Contests and Awards

  • Awards
  • Alecc
  • JD Awards
  • Ladies
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  • 2018Conf
  • Spencer Awards
  • WCU Auditorium

For contest and award details please see the respective sections below.


Deadline Extended to February 28th, 2022
Annie Finch - Judge of the 2022 Iris N. Spencer Poetry Contest and Wil Mills Chapbook Award

Annie Finch

Annie Finch is the author of six books of poetry, including Spells: New and Selected Poems, Calendars (finalist for the National Poetry Series), and the epic poem Among the Goddesses: An Epic Libretto in Seven Dreams (Sarasvati Award from ASWM, 2012).  She is also the translator of the complete poems of French poet Louise Labe for the University of Chicago Press. Finch’s other works include books and anthologies on poetic craft, a poetry textbook, verse drama, theater collaboration, opera libretto, and the first major anthology of literature on abortion.  Her poetry has appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, The New York Times, and The Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century American Poetry and onstage at Carnegie Hall.  She has shared her Poetry Witch Ritual Theater performances on three continents and appeared at the Emerging Women Conference, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Jaipur Literary Festival, and Deepak Chopra Homespace. Finch holds a B.A. from Yale and a Ph.D from Stanford, taught on the core creative writing faculty of Miami University of Ohio, and served for a decade as Director of the Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing. She has lectured at universities including Berkeley, Toronto, Harvard, and Oxford, and in 2010 she was awarded the Robert Fitzgerald Award for her lifetime contribution to the art and craft of versification. Annie Finch is the Founder and Director of, where she teaches poetry, meter, and her own system of self-transformation, The Magic of Rhythmically Writing. 


Cornelius Eady - Judge of the 2022 Donald Justice Poetry Prize

Born in 1954, Cornelius Eady was raised in Rochester, New York. He attended Monroe Community College and Empire State College. He is the author of Hardheaded Weather (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2008); Brutal Imagination (2001), which was a finalist for the 2001 National Book Award in Poetry; the autobiography of a jukebox (1997); You Don't Miss Your Water (1995); The Gathering of My Name (1991), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; BOOM BOOM BOOM (1988); Victims of the Latest Dance Craze (1985), which was chosen by Louise Glück, Charles Simic, and Philip Booth for the 1985 Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets; and Kartunes (1980). In 1996, Eady and the poet Toi Derricote founded Cave Canem, a nonprofit organization serving black poets of various backgrounds and acting as a safe space for intellectual engagement and critical debate. Along with Derricote, he also edited Gathering Ground. He has collaborated with jazz composer Deidre Murray in the production of several works of musical theater, including You Don't Miss Your Water; Running Man, short listed for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1999; Fangs, and Brutal Imagination, which received Newsday's Oppenheimer Award in 2002. About his work, the poet June Jordan has said, "Cornelius Eady leads and then cuts a line like no one else: following the laughter and the compassionate pith of a dauntless imagination, these poems beeline or zig-zag always to the jugular, the dramatic and unarguable revelation of the heart." His honors include the Prairie Schooner Strousse Award, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation. He has served as director of the Poetry Center at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Director of the MFA Program for Writers at the University of Notre Dame, and has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, The New School, The 92nd St. Y, City College of New York, The Writer's Voice, The College of William and Mary, The University of Missouri-Columbia, and Sweet Briar College. In the Fall of 2021, he will be joining the English Dept. at the University of Tenn., Knoxville, as their Chair of Excellence in Poetry, a position that was previously held by U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.

Cornelius Eady


Donald Justice Poetry Prize

The distinguished American poet Donald Justice is recognized as one of the finest poets of the late twentieth century. The recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, Bollingen Prize, and numerous honors for his verse, Justice was a masterful and exacting craftsman, traits that define the prize named in his honor. The prize is made possible through the generosity of the Iris N. Spencer Poetry Award. The Justice Prize welcomes unpublished, original book-length collections of poems that pay attention to form for consideration in the competition. The winner of the competition will receive $1,500, and have their manuscript published by Autumn House Press.

We ask that applicants adhere to the following guidelines.

  • The annual competition is open to all American poets regardless of whether they have previously published a book-length collection.
  • The manuscript should be between 50-100 typed pages in PDF form an emailed to
  • No more than one-third of the manuscript may consist of permission-secured or public domain translations.
  • The manuscript should contain two title pages: one with the collection's title, author's name, address, e-mail address, and telephone number; and the other with only the title.
  • There is a $25 entry fee for each manuscript which must be submitted electronically. To remit payment, please click HERE
  • The 2022 Competition ended on November 15, 2021. Stay tuned for information on the 2023 contest.

Notification of contest results will be provided via email.

The winner will receive their prize and give a public reading at the annual West Chester University Poetry Festival in April 2022.             

