Prime Number Magazine
is a publication of 
Press 53
PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
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Issue 101, Oct – Dec 2016
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130

Kelly Cherry's comment on "Liminal States"

This poem is both light and dark, clear and mysterious, familiar and startling. A liminal state is a state of being in-between. What has gone is what is gone. What is before us is the uncertain new. There is something of the quality of seasickness in a liminal state. As in the poem, "it is dawn or dusk" and the poet speaks "of the edges / between water and land, the place where / the forest gives way to a meadow. . . ." To be between is to be haunted and anxious, unknowing but about to know, fearful and waiting. The poet has succeeded in conveying this condition without analyzing it; rather, he or she has saturated the poem with the feeling of the feeling, so that the reader actually experiences the sensation. The reader does not merely think about the feeling.

The poem's diction is adequate but appropriately quiet, the better to enter the poem and stay within it for the duration. The pacing is not slow—we go from one liminal state to another—but it, too, is quiet. The reader holds his/her breath. The poem's final line underscores its function: "how it would feel."

This is altogether a superior poem. It was a complex pleasure to read, and the conjunction of clarity and complexity is precisely what we look for in memorable poetry.

Faith Shearin
Winner of the 2016 Prime Number Magazine Award for Poetry for "Liminal States"

Judged by Kelly Cherry, former Poet Laureate of Virginia and author of The Life and Death of Poetry: Poems (LSU Press)

Faith will receive a $1,000 prize and an announcement in Poets & Writers magazine.


Followed by judge's comment and author bio

Liminal States 


We stand, then, on a threshold, in a doorway. 
It is dawn or dusk and we have just awakened

from a deep sleep. I speak of the edges 
between water and land, the place where

the forest gives way to a meadow, of the day 
before my great grandfather died 

when he stood in his fields, remembering. 
This is just before the baby is born, 

when it is time to push. The news 
is coming but it has not arrived; I am 

no longer young but I am not yet old. 
My great grandmother believes her third son

 is coming home from the war; my mother 
is in the waiting room but no one has told 

her she has cancer; my father's car 
is spinning, but he is still conscious. 

The cat in the nursing home who sleeps 
with the one who is going to die is walking 

silently down the white hallway 
and he has not turned his head. 

Just before we were married, we slept 
with our rings on our fingers, imagining 

how it would feel.

Faith Shearin is the author of five books of poetry: The Owl Question (May Swenson Award), The Empty House (Word Press), Moving the Piano, Telling the Bees (SFA University Press), and Orpheus, Turning (Broadkill River Press). Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry East, The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poets, and Good Poems, American Places, and has been read aloud by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac. She is the recipient of awards from The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, The Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives with her husband, her daughter, and a small, opinionated dachshund in a cabin on top of a mountain in West Virginia.
Kelly Cherry was Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2010 to 2012. Her latest book of poems, Physics for Poets: Poems, was published by Unicorn Press in 2015. Her twelfth book of Fiction, Temporium, will be published by Press 53 in the Fall of 2017. She was the first recipient of the Hanes Poetry Prize given by the Fellowship of Southern Writers for a body of work. Other awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Bradley Major Achievement (Lifetime) Award, a USIS Speaker Award (The Philippines), a Distinguished Alumnus Award, three Wisconsin Arts Board fellowships, two WAB New Work awards, the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook Award for Distinguished Book of Stories in 1999 (2000), and selection as a Wisconsin Notable Author. In 2010, she was a Director’s Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In 2012, she received both the Taramuto Prize for a story and the Carole Weinstein Prize for Poetry, and in 2013 the L.E. Phillabaum Award for Poetry. She is Eudora Welty Professor Emerita of English and Evjue-Bascom Professor Emerita in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She and her husband live in Virginia. Further details appear on her Wikipedia page.