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Stephanie Ellen Siler Memorial Prize:

Richard Taylor; “Agnes Speaks”

Honorable Mentions:

Judith Reese, Tanner Crunelle

Agnes Speaks

. . . 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.

Judge’s Comment:

"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.

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