Past Annual Poetry Contests
Below are the judges, winning poems, and honorable mentions for our past annual poetry contests. We are grateful to each year’s judge 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.
Split This Rock subscribes to the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses Contest Code of Ethics.
You may browse by scrolling down the page or by clicking on a year below:
Judge - Natalie Diaz
Natalie Diaz grew up in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, on the banks of the Colorado River. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community. After playing professional basketball in Europe and Asia for several years, she completed her MFA in poetry and fiction at Old Dominion University. She was awarded the Bread Loaf 2012 Louis Untermeyer Scholarship in Poetry, the 2012 Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Literature Fellowship, a 2012 Lannan Residency, as well as being awarded a 2012 Lannan Literary Fellowship. She won a Pushcart Prize in 2013. Her first book, When My Brother Was an Aztec, was published in June 2012, by Copper Canyon Press. She currently lives in Mohave Valley, Arizona, and directs a language revitalization program at Fort Mojave, her home reservation. There she works and teaches with the last Elder speakers of the Mojave language.
It was a lucky thing for me to judge this year’s contest. First, I enjoyed reading the poems and hearing the brave voices of the poets who built them. Second, I admire the unflinching work of Split This Rock and Sarah Browning and Company.
What I admired about the poem, “Letter From the Water at Guantanamo Bay” is the poet’s choice to continue looking at something that some of us have already begun looking away from—by that, I mean that often we stay away from subjects that “have already been written about,” or subjects that have already dominated the medial and social consciousness in a way that makes us feel they are clichéd. However, we cannot write enough about some of these painful cogs in the machineries of our worlds both past and present. Guantanamo Bay is one of those cogs, a great turner of shame and savagery. In this poem, the water becomes new, becomes more than water, becomes both the weapon and the judge, the deliverer of cruelty but also the only entity capable of compassion. The water becomes the thing we are both afraid of and aspiring to be, as the water says in this letter: Strange, isn't it? To be 58% a thing and yet recoil when you hear its rush—
First Prize: "Letter From the Water at Guantanamo Bay" by Sara Brickman, Seattle, WA.
Sara received $500, free festival registration, and an invitation to read the winning poem at Split This Rock Poetry Festival in April 2016.
Second Prize: "Being Called a Faggot While Walking the Road to Clemson, South Carolina" by D. Gilson, Washington D.C.
D. Gilson received $250 and free registration to the April 2016 Split This Rock Poetry Festival.
Third Prize: "A Wet Daydream" by Nadia Sheikh, Tallahassee, FL.
Nadia receieved $250 and free registration to the April 2016 Split This Rock Poetry Festival.
- "First Light" by Chen Chen, Syracuse, NY.
Letter From the Water at Guantanamo Bay
-- Sara Brickman
They do not want me to be a river, but I am unstoppable.
I am the perfect instrument. Capable
of every sound, but here the only sound you hear under
me is No. Is, Please. The men
in uniforms strap them to the wood
and call it water-
boarding, like drowning is an amusing summer sport.
They hood them into darkness, and tilt their heads
back, pour me up nose and throat until they can't breathe without sucking
me in. Inside the prisoners' lungs, I see only panic,
and mothers. The men in uniforms say they do this
to get “the information.”
I do not know what this “getting”
means. I only know swallow
undertow and rip-
tide. I have been
the moon's wife, but here I taste of mold
They line me up
with their scalpels, their chains,
their American pop music
played all night
to drive the men crazy, to get the information
I do not know what desperation
but I imagine it is why the water in these men
crawls out of their eyes to say hello
Strange, isn't it? To be 58% a thing and yet
recoil when you hear its rush—
Don't you know this? Silly human
with a dog-tag hanging round your neck,
that you are made of me? Connected
to all the humid rot in this dungeon air—
how you make a puppet of the current
in you, soldier.
How fast you make an ocean into a gutter
filled with blood and shit—
looking for answers? Like you could find an oracle
in more death
of the heart. I made you.
Do you think the first creature crawled out of me
to invent torture?
I understand why you do this.
I know what it is
to close your eyes and see only the thousands of dead
someone has laid at your doorstep. You have filled me
with shipwreck and slave-hold but still
you holler bold
with your proud, American heart and I wish
I could stop flowing in you.
Wish I could return to the clouds,
to kiss the lightning with my wet throat
but I am locked in your muscle
as you beat each man
for praying in a language that looks
like waves. I have
and it wraps around the entire earth.
It is a vengeful storm
and I have learned from you how to cleave
waves from the marrow
how to lick clean.
