2014 Poetry Contest Winners
Split This Rock is thrilled to announce the winners of our seventh annual poetry contest, judged by 2014 featured poet Tim Seibles.
Tim Seibles is the author of several poetry collections including Hurdy-Gurdy, Hammerlock, and Buffalo Head Solos. His first book, Body Moves (1988), has just been re-released by Carnegie Mellon U. Press as part of their Contemporary Classics series. His latest, Fast Animal, was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. Seibles has been poet-in-residence at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA and received a fellowship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center in Massachusetts. A National Endowment for the Arts fellow, Seibles’ poetry is featured in several anthologies, including Rainbow Darkness; The Manthology; Autumn House Contemporary American Poetry; Black Nature; Evensong; Villanelles; and Sunken Garden Poetry. He has been a workshop leader for Cave Canem and for the Hurston/Wright Foundation. Seibles is visiting faculty at the Stonecoast MFA in Writing Program sponsored by the University of Southern Maine. He lives in Norfolk, VA, where he is a member of the English and MFA in writing faculty at Old Dominion University.
First of all, let me say how much I enjoyed the opportunity to see these poems. I rarely come across work that intends to engage the issues that both complicate and inform our lives. I love that Split This Rock encourages the kind of writing and thinking that insists we pay attention to how we share this world and what must be reconsidered if sanity is ever going to prevail. Given the persistence of widespread injustice and the presence of politicians who seem to care little about the anguish that weighs down our lives, I believe that raising our voices in exacting ways is essential if we are ever to establish what Dr. King called The Beloved Community. Poetry has to be a part of this pursuit.
I chose the poem “At the Mall, There’s a Machine That Tells You If You Are Racist,” for its direct approach and for the way the poet employs humor to address a subject that still makes most of us pretty uncomfortable. I also admire the poem’s clarity, the simplicity of the language, and the way the questions asked move the poem forward and drive the reader deeper into his/her own insecurities about who (or what) s/he might be. However, what cinched my decision was the ending, which opens up and embraces everybody— all of us who find ourselves, in various ways, measured by and trapped within the color of our complexion.
January 13, 2014
- "Ode to the Three Rapidly Falling Red Lights in the Indiana Sky" - Michael Mlekoday, Bloomington, IN
- "Small Buried Things" - Debra Marquart, Ames, IA
- "Marai Sandor in Exile" - Meryl Natchez, Berkeley, CA
We are grateful to Tim Seibles and all the poets for their submissions. We hope you will consider sharing your work with us in future years. Submission fees help support the mission of Split This Rock, integrating the poetry of provocation and witness into public life and supporting the poets who do this vital work.
At the Mall, There's a Machine That Tells You If You Are Racist
It's right next to a Polariod booth.
The instructions say the needles are small
and barely felt. The pictures, it explains,
have nudity, but no gratuitous nudity.
Special imaging equipment considers
the color value of your own skin
and calibrates your reactions
to words shouted in your headphones.
You know what words. Reading the instructions
brings some of these words to mind. You wonder
if this is part of the evaluation, if people
who are not racist think only of beautiful flowers,
or are beautiful flowers the very basis of racism?
Does everyone love the violet equally?
Does everyone think the tulip's been overdone?
You try to think of a brown flower.
There are some. You've seen them in catalogs.
They're called "chocolate." Black flowers, too,
with varieties named Nightwatch,
Black Pearl, a lily named Naomi Campbell.
Thinking of this makes you hopeful
the machine will know you're not a racist.
Or does remembering a black flower was named
Naomi Campbell mean you're a racist?
The inside of the booth is dimly lit with walls
that look as if they could swiftly close together.
Like a grape, you'd pop right out of your skin.
Karen Skolfield’s book Frost in the Low Areas (2013) won the First Book Award for Poetry from Zone 3 Press. She is the poetry editor for Amherst Live, a quarterly production of poetry, politics, and more, and she’s a contributing editor at the literary magazines Tupelo Quarterly and Stirring. Her poems have appeared in Best of the Net Anthology, Cave Wall, Memorious, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, West Branch, and others. She teaches writing to engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts.
School of the Americas
Sergio has ink-pot eyes, girlish wrists.
He draws superheroes extremely well—
Avengers, Wolfman, El Toro Rojo,
any one wearing a mask. Monday nights
we drive to the art club meeting
in the cream-colored Sunbird
I bought with babysitting money.
I don't know how he ended up with his mom
in the South, just the two of them, but
I spend 9th grade sitting next to him,
translating a Georgia O'Keefe painting
into pastel chalk: a lily dusted with pollen.
One day during class, Sergio tells me he saw
his grandparents shot before his eyes
back in Colombia. The phrase sticks out
in his heavy accent, like a child repeating
something just overheard. After a few minutes,
we go back to our drawings.
In the evenings that year I sign my name
to stock letters sent by Amnesty International
and mail them to faraway dictators
of the 1990s: Mubarak, Mobutu, Marcos.
All the while a quarter of a tank away,
at the School of the Americas (now the
Western Hemispheres Institute for Security
Cooperation) hundreds of Colombian
soldiers train in truth extraction,
how to intimidate, the best ways
to torture. In the yearbook,
I list my hobbies: poetry
and human rights. I have yet
to draw a picture of anything
from life—the art teacher seems
disappointed that Sergio and I
are mere copyists. After graduation,
Sergio finished a year
of art school in Chicago,
got cancer and died.
I guess I had a crush on him
when we were fourteen,
and I sat next to him,
copying those sexual flowers.
One has to start somewhere.
Just start: before my eyes could see,
I drew things like that lily.
In 2011, Rebecca Black, was a Fulbright distinguished scholar at the Seamus Heaney Center for Poetry in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is the author of Cottonlandia, winner of a Juniper Prize. A former Wallace Stegner and NEA fellow, her poems can be found in Poetry, New England Review, Blackbird, Virginia Quarterly Review, Agni, and many other magazines. She has taught at several universities, most recently in the MFA Program at UNC-Greensboro.
My Father's Hands
—Alison Roh Park
My daddy's hands were scarred
and through the smallest details escaped
years ago I remember them a strong
brown like here is the axe that missed
the chopping block and here
is the sharp metal sizzle from the hotel
boiler room in America and here are the
paper cuts from my learned books
and here are the burdens I lifted hardened
into a new layer of skin and here is
the unruly child and here is the moment
I took your mother's hand into mine
and here are the hands that held
for as long as I could these hands that
struck and healed and labored and soothed
these hands will you please remember.
Alison Roh Park is a Kundiman fellow, Pushcart nominated poet, and recipient of of the PSA New York Chapbook Fellowship, Poets & Writers Magazine Amy Award and Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant. She teaches ethnic studies at Hunter College and is founding member of The Good Times Collective of emerging poets writing in the tradition of Lucille Clifton.
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