Autumn House Press

Autumn House

The winning manuscript will be published by Autumn House Press, a nonprofit publisher registered in the state of Pennsylvania whose mission is to publish and promote poetry and other fine literature. 

Autumn House Press will offer all authors:

35 authors copies from the first print run, 15 author copies from any additional print runs;

8 percent royalties on print titles and 15 percent on digital (royalties are paid on sales that are 50% of list price or greater, excluding author purchases);

50 percent discount when purchasing additional copies of your title; 40 percent off any additional AHP titles;

Distribution through the University of Chicago Press;

30 print galleys sent to major reviewer outlets 5-6 months prior to publication;

At least 20 finished review copies sent to reviewers and review outlets 1-3 months prior to publication; this list will be compiled with input from the author;

A post-publication prize package;

Book advertisements in prestigious journals such as Prairie Schooner, Harper's, Women’s Review of Books, and more;

Support and guidance with the promotion of the title;

A pledge that your title will never go out of print;

Autumn House Press Mission Statement:

  • The press will concentrate on publishing the work of excellent contemporary writers who have a following among readers, but whose work has been overlooked by commercial publishers.
  • We see our relationships with our authors as partnerships; we will support them by ensuring their books are edited with care and are available in a variety of locations.
  • In the belief that a book is not only a readable text but also an object of art, the press is dedicated to producing beautifully designed, well-manufactured books on acid-free paper, 
    as well as electronic texts of comparable quality. However, this dedication to quality will be balanced against considerations of cost in order to make the books affordable to all.
  • We believe art and literature are essential to the growth of a community and strive to enhance the neighborhoods around us.

Donald Justice Biography

2022 Judge: Cornelius Eady


Iris N. Spencer Poetry Award

Created by Kean W. Spencer in honor of his mother, a reader and community servant, the award welcomes unpublished, original poems composed in the traditional modes of meter, rhyme and received forms and offers a first prize ($1,500), and a runner-up prize ($500).

We ask that applicants adhere to the following guidelines.

  • The annual competition is open to undergraduate poets who are enrolled in a United States college or university.
  • There is no fee to enter. Submissions may be a combination of poems submitted to the Iris N. Spencer Award, Sonnet Award, Villanelle Award, the Myong Cha Son Haiku Award, or the Rhina P. Espaillat Poetry Award. Limit of three poems per contest.
  • All poems entered remain confidential, anonymous and internal. 
  • Deadline for submission: February 21, 2022. Submissions must be sent as an e-mail attachment to:
  • The author's name, address, College/University and personal e-mail address, telephone number, and name of college or university currently attending should be submitted as a separate PDF/Doc. Please mark subject line as, "WCU Poetry Awards"
Iris Spencer
Iris Spencer

Sonnet Award

Part of the Iris Awards, the Sonnet Award welcomes unpublished, original sonnets and offers a $1,000 prize for the winning entry.

We ask that applicants adhere to the following guidelines.

  • The annual competition is open to undergraduate poets who are enrolled in a United States college or university.
  • There is no fee to enter. Submissions may be a combination of poems submitted to the Iris N. Spencer Award, Sonnet Award, Villanelle Award, the Myong Cha Son Haiku Award, or the Rhina P. Espaillat Poetry Award. Limit of three poems per contest.
  • All poems entered remain confidential, anonymous and internal. 
  • Deadline for submission: February 21, 2022. Submissions must be sent as an e-mail attachment to:
  • The author's name, address, College/University and personal e-mail address, telephone number, and name of college or university currently attending should be submitted as a separate PDF/Doc. Please mark subject line as, "WCU Poetry Awards"

Villanelle Award

Part of the Iris Awards, the Villanelle Award welcomes unpublished, original villanelles and offers a $1,000 prize for the winning entry.

We ask that applicants adhere to the following guidelines.

  • The annual competition is open to undergraduate poets who are enrolled in a United States college or university.
  • There is no fee to enter. Submissions may be a combination of poems submitted to the Iris N. Spencer Award, Sonnet Award, Villanelle Award, the Myong Cha Son Haiku Award, or the Rhina P. Espaillat Poetry Award. Limit of three poems per contest.
  • All poems entered remain confidential, anonymous and internal. 
  • Deadline for submission: February 21, 2022. Submissions must be sent as an e-mail attachment to:
  • The author's name, address, College/University and personal e-mail address, telephone number, and name of college or university currently attending should be submitted as a separate PDF/Doc. Please mark subject line as, "WCU Poetry Awards"

Myong Cha Son Haiku Award

Created by Kyle R. Spencer, and named for his mother-in-law, the award welcomes unpublished, original haiku and offers a first prize ($1,500) and a runner-up prize ($500).

We ask that applicants adhere to the following guidelines.

