III First Book Poetry Prize for a Writer 70 or Older Winner
for his manuscript, Headstone
From the Judge
As this stunning collection begins, it glances backwards on the speaker’s 35th year, a kind of Dantean journey issuing forth. “If I could,” the voice states, “I’d revive the sound of his voice barely caught on a few bargain cassettes,” and perhaps it is this compulsion to look back, to gather up the artifacts of the past, stories and voices in memoriam, that charges the electrifying language of this poetry, so full of emergency and details that spur details and more details. The work reminds me of the great poet Gerald Stern, who wrote of his ancestors in pre-war Europe and of America after the war, the poems floating from thought to thought, often one sentence in length, the lines crafted elegantly in long strands he inherited from Allen Ginsberg and Walt Whitman. This poet, too, is of that same lineage, Mark Elber’s debut a sustained study of engaged intelligence and marveling. While its title suggests a world already past and fixed behind us in memory, Headstone is an illustration, rather, of the aliveness of the past as it courses in us, and we are its walking, talking monument.”
David Keplinger, Judge
author of The World to Come
and winner of Minds on Fire Open Book Award
About the Poet
Mark Elber was born and raised in New York City to Polish Jewish Holocaust refugees and grew up hearing Polish, Yiddish, Russian, German, and English spoken in his home. He also learned Hebrew at an early age, largely from family trips to Israel.
Rather than following his father’s and older brother’s path into the medical profession, Mark followed his own interests into the arts and humanities: philosophy, spirituality, poetry, and music. He studied philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania and won the university’s Undergraduate Poetry Prize in 1972. He did graduate work in Kabbalah at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at the University of Pennsylvania, received his MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and was later ordained a rabbi.
During the 1980’s he performed in two rock bands in New York, translated Israeli rock songs into English in Tel Aviv, and lived in Nashville to pursue songwriting.
He was an artist in residence at the Millay Colony for the Arts, Blue Mountain Center, and in Israel at the Arad Arts Project. The 2007 Poet of the Year at the Beat Museum in San Francisco, his poems have appeared in various literary journals including Mudfish, The Jerusalem Review, Home Planet News, Poetica, Muddy River Poetry Review, Newtown Literary, CCAR Journal, Soul-Lit, and the anthology Welcome to the Resistance. He is the author of The Everything Kabbalah Book and The Sacred Now: Cultivating Jewish Spiritual Consciousness.
Mark lives with his wife and son in Fall River, MA, where he is the rabbi at Temple Beth El.
Read one of Elber’s winning poems, below. Click to open in a new window.
2022 Runner-Up, Finalists & Semi-Finalists
Sandy Longley from Provincetown, MA: Migrations
Karen Bashkirew from Bozeman, MT: Wayfinding
Lisa Colt from Easthampton, MA: Continuing Education
Mel Elberger from Elizabeth, NJ: Giving the Hours
Marsha Bush from Newhall, CA: Triptychs – The Carvings on My Heart
Jim Dwyer from Saint Petersburg, FL: Brave Afraid Alive & Other Love Poems
JoAnna Blaine Easton from Charlotte, VT: Mother, Men, Mothering, Me
Laura Gamache from Seattle, WA: Along the Mother Line
Nancy Hewitt from Swampscott, MA: Willing
John Hilden from Marquette, MI: Fingerprints
Karen Karpowich from New York, NY: Small Acts
Francis Klein from Glen Ridge, NJ: Invisible King
Joseph Lauinger from Ossining, NY: Noted: A Month in Lock-Down With the Annotated Norton Shakespeare, 3rd Edition
Gabrielle LeMay from Oxnard, CA: Runaway
Joyce Greenberg Lott from Long Beach, CA: Where I Live
Robin Luce Martin from Brooklyn, NY: Beginning Anywhere
Fergus McAlister from Rio Rancho, NM: The Man Who Wonders Where I’ve Been
Ruth Mota from Watsonville, CA: Sing Vanquished, Sing Victorious
Dorty Nowak from Berkeley, CA: Geodes
Kathy O’Fallon from Fallbrook, CA: Provenance
Fredda Pearlson from New York, NY: Sounds like life
Stephen Ruffus from Salt Lake City, UT: A Changed Man Regards Winter
Susan Jo Russell from Somerville, MA: Chronicles of the Bees
Jim Scutti from Vero Beach, FL: Family Planet
From the editors: Thank you to everyone who sent us their excellent manuscripts for this prize. A special thank you to David Keplinger for all the love and sensitivity he brought to his duties as contest judge. Henry Morgenthau, who published his first book of poems at age 99, would be overjoyed to see ‘newer’ older poets receiving national recognition for their artistic achievements.
The Henry Morgenthau III First Book Poetry Prize is awarded biennially to a poet 70 or older. Read more about Henry Morgenthau III and his legacy here.