Sara Brickman is an author, performer, and activist from Ann Arbor, MI. The 2014 Ken Warfel Fellow for Poetry in Community, Sara is the winner of the 2014 Split This Rock Abortion Rights Poetry contest, the recipient of a grant from 4Culture, and an Artist Trust EDGE fellow. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Bestiary, Hoarse, The New, Alight, and the anthology Courage: Daring Poems for Gutsy Girls. A teacher with Writers in the Schools, three-time member of the Seattle Poetry Slam Team, and the 2013 Rain City Women of the World Slam Champion, Sara has performed her work at venues across North America. She is the founder and curator of the living-room reading series The Hootenanny, which showcases groundbreaking writers and performers. She lives and writes in Seattle, WA.
Being Called a Faggot While Walking the Road to Clemson, South Carolina
-- D. Gilson
The honeysuckle dew slick
& sweet this morning
& only an empty Wendy's cup
thrown to ditch
& the truck passing
(& it is almost always
a truck) slows just
to roll down
the window & O
I wish they could smell
this & O I wish
I could quit
so fast & missing
this honeysuckle, so dew-
sweet this morning.
D. Gilson is the author of Crush (Punctum Books, 2014), with Will Stockton; Brit Lit (Sibling Rivalry, 2013); Catch & Release (2012), winner of the Robin Becker Prize; and a forthcoming essay collection, Learning to Poem (Sibling Rivalry, 2015). He is a PhD candidate in American literature and cultural studies at The George Washington University, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, The Indiana Review, and The Rumpus. Find D. at dgilson.com.
A Wet Daydream
-- Nadia Sheikh
I let Shane Kennedy
reach back in his desk
to fondle my calf,
soft and buttery
after the first shave,
hoping he wouldn’t say
Moslem again, wouldn't
ask, So your dad’sa professional terrorist?
I’d unstitched the seams
of my skort, lured him
into a bathroom stall,
bit his lip ‘til he bled
and had torn my shirt off—
a ticking bomb strapped
to my training bra—
and let him lick me,
made him swallow.
Nadia Sheikh is a first-year MFA student at Florida State University, a rhyme enthusiast, a waffle connoisseur, a human.
Judge - 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 Prize: "At the Mall, There’s a Machine That Tells You if You Are Racist" by Karen Skolfield, Amherst, MA.
Second Prize: "School of the Americas" by Rebecca Black, Greensboro, NC.
Third Prize: "My Father's Hands" by Alison Roh Park, Jackson Heights, NY.
- "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
Judge - Mark Doty
Mark Doty's Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2008. Doty is the author of eight books of poems and four volumes of nonfiction prose including Dog Years, which was a New York Times bestseller in 2007. Doty’s poems have appeared in many magazines including The Atlantic Monthly, The London Review of Books, Ploughshares, Poetry, and The New Yorker. Widely anthologized, his poems appear in The Norton Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry and many other collections. Doty's work has been honored by the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Whiting Writers Award, two Lambda Literary Awards, the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction and the Witter Byner Prize. He is the only American poet to have received the T.S. Eliot Prize in the U.K., and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim, Ingram Merrill and Lila Wallace/Readers Digest Foundations, and from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2011 Doty was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. His new book, A Swarm, A Flock, A Host: A Compendium of Creatures was released March 2013.
First Prize: "Nocturne: Beheaded" by Saeed Jones.
Second Prize: "Fall" by Tara Burke, Norfolk, Virginia.
Third Prize (tie): "Eighteen" by Lauren K. Alleyne, Dubuque, Iowa, and "Certain Seams" by Jill Khoury, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
- "The Tenth Time" by Meryl Natchez
- "What Lies Beneath" by Cynthia Manick
- "Yes, we the young widows" by M
- "Interchangeable Genitals" by Aimee Herman
- "John Brown, Osowatomie, Kansas, September 1856" by Veronica Golos
- "For My Daughter" by Michelle Regalado Deatrick
- "War of Attrition" by HV Cramond
- "Bye Boy" by Emily Brandt
- "Blue Land" by Linda Beeman
- "Suicide High" by Christopher Adamson
Judge - Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye was featured at the 2012 Split This Rock Poetry Festival. She is the author and/or editor of more than 30 volumes. Her books of poetry include 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, A Maze Me: Poems for Girls, Red Suitcase, Words Under the Words, Fuel, and You & Yours (a best-selling poetry book of 2006). She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow. She has received a Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, four Pushcart Prizes, and numerous honors for her children’s literature, including two Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards. In 2010 she was elected to the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.
