Sallyportal: Madly Blogging Reed

Poetry Prize Goes to Environmental Studies Major

Poet Tiffany Thio ’19 draws inspiration from her dedication to science and the great outdoors.

Tiffany Thio ’19 has won the 2017 Mary Barnard Poetry Prize Contest for her poem, “quintessential hard heart.”

Tiffany is a environmental studies–biology major. Her busy course schedule has meant she hasn’t had an opportunity to take creative writing workshops at Reed—yet. “I’ve been writing poetry, stories, and songs since I was a kid, and I wanted to be a novelist when I grew up until I discovered that science is something I really love and want to pursue,” she says. As a kid she moved around between Asia and America and spent her high school years at an international school in Shanghai.

A science and outdoor enthusiast, Tiffany’s poetry takes inspiration from the natural world. She wrote“quintessential hard heart” during a trip for Reed’s outdoor program as she was riding back from skiing in the Santiam Pass. On the road to Sisters she passed by the Detroit Dam on the Santiam River, the same river where she had paddled her first class III rapid in a kayak and taught kayaking camps. “It was kind of bizarre to see flat water and a huge concrete wall in a river that’s flipped my boat so many times! Thinking about the numerous ways in which dams affect riparian habitats and surrounding watersheds is fascinating and quite saddening. Water has always thrilled me, and I love to raft, swim, surf, and kayak—it makes its way into a lot of my writing.” She drew on this and some personal family struggles to craft her winning poem.

The Mary Barnard Poetry Prize Contest is sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. Many notable American poets won their first recognition through an Academy College Prize. The contest has been offered annually at Reed since 1994 and is endowed in honor of Reed alumna Mary Barnard ’32, the preëminent translator of the classical Greek poet Sappho, as well as a poet in her own right in the American Imagist tradition. This year’s judge was Endi Bogue Hartigan ’92, author of Pool [5 choruses] and One Sun Storm.



quintessential hard heart


my mom built her life on a 45º angle.

she says god promised to save lives like hers from

the tumble of gravity and my brother says, y’know, after

2000 years of silence maybe his priorities have changed.

i wake cold under an open window and wonder if god

will ever hear me. after 19 years my tongue

can dance the language of prayer as well as any;

i still stand in rivers waiting for a reply. once

we drove the van way up

to where the santiam quieted to a whisper between the trees.

my avalanche of water backed by concrete and metal, so demure

i swallowed the stars and tromped out to

wake god from playing dead. better people than

me have tried and none have screamed so damn loud

but the wall kept rising and the stones i threw fell

to the riverbed and there was nothing left to do but go home


Tiffany Thio 

Tags: Brilliant Students, Poetry, Awards,