The Wolf Ridge Press Narrative / Poetic Medicine Chapbook Award

Our book series honors a poet or writer whose work illuminates the life-changing events of illness and recovery. One manuscript will be published each year by Wolf Ridge Press of San Francisco and distributed by Small Press Distribution of Berkeley, California.

We were so impressed with the submissions to the 2018 contest that, instead of running a new contest, we published the anthology, Still You: Poems of Illness & Healing, comprised of poems submitted for the chapbook award–one from each of the submitted manuscripts. Please check back in 2022 for information about our next contest.

Congratulations to Judith Montgomery, winner of the 2018 chapbook award, for her beautiful book, Mercy.

Judge’s Citation

Judith Montgomery’s Mercy is a courageous, potent collection of nineteen poems and three characters: two lovers and Cancer, “flipping his gold coin in lazy arcs.” In a small cabin they borrow for an escape, Cancer demands a place between their sheets, laying a hand on each of them. The poems that follow describe the division of love’s labor: she sits in “the wife chair,” talking to doctors and holding facts her husband cannot bear to absorb, while he endures surgery, chemotherapy, and pain “like lightning striking a live pine, stripping the bark.” The wife is formidably strong, a stoicism learned from childhood trauma; but she recognizes that for her husband’s sake and her own, she sometimes must have a latch on the door of her heart, brief detachments, small escapes, as in a Blue Morpho’s radiance or the narcotic taste of last fall’s jam on her tongue. In the stunning final poem, “The Door to be Unlocked,” the couple returns to the remote cabin that opens the chapbook. Before they go in, she sees through the window two lovers in “live heat and pleasure”—their younger selves. When the door opens, the young couple will have vanished; yet, these lovers will enter, and endure.

In selecting Mercy for the Wolf Ridge Press Narrative/Poetic Medicine prize, I was moved by its searing honesty and striking originality. As a doctor and a poet, I will be sharing this collection with colleagues as well as patients and families, in hopes they may be fortified by its strong medicine.

– Dawn McGuire, MD

Praise for Mercy:

These poems offer an intimate look at the long journey of treatment, an unflinching search for hidden meaning in medical tests and operations, the equipment that houses some new form of data, those splintered sparks of hope. Yet despite the harshness of medical reality, these poems render butterflies on our sleeves, “fireflies in late twilight” artfully knit into the pattern here, yielding healing insight. Montgomery’s craft is equal to her story, evoking startling images in exquisite lines, which break into our psyches, our own “watchful waiting.”

— Carol Barrett, PhD, author of Calling in the Bones and Pansies

Mercy is a rare book that honestly chronicles the odyssey of the caretaker, a grueling battle through time that anyone who’s witnessed cancer will recognize. It’s a world where random signs are welcomed as omens—deer crossing a trail, or a tree spared by lightning—but where the cold realities of fear and anger are never far away. Still, there’s wonder here, too; with an artist’s eye for detail, Judith Montgomery shows a reluctant reverence for the patterns and strange beauty of the machines, scans, and chemistry of modern medicine. In language both matter-of-fact and mythical, Mercy is more than a story of sacrifice or even devotion; it’s a reminder that a loved one’s illness is a journey taken by two people.

— Amy Miller, author of The Trouble with New England Girls and White Noise Lullaby

To purchase Mercy, click here.

The Editors

Joan Baranow, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of English at Dominican University of California. Her poetry has appeared in The Paris Review, Western Humanities Review, The Antioch Review, The Western Journal of Medicine, and other magazines. Her poetry has also appeared in Women Write Their Bodies: Stories of Illness and Recovery, issued in 2007 by Kent State University Press. Her book of poetry, Living Apart, was published by Plain View Press. With her husband David Watts, she produced the PBS documentary Healing Words: Poetry & Medicine, airing nationally in 2008-2011.

David Watts, MD, has published a second book of stories, The Orange Wire Problem, which along with Bedside Manners, forms a body of work which explores the intricacies of the art of medicine. He has published four books of poetry and a CD of “word-jazz.” He is an NPR commentator on All Things Considered, a producer of the PBS program Healing Words: Poetry and Medicine, and a gastroenterologist at UCSF.

Ann Pelletier earned her MFA in poetry from San Francisco State University. Her work has appeared in the Antioch Review, Alimentum, Arts & Letters, Cider Press Review, Columbia, Loonfeather, The Santa Clara Review, Volt and other journals. She was awarded the Academy of American Poets University and College Poetry Prize three times and received the Arts and Letters Prize for Poetry. She lives and works in Western Nevada.