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2018 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest

Each year, Split This Rock sponsors a national poetry contest, which serves to raise the visibility and prestige of poetry of provocation and witness. We are delighted and honored to share that this contest, formerly known as the Split This Rock Annual Poetry Contest, has been renamed the Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest. The winning poems are published on Split This Rock's website and within The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database. Additionally, the 1st place recipient receives $500 and the 2nd and 3rd place recipients receives $250 each. All prize winners receive free registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems ol Provocation & Witness 2018, and the 1st place recipient is invited to read the winning poem on the main stage at the festival.

We're excited to announce, below, the results of Split This Rock's 2018 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest. We are grateful to the contest judge, Sonia Sanchez, to the preliminary readers, and to all who entered poems in this, our 11th annual contest. The poems were brave and necessary, as we find poets' voices are more essential than ever.

The 2018 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest Judge: Sonia Sanchez

Portrait style image of Sonia Sanchez wearing a dark brown, heavily textured sweater, a necklace of multicolored beads, and drop earrings of a light colored stone. She smiles at the camera. She has warm brown eyes, and wears her salt-and-pepper hair in shoulder-length, curly, dreadlocks.

Sonia Sanchez - Considered one of the most significant writers of the Black Arts Movement, Sonia Sanchez is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, including, among others, Morning Haiku (Beacon Press, 2010), Homegirls and Handgrenades (White Pine Press, 2007), Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems (1999); Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums: Love Poems (1998); and Does your house have lions? (1995), which was nominated for both the NAACP Image and National Book Critics Circle Award.

Among the many honors she has received are the Community Service Award from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the Lucretia Mott Award, the Outstanding Arts Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Peace and Freedom Award from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts. She was the first Presidential Fellow at Temple University, where she began teaching in 1977, and held the Laura Carnell Chair in English there until her retirement in 1999. She was the first Poet Laureate of Philadelphia. Learn more at Sonia Sanchez's website.


Image of Jonathan Mendoza standing near a winter corn field. The sky is blue and overcast. He looks directly at the camera, wears a heavy brown overcoat, and has short dark brown hair and brown eyes.

By Jonathan Mendoza, San Antonio, Texas

Jonathan receives $500, free festival registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2018, and an invitation to read the winning poem on the mainstage at the 2018 festival. (Photo by Gregory Jundanian)



By Jonathan Mendoza


Osmosis: in which molecules of a solvent pass through a membrane to achieve equilibrium.

Example: I place my hand in a pool of salt.
Some stays. Some seeps into my skin.
Everything goes exactly where it’s supposed to.

Example: Prudencia Martín Gómez leaves Guatemala at 18
to surprise her husband in California.
Like most beings, most of Prudencia’s body is water.

When Prudencia is found
60 miles from the US-Mexico border,
a pile of clothes, limbs, and a puddle of wet sand,
is she the corpse?
or was she
the water?

If Prudencia is water,
and the desert is
a ground, then Prudencia went
exactly where she was supposed to.

If migration is a pipe
and employment is a sponge,
then Prudencia went
exactly where she was supposed to.

Some would like to build a wall,
and water always seeps through,
but much does not.

Most days, water dries in the bed of a pick-up truck
clutching a seven-year-old daughter.

Most days, water is the daughter
engulfed by men who are storms.

Most days, water flees the storm
only to join other water,
like at the bottom of a riverbed,
or drowning in an All American Canal.

Most days, water must leave a nation
that is on fire
into the nation
that fans the flames. Most days,

home is a war,
even if they called it a cold one.
War is only cold
everywhere it isn't a fire.

Home was the gun fire
and the crossfire
and the day an American-backed coup
burned Prudencia’s village to the ground,

and water fled up,

and some days
water survives long enough to know comfort
as something other than a fantasy.
but most days
water exists just to be consumed,

just to be exploited,
just until a nation’s fear
sheathes all the water like ice.

ICE stops everything.

ICE stops children on their way to work.
ICE stops parents on their way home.
ICE stops a loved one from praying at a hospital bed.

Water leaves the eye,
and Prudencia is a small ocean on her husband's face.

Salt stays,
sings the water its own name:


                         Everything goes
                         exactly where it's supposed to.

Prudencia leaves,


a cloud.

Prudencia becomes

the rain.


soaks the earth.

