Former PHS English teacher wins poetry award

Former Piedmont High School teacher, Valentina Gnup, has won second prize and $500 in the 2023 Yeats Poetry Prize competition for her poem, “Doll, It All Goes by So Fast.” She was one of four recipients of the prize, now in its 26th year.

Ms. Gnup has won several other poetry awards, including the 2023 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Award; Lascaux Prize in Poetry; 2015 Rattle Reader’s Choice Award; 2011 Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Award; and 2009 Joy Harjo Poetry Award from Cutthroat, Journal of the Arts.

First place prize and $1,000 USD went to attorney George Franklin, Miami, Florida, for “Picking Favorites,” and honorable mentions went to Dr. Huda Mehdi, a physician from Montclair, Virginia, for “English,” and to Vanderbilt University Writer-in-Residence Sandy Solomon, Nashville, Tennessee, for “Shifting Lights.”

The winners were announced April 5 in New York City by Andrew J. McGowan, president of the WB Yeats Society of NY, sponsor of the competition. Recipients will receive a plaque and have been invited to a public awards ceremony and reading of their poems in New York City, Thursday, April 27, 6:30-7:30 p.m., at Barnes and Noble’s flagship Union Square bookstore. April is National Poetry Month.

Judge for the 2023 competition was poet Alan Feldman, author of “The Happy Genius,” “A Sail to Great Island,” “Immortality,” and “The Golden Coin,” among other books. Mr. Feldman was professor and chair in the English Department at Framingham State University and for 22 years taught Advanced Creative Writing at the Radcliffe Seminars at Harvard University.

The Yeats Poetry Prize competition is open to poets of all ages from anywhere in the world. For further information, visit

Doll, It All Goes by So Fast
Valentina Gnup, Oakland CA
As a child, my father was often hungry. His father
worked in a Pittsburgh steel mill for fifty cents an hour.
My father never complained about growing up poor,
but one time he mentioned how he would have loved
to take ballet lessons. He wanted to be a dancer,
instead, he played baseball in high school, enlisted
in the military, graduated college on the GI Bill,
and spent the next fifty years selling life insurance.

The only World War II story my father ever told me
was about his last job, discharging soldiers in the Air Force.
When it was finally his turn to fly home from England,
another airman begged to take my father’s place on the flight.
My father gave him the last seat on the plane—
the plane that flew into the side of a mountain.
Everyone was killed. Generosity saved my father’s life,
though he didn’t tell the story that way.

After knowing each other for forty years,
my Polish Catholic father, who wasn’t dramatic,
who seemed to have no mystical leanings at all,
shocked my mother on a walk through Vienna
saying in a previous life he’d been a Viennese Jew.
She tells me, the first time he was in Vienna,
he knew exactly where the synagogue was—
he found his way across Austria without a map.

When I was ten, I found a copy of The Sensuous Man
hidden in my father’s sock drawer. I was shocked at the content,
alarmed that he’d seen it too. Several years later,
he picked me up from the eighth-grade dance—
he caught me kissing my boyfriend and waited outside
to give us privacy. I felt that mix of shame and sorrow
we feel watching our parents witnessing us grow up.
I wasn’t his baby anymore—I was a girl capable of making out.

My father packed my lunches all through elementary school
and junior high. He’d make cheese or liverwurst sandwiches
I’d be embarrassed to eat in front of my friends.
He’d wait up for me when I went out during high school
and fall asleep reading on the couch. I’d come home

and apologize for waking him up. He’d say I wasn’t sleeping,
I was just resting my eyes. He never told me he loved me,
but he loved me.

Before the world realized it was the most objectified,
sexist nickname, my father called me doll.
My whole life.
When he used this endearment, the feminist in me
chose to overlook it. I felt pretty and protected—
I knew it was politically incorrect, but I loved it.
The last cogent words he ever spoke to me were
Doll, it all goes by so fast.

My father wasn’t a writer. His stories ended
years ago, when dementia stole his language, his body,
his life. He died at home in the living room
on my mother’s eighty-eighth birthday—
my parents had been married for sixty-five years.
Work, daughters, grandkids, the ballet,
friends over for dinner—it was an unremarkable life.
And it was astonishing.

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