The Glenn Balch Award, named for the Idaho writer and established by his family, is an annual writing contest for students in Boise State’s creative writing MFA program. This year, Balch’s daughter, Betty Weston, established an additional award recognizing work – both fiction and poetry – by undergraduate creative writing majors.
This year’s graduate recipients were:
- First place: Jacqui Teruya, third-year MFA student and associate editor of The Idaho Review, for the story “Any Good Scientist” ($1,000)
- Second place: Edvin Subasic, second-year MFA student for the story “Thug” ($750)
- Third place: Rory Mehlman, second-year MFA student for the story “Heirlooms” ($250)
- First place: Rachel Gamble ($2,000)
- Second place: Jacob Robarts ($1,000)
The Balch family selects finalists in the MFA contest. An outside judge selects the winners. This year’s judge was Hester Kaplan, author and winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.
“The winner is ‘Dear Society’ … there was an irresistible energy to these (poems), and more than that, what one hopes for, one or two moments of real inspiration. The final poem, ‘Untitled,’ has two such moments, ‘the swan’s neck of an axe’ and ‘I sit tall, prune my shoulders back/like a queen.’ If nothing else, I might have given the prize for the first metaphor, describing the potentially violent axe handle as a swan neck is inspired. Beauty and violence are very close together throughout these poems.”
“Second place goes to ‘Late July.’ The poet has a terrific sense of pacing a poem, and of using slightly unusual but terrific and believable metaphors: The opening line ‘in the small arms of Tuesday evening…’, ‘The barn knows its burning…’ giving a sense of otherworldly connection between world and self. There’s a kind of magical pastoral energy throughout the selection, and the hints of a difficult life in the rural West.”
“In ‘Fern,’ Melissa Woods builds a compelling contrast between two characters – next door neighbors in a housing complex whose lives are entirely separate, though they are grappling with similar grief. Julia’s husband has recently committed suicide, and her only source of solace comes each night as she watches Fern in her overgrown backyard, which ‘breaks the homeowner’s association rules so outlandishly that they leave her alone.’ There, Fern visits a small gravestone propped below a lemon tree. Her wife died in a car accident two years prior, and other neighbors have spread a rumor that she disobeyed the law and buried her there. When Julia finally builds up the nerve to approach Fern, she is not prepared for how much she needs her neighbor’s companionship – and the connection between the two is one of the most palpable strengths of this story.”
“‘The Lookout,’ by Kelsey Roe, is propelled by a strong narrative voice. This story is told from the point of view of Frankie, a young girl who has left home to live in a Depression-era camp and disguised herself as a boy – abandoning her past self as ‘a sacrifice to a hardscrabble world where it wasn’t safe to be both alone and a girl.’ The most skillful part of the narrative comes in the depiction of Isaac, a one-winged man who guards the camp. Frankie watches Isaac closely, and I was struck by how believable it was that this man walks around with one wing. (‘He walked with a slight limp from so many years of carrying the imbalanced burden.’) When Frankie learns the story behind Isaac’s missing wing, his mystery only grows for her – and leads to a crescendo of lovely prose in the final lines of the piece:
“‘He flexed [the wing] and it rippled powerfully. Then he suddenly flapped it once, twice, three times through the air in great arcs. As he did, the scar on his left shoulder danced in rhythm with the wing’s motion, as if some part of it still remembered what it was like to fly.'”