The earth begets

  a seed…




                                                                                                                 They tried to bury us.

They didn't know we were


They didn't know we were


They didn't know we were

everything the earth

would become.










Jonathan Mendoza is a Boston-bred, Jewish and Mexican-American poet, youth social justice educator, community organizer, and activist. He is a National Poetry Slam champion with the House Slam of Boston, Massachusetts, a three-time Best Poem winner at the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational, and author of When the Crows Come under Pizza Pi Press. He is a Berklee College of Music graduate with a degree in Arts for Social Advocacy and is currently based out of San Antonio, Texas. He is an immigrant rights organizer with Movimiento Cosecha. To learn more about his work, visit


Portrait image of Ashley M. Jones. She wears a orange v-necked blouse and chandelier earrings with turquoise beads and stain tassels. She has black hair worn in a natural style and dark brown eyes.

SECOND PRIZE: I See a Smear of Animal on the Road and Mistake it for Philando Castile
By Ashley Jones, Birmingham, Alabama

Ashley receives $250 and free registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2018. (Photo by Joel Brouwer)


I See a Smear of Animal on the Road and Mistake it for Philando Castile

               After Officer Jeronimo Yanez is acquitted on June 16, 2017

By Ashley Jones

Don’t need lawyers

                              when you split a body in two

                                                                               on the highway—

Don’t need courtrooms
               and the judge’s billowing robe, its filthy swaddling cloth—

What handcuffs exist for an accidental animal killing?

What law says a tire can’t                            push               a soft seam open       between rubber & tar?

What law says a man can’t bleed like a possum
                                                                     a greedy raccoon
                                                                                                                       in his own car?

What                                law                                           says                                    stop?

When the jurors finished the meal they’d made of him—filet of buck—

they wiped their seeping gums with napkins, burped,

and swore they smelled something burning,

                                                                                                       perhaps, a laughing gun—


Ashley M. Jones received an MFA in Poetry from Florida International University. She received a 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Award. Her debut collection, Magic City Gospel (Hub City Press, 2017), won the silver medal in Poetry in the 2017 Independent Publishers Book Awards. Her second collection, dark // thing, won the 2018 Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry from Pleiades Press. She lives and teaches in Birmingham, Alabama.


 Portrait image of M. Soledad Caballero. She wears dark-framed glasses, a beige scarf with a floral pattern, and drop earrings with multicolored beads. She has dark hair with shocks of gray at her temples, and light brown eyes.

THIRD PRIZE: After the Election: a father speaks to his son
By M. Soledad Caballero, Meadville, Pennsylvania

Soledad receieves $250 and free registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2018. (Photo by Soledad M. Caballero)



After the Election: a father speaks to his son

By M. Soledad Caballero


He says, they will not take us.
They want the ones who love
another god, the ones whose
joy comes with five prayers and
songs to the sun in the mornings
and at night. He says, they will
not want us. They want the ones
whose tongues stumble over
silent e’s, whose voices creak
when a th suddenly appears
in the middle of a word. They want
the ones who cannot hide copper skin
like we can. He says, I am old. I lived
through one revolution. We can hide
our skin. We have read the books.
He says, we are the quiet kind, the ones
who stay late and do not speak,
the ones who do not bring trumpets
or trouble. He says we are safe in silence.
We must become ghosts.

I think, so many are already
dust, tried to stay thin, be small,
tried breaking their own bone and voice,
tried to be soft, like a heart in the middle
of the night. So many tried to be
nothing, to be only breath. Be still
enough to be left alone. Become
shadows, trying not to be bodies.

It never works. To become nothing.
They come for the shadows too.


M. Soledad Caballero is an Associate Professor of English at Allegheny College. Her scholarly work focuses on British Romanticism, travel writing, post-colonial literatures, WGSS (Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies), and interdisciplinary studies. She is a 2017 CantoMundo fellow, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, a New Poet's Prize, and has been a finalist for the Missouri Review's Jeffrey E. Smith Poetry Prize and the Mississippi Review's annual editor's prize. Her work has appeared in the Missouri Review, the Mississippi Review, the Iron Horse Literary Review, Memorius, the Crab Orchard Review, Anomaly, and other venues. She is working on a manuscript titled Immigrant Confessions, which explores immigration, exile, the Chilean coup d'etat, and family dynamics, especially in relation to conceptualizations of masculinity.



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