2004 Winner
Out of Body
by Matthew J. Spireng

    Out of Body "Gravity that the knowledge of death brings to life weights Out of Body.  Grounded in the flesh, this rigorous poetry is an uncompromising encounter with reality.  Yet, each poem is underpinned with tenderness and seeks a grace that approaches the sacramental.  Posited in a somber awareness that the living need hope even where there is none, poem after poem confronts suffering in order to arouse compassion for those in the moment when breath fails.  One particularly memorable poem is about a killdeer whose nest has been destroyed by a tractor.  The speaker follows the bird, 'giving her hope, false as it is, her bird-work is right for this world.'  With persistent care for the subject, whether a cow that died in a breech birth or one of the 1200 people lost in the 1871 Peshtigo fire.  Matthew Spireng honors each being by depicting its end.  In preserving the sanctity of life no matter how small, poems in Out of Body teach the heart to persevere, to cherish the surprising twists, the joy to be found in the journey."

                                                     — Vivian Shipley, Bluestem Contest Judge 2004

     "Spireng is a poet with all the good gifts and an unmistakable voice.  He is colloquial with dignity and gravitas; direct and accessible, yet always evocative; compassionate without sentimentality.  He takes on the great, challenging themes of our poetry, addinghis own questions and conclusions.  Love and death dance together, loss and joy make music, body and soul wrestle like Jacob and the angel.  Out of Body the work of a poet worthy of our best attention."

     — George Garrett

     Since 1990, Matthew J. Spireng's poetry has appeared in magazines across the Unites States.  His chapbook Inspiration Point won the 2000 Bright Hill Press Chapbook Competition.  Just This, a limited-edition chapbook of his poems and photographs by Trey Price, was published by Hampden-Sydney College in 2003.  His chapbook Encounters was published by Finishing Line Press in 2005.  He holds an MA in creative writing from Hollins College, where he won the Academy of American Poets Prize, and lives in rural upstate New York in Lomontville in the house in which he was raised as a child.  He is also an award-winning journalist.

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