Dr. Claire Wahmanholm, Upper School English teacher and member of SPA’s Class of 2004, has been selected as the winner of the 2018 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry for her manuscript Wilder.
One of the most prestigious poetry prizes in the nation, the Lindquist & Vennum Prize carries an award of $10,000 and publication of the winning manuscript by Milkweed Editions, an independent publisher of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry located in Minneapolis. The prize is a partnership between Milkweed and the Lindquist & Vennum Foundation, and seeks to support outstanding poets residing in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota and bring their work to a national stage.
Wahmanholm, who currently teaches SPA’s Grade 9 “Journeys in Literature” course as well as the “Gender in Literature” elective for juniors and seniors, wrote the collection of poems in Wilder (pronounced to rhyme with "bewilder") between 2015 and 2017. “It’s a dark book, I’ll say that,” says Wahmanholm, who calls the poems in Wilder “political, though not always explicitly so.” The darkness of the poetry was one its strengths, according to poet Rick Barot, who judged this year’s Lindquist & Vennum competition. “Long after I finished reading Wilder, I was in grief that its beauty had ended, and also in grief over the spoiled world it describes,” Barot wrote about the collection. “…The poems in this book seem like the texts written by an ancient collective—texts that are at once full of wonder and bewilderment, cosmic vision and earthly pain.” Wilder will be published by Milkweed in November 2018, and Wahmanholm will be honored at a public reading and celebration at the time of publication.
Although the work in Wilder had been well-received, Wahmanholm says winning the prize was something of a shock. “Wilder had been a semi-finalist/runner-up/finalist for some pretty big prizes, and a chunk of poems in it had already been published [as a short work entitled Night Vision in 2017], so there were signs that people liked it,” Wahmanholm says. “But I’ve had a truly impressive amount of rejection in my work as a poet, so winning a prize like this was completely unexpected; I never believed that I would actually win.”
Wahmanholm graduated from SPA in 2004, and went on to study literature in college at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, eventually earning a M.F.A. in poetry from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in English literature and creative writing from the University of Utah. She traces her love of poetry all the way back to SPA and a class with Dutton Foster, who taught English in the Upper School for 42 years. “I took Dutton’s creative writing elective during my junior year, and then did an independent study with him during my senior year. At the time, I was working on a novella that I would never actually finish, but failing to finish that novella was ultimately what made me pursue poetry—I realized I had no interest in plot or character development or any of the other things that drive a work of fiction,” says Wahmanholm, who now considers Foster a model for her teaching as well. “Dutton was such a generous mentor. He made me feel like I wasn’t wasting my time by writing—that what I was doing was worthwhile and that I was good at it. It never would have occurred to me that I might one day be in exactly his position in terms of teaching and mentoring, but now that I am, I am trying my best to follow his example.”