Skip to Content
Zoom:  A  A  A

2019 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. Formerly known as Split This Rock's Annual Poetry Contest, the contest was renamed in 2017 the Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest. The new name honors two poets significant to Split This Rock: Langston Hughes who penned the poem "Big Buddy" from which Split This Rock takes its name and Sonia Sanchez who opened the very first Split This Rock Poetry Festival in 2008.

Contest winning poems are published on Split This Rock's website and in The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database. Additionally, the 1st place winner receives $500 and the 2nd and 3rd place winners receive $250 each. All prize winners receive free registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems ol Provocation & Witness 2020, 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 2019 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Contest. We are grateful to the contest judge, Franny Choi, to the preliminary readers, and to all who entered poems in this, our 12th annual contest. We are honored to present these urgent, tender, and innovative works. To all the poets who have trusted us with your writing: Thank you, you are tending the field of socially engaged poetry.

Judge's Statement

"So many poems that we call 'political' merely document an event, and many poems about violence retain not just the language of atrocity, but its intent to wound. 'nextdoor app' is one of those rare poems that, through radical tenderness, transforms the event into an aperture of possibility. It does this by allowing the whole ecosystem--from police helicopters to childhood memories to magnolia leaves--into its long, unpunctuated sentence. I think it takes a remarkable amount of care to balance, as this poem does so well, the impulse to document with the hope of what might grow from the telling."

Franny Choi looks off to the right of the camera. Franny has long hair that is dark brown at the top and becomes lighter, eventually blonde at the bottom. Behind her is a white backdrop. She looks off into the distance. She wears glasses and a black tank top, and bright red lipstick.

Franny Choi is the author of Floating, Brilliant, Gone (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014) and the forthcoming Soft Science (Alice James Books, 2019), as well as a chapbook, Death by Sex Machine (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2017). She has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, and the Helen Zell Writers Program. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review, the New England Review, and elsewhere. She is a Kundiman fellow, an Editor of News and Politics at Hyphen Magazine, co-host of the podcast VS, and member of the Dark Noise Collective. Learn more at Franny Choi's website.

Photo by Tarfia Faizullah.

Selected Poems:

Shabnam Piryaei leans her chin on her hand and looks towards the camera. She has medium length wavy brown hair worn parted and flipped to the side. She has brown eyes and is wearing glasses with clear frames. She wears a cherry red top.


nextdoor app

by Shabnam Piryaei, Oakland, CA

Shabnam receives $500, free festival registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2020, and an invitation to read the winning poem on the mainstage at the 2020 festival.


Excerpt from "nextdoor app":

"you lie perfectly still directly in the white beam of light rivulets running from magnolia leaves down your temples into the soil."

Read the full poem on The Quarry.

Described by the San Francisco Book Review as “a force to be reckoned with in literary circles,” Shabnam Piryaei is an award-winning poet, playwright, media artist, and filmmaker. In addition to authoring the books Nothing is Wasted (The Operating System, 2017), FORWARD (Museum Books, 2014) and ode to fragile (Plain View Press, 2010), she has written and directed three short films that have screened at film festivals and art galleries around the world. She has been awarded the Poets & Writers Amy Award, the Transport of the Aim Poetry Prize, the Brain Mill Press Editors’ Choice, an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, a Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance Grant, a Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Grant, and a fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. She’s currently an Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University. To learn more about her work, visit her website.

A self-portrait of Leslie McIntosh at home, sitting at his desk. Leslie wears a plaid shirt and glasses. He has a beard, a mustache, and glasses.


Epistle: Disobedience Operates Across Time & Space

By Leslie McIntosh, Jersey City, NJ

Leslie receives $250 and free registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2020.


Excerpt from "Epistle: Disobedience Operates Across Time & Space": 

"What orchards have you marauded because the sun is too far to notice fences? What family holds you father-shamed?

Imal, I could show you how each face equals zero at some point, some calculation, but for now, trust me. Everyone is a sundial, despite what we know about their limitations."

Read the full poem on The Quarry.

Leslie McIntosh is a poet, performer, educator, and mental health professional living in Jersey City, NJ. Leslie has participated in workshops at Callaloo and Cave Canem, and has been a fellow of the Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University and The Watering Hole. Leslie's work can be found in Beloit Poetry Journal and Pittsburgh Poetry Review.

Close-up of Deborah Paredez, a woman with black wavy shoulder-length hair and blue-framed glasses wearing a black turtleneck and silver pendant necklace, seated in blue chair




Walls and Mirrors

By Deborah Paredez, New York, NY

Leslie receives $250 and free registration to Split This Rock Poetry Festival 2020.




Excerpt from "Walls and Mirrors":

"...When I look at the number

11 I see two walls, my name and its mirrored
twin. Sometimes 11 resembles the mirrored
L's at the end of wall or the beginning of llanto,

the Spanish word for weeping."

Read the full poem on The Quarry.

Deborah Paredez is a poet and performance scholar. She is the author of the critical study, Selenidad: Selena, Latinos, and the Performance of Memory (Duke, 2009) and of the poetry volumes, This Side of Skin (Wings Press, 2002), and Year of the Dog (BOA Editions, 2020). Her poetry and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Boston Review, Poetry, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on a book about the impact of divas on her own life and on American culture more broadly. She lives in New York City where she teaches creative writing and ethnic studies at Columbia University and serves as Co-Founder and Co-Director of CantoMundo, a national organization for Latinx poets. (Photo by Sammy Tunis)


  • "Muktijuddho" by Nishat Ahmed
  • "#familiesbelongtogether" by Christy NaMee Eriksen