This judge was dazzled by the subtlety and utter power of the poem "White." Worlds within and behind visible public worlds. Everything we don't see and hear—private, precious pulse of identities. Reading all the finalists' poems felt like entering a potent kingdom of Mattering—topics/subjects of essential collective care, poems embodying deep witness, speaking up in hard places, not shuddering or seeking popular favor—poems of responsibility and elegantly shaped conviction. It was a gift to read them. They are all winners.
First Prize: "White" by Leona Sevick, Keymar, Maryland.
Second Prize: "Làt-Kat" by Elizabeth Hoover, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Third Prize: "A constellation of mint" by Kevin McLellan, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- "Young Adults" by Victoria Rivas, Greenville, Tennessee
- "Packing to go to Haiti" by Margit Berman, Lebanon, New Hampshire
- "Operetta for the Fat Mexican Woman on the Bus" by Ariel Robello, New York, New York
- “To the Secret Society of United Nations Simultaneous Interpreters Admirers” by Karen L. Miller, Somerville, Massachusetts
- "Juarez: Sugar for the Narco-Saints” by Liz Ahl, Holderness, New Hampshire
- “A Grapple of Sparrows” by Marie-Elizabeth Mali, New York, New York
- “Cap-Hatien, Haiti” by Michele P. Randall
- "Operation Kodak Moment” by Melanie Graham
- “Reaching out across the airwaves” by Valerie Wallace
- “Going Down Down Down” by Clarinda Harriss
- "Anarchist” by Judy Neri
- “September 24, 1830: The Last Hanging in Michigan” by Sarah Zale
- “Remembering West Virginia While Stuck in East Germany” by Susan Brennan Zeizel
- “In a Jerusalem Market” by Naomi Benaron
- “The Librarians” by Elizabeth Hoover
- “How to write a poem, according to Souha Bechara” by Zein El-Amine
- “girl opens mouth for first time in almost a decade” by Ellen Hagan
Judge - Jan Beatty
Jan Beatty's new book, Red Sugar, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in Spring, 2008. Other books include Boneshaker and Mad River, winner of the 1994 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. Ravenous, her limited edition chapbook, won the 1995 State Street Prize. Beatty has worked as a welfare caseworker and an abortion counselor. She worked in maximum-security prisons and was a waitress for fifteen years. Her poetry has appeared in Quarterly West, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, and Court Green, and in anthologies published by Oxford University Press, University of Illinois Press, and University of Iowa Press. Awards include the $15,000 Creative Achievement Award in Literature from the Heinz Foundation and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and two fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. For the past fifteen years, she has hosted and produced Prosody, a public radio show on NPR-affiliate WYEP-FM featuring the work of national writers. Beatty directs the creative writing program at Carlow University, where she runs the Madwomen in the Attic writing workshops and teaches in the low-residency MFA program..
It was an honor to judge the poems for the 2011 Split This Rock Contest. What comes through in all the entries is a sense of integrity of voice, coupled with a feeling that something necessary and urgent is at stake. This urgency expresses itself in the risks taken with content, as writers enter the borderlands around body and country, crossing the boundaries into spirit. In the act of addressing the difficult and the unsayable, these poems bring hope.
First Prize: "Photograph — Gaylani, Baghdad" by Constance Norgren.
Second Prize: "Daughter" by Catherine Calabro.
Third Prize: "The Strap-On Speaks" by Kendra DeColo.
- "In a Jerusalem Market" by Naomi Benaron, Tucson, Arizona
- "Msenge" by Casey Charles, Missoula, Montana
- "The Rising" by Raina J. León, Germany
Judge - Chris Abani
Chris Abani's poetry collections are Hands Washing Water (Copper Canyon, 2006), Dog Woman (Red Hen, 2004), Daphne's Lot (Red Hen, 2003), and Kalakuta Republic (Saqi, 2001). His prose includes Song For Night (Akashic, 2007), The Virgin of Flames (Penguin, 2007), Becoming Abigail (Akashic, 2006), GraceLand (FSG, 2004), and Masters of the Board (Delta, 1985). He is a Professor at the University of California, Riverside, and the recipient of the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a PEN Beyond the Margins Award, the PEN Hemingway Book Prize, and a Guggenheim Award. Library Journal says of Hands Washing Water, “Abani enters the wound with a boldness that avoids nothing. Highly recommended.”
