Poetry Slam Dunk

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Since the prestigious Keene competition was established in UT’s College of Liberal Arts in 2006, no undergraduate student has ever placed—let alone won. But that all changed this spring when senior Katherine Noble took home the top prize of $50,000 for her collection of poems, “Like Electrical Fire Across the Silence.”

“The judges were impressed by her audacious combination of spirituality with sexuality, by her wide range of literary reference, and her bold experimentation with the form of the prose poem,” says Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, chair of the Department of English and the award selection committee.

Read “Orpheus After,” a poem from Noble’s prize-winning collection, below.

Orpheus After

By Katherine Noble


I wake before morning.

It’s the weighted month of winter,

when night falls like a dead tree

and lingers like the loud silence that follows.

Nothing sings tonight.

There are no crickets purring

in the black bones of oaks. The moon

grins at no one with its perfect yellow teeth.


I remember my heart and make a small noise

turning over. It’s too dark to see if I’m lonely.

I think of the whale-mouthed

piano of my childhood, where I played

the simple melodies from Bach’s minuets

in the luxury of summer afternoons. Never

using the black keys. Of how the piano sat

for so long after those fresh days,

and the extravagant song held in its wooden lungs

each night in the soundless, empty room. It is the silence

that has followed me most strictly, but from somewhere

behind dawn, I hear faint music again.

It may just be the sun keening

against the dead cold. Or perhaps the sound of the widow

across the hall brushing out her braid.

Or the sad hum of your shadow, which follows me everywhere

but can never be seen.


Or maybe I am only remembering

the way the peaches outside the window sing

in May morning as they ripen—and oh,

how they sing in their untouched flesh weeks later

as they begin to rot. And to all of this I say,

music nonetheless.


Photo by jjpacres via Flickr Creative Commons.


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