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2009 Poetry Prize Winner


Carrie Shipers of Lincoln Nebraska  was the winner of the 2009 ABZ First Book Poetry Contest for her book Ordinary Mourning.

Mark Halliday was the judge.   Shipers won a prize of $1000.00 and her book was published May 1, 2009. She also received fifty copies of the book.


Advance Comments


Sometimes the dead speak, sometimes the haunted living in Carrie Shipers's stunningly original new collection, Ordinary Mourning, which takes its title from a Victorian stage of grief.  We readers may find our allies in Shipers’s dead, their voices compelling, edgy and dry-witted, speaking to keep us alive.  “How much better / than guardian angels, these ghosts who love / the living too much to let them die?” she asks.  Shiver and enjoy the rise of this accomplished young poet. 

                                                                                   Hilda Raz

Ordinary Mourning succeeds in making us feel we have explored the arena where ghosts meet the living, with Shipers as our alarmingly cool guide.  Rooted in the conviction that we will all sooner or later need a ghost or two, this is a book that won’t be easily forgotten—perhaps a haunting book.

                                                                                   Mark Halliday


In her first full-length collection, Ordinary Mourning, Carrie Shipers writes: “When you lose what you love, you learn to love / the loss, to guard its ache.”  Skating the borders between this realm and the next, Shipers understands her duty to embrace the dead, telling their stories with passion and skill.

                                                                               Dorianne Laux

About the Author


Carrie Shipers received a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Arts in English from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Ohio State University.  In 2010, she completed a Ph.D. in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Her poems and reviews have including Connecticut Review,Crab Orchard Review,Hayden’s Ferry Review, North American Review, and Prairie Schooner.  She is the author of two chapbooks, Ghost-Writing (Pudding House, 2007), and Rescue Conditions (Slipstream, 2008). 

Three Poems from Ordinary Mounting Copyright © by Carrie Shipers

Living Among the Dead

I expected mist or fog drifting, not this hard

Hopper light, a sun I can’t see shining

on and through.  I’d imagined the dead

living in houses, or something like houses,

imagined them having lives—loved ones,

laughter, meals to prepare.  Across the plain

I saw a high school classmate who was killed

by a grain auger.  I called his name. 

He turned, waved, walked on.  I watched

his legs scissor the ground’s slow unfurling,

wondering if he’d forgotten me,

if I’d forgotten some teenage grudge

he’d died holding.  When I caught up to him,

I asked how he was.  All right,I guess. 

The weather’s a little dry.  He nodded

toward what might have been the horizon.

Have you seen your dad? I asked.  Not yet. 

I heard he’s here somewhere.  If the dead

have ghosts, it must be the living

who haunt them.  A murdered woman called me

by her husband’s name.  I’m notthe man

who killed you, I said as gently as I could. 

I know, she said.  If the dead hunger,

it isn’t for revenge.  Like them,

I have no need to eat, though I’d like

to feel bread tearing between my teeth,

blueberries snapping open on my tongue. 

My hands hang useless on their hinges.

There’s little here that can stand our touch.

Copyright © by Carrie Shipers


My mother waited years

to tell me: the morning after

my high school graduation,

she found her dead stepfather

eating chocolate cake in the living room. 

She said, Good morning. 

He nodded and licked blue frosting

from a plastic fork.  She knew

she was awake.  She could hear

the refrigerator’s solemn hum,

birds outside at the feeder. 

She wondered how he’d found

his way to a house built five years

after his death, wondered why

her mother hadn’t come—

but the dead deserve their rest. 

She drank a glass of water

and went back to bed. 

When she got up again,

the evidence—fork, plate, crumbs—

could’ve belonged to anyone.


Copyright © by Carrie Shipers


The Ghosts I Want


If we make our dead the way we make

our lives, I choose ghosts in case

of emergency.  I know their stories:

the racecar driver who swears his dead

father’s hands closed around his ribcage

and pulled him from a flaming crash;

miners who escaped a cave-in

by following the lamp of a co-worker

they’d never met; a woman whose life

was saved by a housecall from a doctor

dead six weeks.  How much better

than guardian angels, these ghosts who love

the living too much to let them die? 

Each event ends with evidence

of impossibility: video reveals

the son’s body jerking backward,

nearly falling, as he untangles

burning legs from the steering wheel.

When rescue workers reach him,

he’s standing feet from the flames.

The miners gather on the surface,

every man accounted for except

their savior John, whose death by cave-in

is commemorated on a plaque

outside the shaft.  Fully recovered, the woman

finds the doctor’s daughter emptying

his apartment of everything except

his leather bag, unused for years.

Copyright © by Carrie Shipers