Stephanie Ellen Siler Memorial Prize:
Richard Taylor; “Agnes Speaks”
Judith Reese, Tanner Crunelle
. . . if there’s an arch-villain in the story, it’s probably Agnes Carpenter.
--Ron Miller, in a movie review of The Karen Carpenter Story
for The Mercury News, 1989
I did not kill my daughter. That’s what I told
the reporter, Barry Morrow, and that’s what
I’m telling you. Tabloids. Some gossipy fool
always blames the blameless parents
for the child’s misfortune. Everything I did
was for my children. My husband and I
worked our hands to the bone to pay for
drums, pianos, music lessons—whatever
they needed. If you ask me, what killed Karen
was stress from all the fame, the sudden wealth,
and her worthless husband who just wanted
her money. Who knew she had an “eating disorder?”
Some people said I drove her crazy. Wrong!
I taught her to keep a clean house. Some idiot said
I passed my “obsession for neatness” on to her.
A psychiatrist said Karen tried to compete
with her brother for my love. Ridiculous! Richard
was the musical genius in the family. Everybody
knew it. Karen was the better singer. Those
are the facts. To hear people say I should have
told Karen I loved her more often is absurd.
She knew I loved her. I didn’t need to tell her.
That’s not the way we do things in this family.
"Agnes Speaks" is a well-crafted persona poem that tells a timely story. "Agnes Speaks" begins with an epigraph, which both contextualizes and tonalizes. Without the epigraph, the average reader might conclude that this poem is about Karen Carpenter, but for those readers who are not familiar with the iconic singer and her musician brother (The Carpenters), the epigraph adds just the right amount of information. Karen Carpenter's quick rise to fame and the consequences of such wide popularity and her untimely death due to an eating disorder is as relevant an issue today as it was in the 80s.