Past Annual Poetry Contests
Below are the judges, winners and runners up 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.
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You may browse by scrolling down the page or by clicking on a year below:
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 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.
First Prize: "At the Mall, There’s a Machine That Tells You if You Are Racist" by Karen Skolfield, Amherst, MA.
Karen receives $500, free festival registration, and an invitation to read the winning poem at Split This Rock Poetry Festival in March 2014.
Second Prize: "School of the Americas" by Rebecca Black, Greensboro, NC.
Rebecca receives $250 and free registration at the 2014 festival.
Third Prize: "My Father's Hands" by Alison Roh Park, Jackson Heights, NY.
Alison will receive $250 and free registration at the 2014 festival.
- "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
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.
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