Emily Yaremchuk and Eric McHenry win Mick Imlah Poetry Awards


We’re so proud to announce that two of our poets have won prizes in the Mick Imlah Poetry Awards!  Emily Yaremchuk (Poetry ’18) and Eric McHenry (Poetry ’97) tied for second place–Emily for her poem “Tabula Rasa,” and Eric for his poem “Picking a Prophet.”

Emily (pictured), who is in this year’s MFA class, told us about the process of writing her poem:

“Tabula Rasa” is a poem I wrote in a single burst of energy, which I believe is reflected in some of the poem’s presumptuous moxie. I have long thought that nearly everything we believe about ourselves and the world is a form of myth; therefore the age old argument about whether a person is born a ‘tabula rasa’ (clean slate), or whether they are the product of circumstances and expectations beyond their control has always struck me as a matter of storytelling.

While writing the poem, I was interested in two strains of a single personal myth. The first is the idea of inherited identity as comprehended by a child encountering the performative aspect or “thingy-ness” of personhood (i.e. the artifacts that make her father a ‘man’), the second is the retrospective acceptance of confusion and multiplicity on the part of a young adult who understands that the performance of an identity is not only external, but internal and therefore, more abstract. Ultimately, I wanted to communicate that what we believe about ourselves always depends on what we believe about other people. Ideas of “Selfhood” may always be predicated on the fact that we exist in different bodies from one another, yet the desire to reach out and touch or experience someone else’s life constantly hedges our belief in autonomy and separateness. The “tabula rasa” or blank slate of destiny acts, in its presumed emptiness, also as a mirror; in it you may see not yourself, but the several other people who have contributed to the image of yourself. We look to the past for evidence to help us understand our lives when, really, the ‘past’ exists only with us in the present, as reflected in a mirror, re-told in our minds or revisited in a poem. 

Thanks for sharing this, Emily, and congratulations to you and to Eric!

Emily Yaremchuk is an alumna of the University of Virginia where she studied English and anthropology and was a part of the Area Program in Poetry Writing. Her work has appeared in the Virginia Literary Review, The Turnip Trucks, Corks and Curls, Inkstone Magazine and will appear in the Merrimack Review‘s upcoming volume. She is currently working towards her MFA in creative writing at Boston University.

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