Important COVID-19 Update

Read more about UNCP's response to COVID-19. 

Jennifer Key wins poetry prize and is published


UNC Pembroke creative writing professor Jennifer Key’s newest book of poetry was recently published. Her second chapbook of poetry, “Ghosts to Whom We Call,” was published by Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press after winning its annual poetry award and $10,000.

Key, who is busy this spring editing her third edition of Pembroke Magazine, was named permanent editor of UNCP’s literary journal this spring. It will be the journal’s 44th annual publication.

The Astounding Beauty Ruffian Press is owned by Roger and Sherry Beasley of Stuart, Va. Sherry Beasley said she was delighted to receive Key’s contest submission.

“Not only were her images gorgeous, but her use of the English language was intriguing, with much use of alliteration and assonance,” Beasley said. “There was a lyricism to her lines which I considered beautiful, and her subject matter was interesting as well. I think my favorite poems are ‘Jefferson's Daughters’ and ‘The Sick Dog,’ but all of the poems in this collection are top-notch.”

Key was pleased that her work was acknowledged with a national award. “I’m floored by their generosity,” she said. “They are very nice people. Sherry and I worked very closely all the way through to the marketing of the book.”

The publication and prize are a testament to the Beasleys’ love of poetry. They founded the press in 2005 and started the contest in 2007 with a modest prize. The size of the 2011 prize is “unprecedented in the world of poetry,” Beasley said.

“I want to publish beautiful poetry in the most beautiful little collections possible, and I think I have achieved this,” Beasley said. “I also want to publish books to which readers will continually return so they can re-read particular poems, a quality that the best books have, and I think this also has been accomplished with our publications.”

“It’s a little book—a chapbook,” Key said. “The 12 poems are very personal and some address history too.”

Key’s first chapbook, titled “The Manifest Destiny of Desire,” won the Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook Competition in 2007. Her poetry and prose have been published widely in literary journals. She also has a novel and another collection of poems in progress.

The subject matter for Key’s poems ranges from historical to personal. The opening lines from “Ways to Consider the Summer” demonstrate her skill with language:

Only now do I come and go
like a story circling back on itself,
so why shouldn’t you think nothing much happened

when I can’t explain afternoon’s drag into the trees,
stillness’s hover like a dog that may or may not bite?
The asphalt breathed heat until is black knuckles shone

and the heart of everything turned to vapor.
It was that way all summer
while I went breathing in and out.

Key’s poetry packs an emotional punch. In “Anniversary,” she penned an ode to her husband that begins with a reminiscence of their wedding day:

                    at this embarkation I will be

less obsessed with the geometry of beauty
(my whole life I’ve tried to solve for y),
more meanderer than arrow, more meadow
than hedgerow, growing the way the tulips

you planted our first fall broke open . . .

As Beasley notes, Key’s poetry comes alive with beautifully selected words and marvelous timing. As the editor of “Pembroke Magazine,” Key has been nurturing other writers’ work into Number 44. She is excited about this edition.

“This edition has a focus on the American South,” Key said. “We have some really great writers in this issue.”

“Pembroke Magazine” has long sought out great writing from North Carolina and beyond. Key notes a few contributors to No. 44, including Alan Michael Parker, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Kelly Cherry, Maurice Manning and Michael Chitwood.

“These writers were incredibly generous with their work,” she said. “I like this edition.”

For more information about “Pembroke Magazine” or Key’s writing, email