Dr. Reese Wins National Poetry Award

February 8, 2019

Randy Dockendorf

Jim Reese’s writing has taken him many different places — college classrooms, lecture halls and even prisons.

Now, the Mount Marty College faculty member has connected with another special group — the judges who chose him for a top national award.

Reese won first place in the 2018 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards, named after the legendary beat poet. The MMC professor won the top spot and $1,000 for his poem, "Degrees of Love."

"I was told there were four judges that went through the hundreds of entries," Reese told the Press & Dakotan.

The poets were invited to read last weekend at The Poetry Center, located at the historic Hamilton Building in Paterson, New Jersey.

"I’m in good company with all these fantastic writers. Out of the 40 people honored, there were only two of us from the Midwest," he said. "I’m glad our collective voices resonate with readers across the country. And, of course, it’s nice to win first place."

Reese expressed his pleasure at bringing his rural Midwest voice to a mostly urban and coastal gathering.

"I’m glad a guy from South Dakota can compete with all those writers out east," he said. "There (are) so many amazing authors and opportunities on the East Coast — it’s the publishing hub of America."

The Ginsberg competition honors its namesake’s contribution to American literature and his Paterson upbringing.

The poems by the 2018 winners, honorable mentions and Editor’s Choice recipients are included in the Paterson Literary Review, issue #47 (spring 2019) and listed on its website.

Because of Paterson Literary Review (PLR) rules, Reese can’t release his winning entry for general publication at this time.

"We can’t reprint the poem right now because it has to come out in the journal it appears in first," he said, explaining the right of first usage.

Reese said he was impressed by his recent New Jersey visit. He enjoyed the opportunity to share his work, but he was even more uplifted to meet one of the greatest current American poets.

"The Paterson Literary Review is one of the finest literary journals in the country. American Book Award winner and PLR editor Maria Mazziotti Gillan could be the hardest-working poet I’ve ever met," he said.

"She established the Distinguished Poetry Center almost 40 years ago. She cares deeply about the narrative voices in poetry — she chooses authors’ work that is accessible to millions of people. That’s the kind of poetry and non-fiction I try to write."

Reese has distinguished himself with a wide variety of work, audiences and readers.

He remains a son of the Great Plains. A Nebraska native, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Wayne State College, his master’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and his doctorate degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

He has established his home and career in the Yankton area as an associate professor of English at Mount Marty College.

Besides his faculty role, he serves as director of the Great Plains Writers’ Tour at MMC. The tour seeks to bring celebrated authors, poets and other writers to the campus and to the larger Yankton community.

In addition, Reese serves as editor-in-chief of "4 PM Count." The annual anthology showcases the work of Yankton Federal Prison Camp (YFPC) inmates. The collaborative creative writing program celebrated its tenth anniversary last year.

Reese leads the 10-month writing-intensive course. The experience allows inmates to open up and explore their personal life journeys through prose, poetry and other artwork.

More than 200 inmates have completed the program. "4 PM Count" receives its name from the time of daily census checks taken of federal prisoners.

Reese’s poetry and prose have been widely published. In addition, he has performed readings at venues throughout the country, including the Library of Congress and San Quentin Prison.

Besides his Ginsberg Poetry award, Reese has received a Distinguished Public Service Award for his exemplary dedication and contributions to the YFPC education department.

Since 2008, Reese has been one of six artists-in-residence throughout the country who are part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ interagency initiative with the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Prisons. In 2017 Reese became a Contractual Education Instructor for the South Dakota Department of Corrections Writing for Re-entry Program.

His books include "These Trespasses" (The Backwaters Press), "ghost on 3rd" (New York Quarterly Books), and "Really Happy!" (New York Quarterly Books). The latter book was published in 2014.

As for his future projects, Reese is releasing two books — a poetry collection followed by a non-fiction book — this fall.

A fourth collection, "Dancing Room Only," will be released by New York Quarterly Books. Reese’s first collection of non-fiction essays, "Bone Chalk," will be published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press this fall, too.

Reese acknowledged the Ginsberg Poetry Award represents a high honor. However, he also seeks another type of reward through his work.

"As a writer, it’s nice to know your work resonates with people," he said. "I think we all want to tell our stories — we hope they will stand the test of time."

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