First Prize: "Prague TV" by Simki Ghebremichael, Bethesda, Maryland.
Second Prize: "Oceanside, CA" by Marie-Elizabeth Mali, New York, New York.
Third Prize: "A Response to 'What's Your Sexual Orientation?'" by Sonja de Vries, Prospect, Kentucky
- "The Revolutionary People's Constitutional Convention" by Barbara Leon, Aptos, CA
- "History Dream #12: Stoned. Again." by Richard Downing, Hudson, FL
- "The Importance of a Good Education" by Elizabeth Thomas, Columbia, CT
- "Iowa State Penitentiary" by David Eberhardt, Baltimore, MD
- "Broad Street Station: A Soliloquy" by Michelle Y. Burke, Brooklyn, NY
- "prayer for david while he locked up" by Emma Shaw Crane, Sebastopol, CA
- "O Three-Eyed Lord" by Marie-Elizabeth Mali, New York, NY
- "Shiva Candles" by Barbara Leon, Aptos, CA
- "Khamsin" by Naomi Benaron, Tucson, AZ
- "An Old Story of Food" by Sarah Zale, Port Townsend, WA
- "Celebrating in Coffee Bay, Transkei" by Meghan Smith, Washington, DC
- "Chicago Epiphany of Faces" by Ellen Sazzman, Potomoc, MD
- "love poem to a soldier" by Corinne A. Schneider, Washington, DC
- "Holiday Lights" by Yahya Frederickson, Moorhead, MN
- "Bellwether" by Cynthia Rausch Allar, Pasadena, CA
- "Something Fragile" by Colleen Michaels, Beverly, MA
Judge - Patricia Smith
Patricia Smith is the author of five books of poetry, including Blood Dazzler, chronicling the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, which was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award, a choice for Library Journal's Best Poetry Books of 2008, and one of NPR's top five books of 2008; and Teahouse of the Almighty, a National Poetry Series selection, winner of the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and About.com’s Best Poetry Book of 2006. She also authored the ground-breaking history Africans in America and the award-winning children’s book Janna and the Kings. She is a professor at the City University of New York/College of Staten Island, and is on the faculty of both Cave Canem and the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. Patricia wowed audiences at Split This Rock’s inaugural festival in 2008.
First Prize: "River, Page" by Teresa J. Scollon, Traverse City, Michigan.
Second Prize: "The Center for the Intrepid" by Jenny Browne, San Antonio, Texas.
Third Prize: "Femincide/Fimicidio ~ The Murdered and Disappeared Women of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico" by Demetrice Anntía Worley , Peoria, Illinois.
Judge - Kyle G. Dargan
Kyle G. Dargan is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Logorrhea Dementia (UGA,2010). His debut, The Listening (UGA 2004), won the 2003 Cave Canem Prize, and his second, Bouquet of Hungers (UGA 2007), was awarded the 2008 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in poetry. Dargan’s poems and non-fiction have appeared in publications such as Callaloo, Denver Quarterly, Jubilat, The Newark Star-Ledger, Ploughshares, TheRoot.com, and Shenandoah. While a Yusef Komunyakaa fellow at Indiana University, he served as poetry editor for Indiana Review. He is the founding editor of Post No Ills magazine and was most recently the managing editor of Callaloo.
'Achilles in Jasper, Texas' distinguishes itself with its cutting lyricism and control of anger and empathy. The poem witnesses and 'knows' much of James Byrd's killing, but is also able to admit to being unsure of
what to do
with this, America, this rage
like Achilles twitching
Hector behind his chariot
for 12 days until even
the gods were ashamed.
It is an uncertainty that many of us face in this age of moral underachieving. Thus I thank all the poets who submitted to the contest and all those who will attend Split This Rock Poetry Festival for rising to transform this uncertainty into an energy (renewable and clean, even) that can begin to illuminate our way through the challenges of the twenty-first century world.
First Prize: "Achilles in Jasper, Texas" by Jeffrey Thomson.
Second Prize: "Ways to Count the Dead" by Persis M. Karim.
Third Prize: "Latin Freestyle" by David-Matthew Barnes.
- "On Learning That My Son Will Not Be Funded in a Group Home Because All Social Services' Money Has Gone to Fund the War in Iraq" by Barbara Crooker
- "From Fluido: Red Brick Dust" by Maria Padhila
- "American Afterlight" by Alyssa Lovell
- "Men" by Dan Logan
- "A Nineteen Year-Old Veteran" by Joseph Ross
- "When the Bough Breaks" by Andrea Gibson