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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.

To browse the contest results, click on a year below or scroll down the page to view the winning poems for 2016-2008. Visit the 2018 contest page to review last year's results. All prize winning poems are available to read in The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database,

2017        2016        2015        2014        2013

2012        2011        2010        2009        2008

2017 Contest

Judge - Sheila Black

Sheila Black is the author of House of Bone, Love/Iraq (both CW Press), Wen Kroy (Dream Horse Press), and Iron, Ardent, forthcoming from Educe Press in 2017.  She is a co-editor with Jennifer Bartlett and Michael Northen of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (Cinco Puntos Press), named a 2012 Notable Book for Adults by the American Library Association. A 2012 Witter Bynner Fellow, selected by Philip Levine, she lives in San Antonio, Texas where she directs Gemini Ink, a literary arts center.


First Prize: "on meeting a brother for the first time" by Keno Evol, Minneapolis, MN

Second Prize: "Shooting for the Sky" by Purvi Shah, Brooklyn, NY

Third Prize: "Black Matters" by Keith Wilson, Chicago, IL

Honorable Mentions

  • "Ben (South Hall, Eastern Correctional)" by Gretchen Primack, Hurley, NY
  • "Everyday We Remember Oscar Lopez Rivera" by Rick Kearns, Harrisburg, PA
  • "Interview with the Dead" by Julia Bouwsma, New Portland, ME
  • "The Chicken with a Broken Beak" by Nicole Santalucia, Shippensburg, PA

2016 Contest

Judge - Rigoberto González

A black and white photo of a latino man with slicked back hair slightly smiling in a close up photo

Rigoberto González is author of four books of poetry, most recently Unpeopled Eden, which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. His ten books of prose include bilingual children's books, young adult novels, and Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa, which received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. He edited Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing and Alurista's new Xicano Duende: A Select Anthology. The recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, and many other accolades, he is professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey. In 2015, he received The Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Publishing Triangle.


First Prize: "Self Portrait with NeoNazi Demonstration" by Lauren Alleyne, Dubuque, IA.

Second Prize: "WITNESS" by Ariana Brown, Austin, TX.

Third Prize: "Angelitos Negros" by Darrel Alejandro Holnes, New York, NY.

Honorable Mentions

  • "Estate Planning" by sam sax, Austin, TX.
  • "Sonora Desert" by Renny Golden, Albuquerque, NM
  • "Point Lookout" by Carol Tyx, Iowa City, IA

2015 Contest

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.


First Prize: "Letter From the Water at Guantanamo Bay" by Sara Brickman, Seattle, WA.

Second Prize: "Being Called a Faggot While Walking the Road to Clemson, South Carolina" by D. Gilson, Washington DC.

Third Prize: "A Wet Daydream" by Nadia Sheikh, Tallahassee, FL.

Honorable Mentions

  • "First Light" by Chen Chen, Syracuse, NY.

2014 Contest

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.

Honorable Mentions

  • "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

2013 Contest

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

2012 Contest

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.

Judge's Comments

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.

Honorable Mentions

  • "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

2011 Contest

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..

Judge's Comments

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.

Honorable Mentions

  • "In a Jerusalem Market" by Naomi Benaron, Tucson, Arizona
  • "Msenge" by Casey Charles, Missoula, Montana
  • "The Rising" by Raina J. León, Germany

2010 Contest

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

Honorable Mention

  • "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

2009 Contest

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’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.

2008 Contest

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,, 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.

Judge's Comments

'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