  • The annual competition is open to undergraduate poets who are enrolled in a United States college or university.
  • There is no fee to enter. Submissions may be a combination of poems submitted to the Iris N. Spencer Award, Sonnet Award, Villanelle Award, the Myong Cha Son Haiku Award, or the Rhina P. Espaillat Poetry Award. Limit of three poems per contest.
  • All poems entered remain confidential, anonymous and internal.
  • Deadline for submission: February 21, 2022. Submissions must be sent as an e-mail attachment to:
  • The author's name, address, College/University and personal e-mail address, telephone number, and name of college or university currently attending should be submitted as a separate PDF/Doc. Please mark subject line as, "WCU Poetry Awards"
Myong Cha Son
Myong Cha Son

Rhina P. Espaillat Award

Rhina P. Espaillat, born in the Dominican Republic, started writing poetry in Spanish and English after her family was exiled to the United States. She has published in both languages. This $500 undergraduate prize celebrates original poems written in Spanish and translations of English poems to Spanish.

Applicants for this prize are asked to adhere to the following guidelines:

  • The annual competition is open to undergraduate poets who are enrolled in a United States college or university.
  • Include both the English and Spanish versions of the submitted poem.
  • There is no fee to enter. Submissions may be a combination of poems submitted to the Iris N. Spencer Award, Sonnet Award, Villanelle Award, the Myong Cha Son Haiku Award, or the Rhina P. Espaillat Poetry Award. Limit of three poems per contest.
  • All poems entered remain confidential, anonymous and internal.
  • Deadline for submission: February 21, 2022. Submissions must be sent as an e-mail attachment to: 
  • The author's name, address, College/University and personal e-mail address, telephone number, and name of college or university currently attending should be submitted as a separate PDF/Doc. Please mark subject line as, "WCU Poetry Awards"

Wil Mills Award

The Wil Mills Award is open to poets who may have published chapbooks but have no full-length collections. The recipient will receive $200 and their chapbook will be published by Moonstone Arts Center.

Suggested Reading: A Gift for Adoration by Jeff Hardin

Applicants for this prize are asked to adhere to the following guidelines:

  • No more than one-half of the chapbook may consist of permission-secured or public domain translations.
  • The chapbook (18-24 pages) should contain two title pages: one with the collection's title, author's name, address, e-mail address, and telephone number; and the other with only the title.
  • The author's name, address, e-mail address, telephone number, and name of college or university attended should be submitted as a separate PDF/Doc.
  • All submissions must be e-mailed to (put Wil Mills Award in the subject line) no later than February 21, 2022.
  • There is a $20 entry fee for each book which must be submitted electronically. To remit payment, please click HERE

The Moonstone Arts Center was incoMoonstone Logorporated as a non-profit corporation in February 1983 by Sandy and Larry Robins. Moonstone Inc. was established to manifest the Robins’ belief that learning is a life-long activity and that art stimulates both cognitive and affective learning at all ages. While literature has been at the center of Moonstone’s programming, Larry and Sandy believe that Art, in all its forms, is more than enrichment for occasional dabbling; it affects how one thinks, sees, interprets, describes, meets life and functions in society.  Today, the work of Moonstone Inc. is to operate the Moonstone Preschool and the Moonstone Arts Center, bringing together a community of parents, teachers, staff, board members, artists, poets and writers who believe that creativity and imagination are essential aspects of life.

Iris N. Spencer Winners

1st Place - Spring by Elise Forslund, Georgetown University

Elise Forslund is a junior at Georgetown University studying environmental policy and minoring in creative writing. Originally from Georgia, Elise writes a lot about growing up queer in the Deep South and her experiences with mental illness. She hopes to pursue an MFA after graduation and dedicate more time to writing. She draws a lot of inspiration from her favorite poets: Erica L. Sanchez and Hanif Abdurraqib. She has also been published in Pen + Brush, Screen Door Review, Stone of Madness Press, and Enby Life. You can find Elise on twitter @elise_forslund.


Persephone won't come home though it is Spring
and Demeter believes her daughter taken, this Spring

I signed a pledge at Church and got a purity ring
that was my twelfth Spring

but on the train ride home, an older man still called me a pretty little thing
that was my thirteenth Spring

and when the boy one locker over pinched me on my ass, I pretended it was just a bee sting
that was my fourteenth spring

I thought perhaps the cute boy from math was different, he was my first fling
that was my fifteenth Spring

but, no, the cute boy from math also had a sharp swing
that was my sixteenth Spring

after I pierced my own nose, I realized I only ever wanted one ring
that was my seventeenth Spring

and when I was eighteen I thought about the bee sting
and my first fling who had a sharp swing

I thought about the man who said I was pretty little thing
I remembered how the Church always said I was doing the wrong thing

how I was always sinning
but I knew that there was nothing

I could do to stop these things
and it certainly wouldn't be solved by a gold purity ring

or even a nose ring but at least now I was doing my own piercing
in my eighteenth spring.

2nd Place - Ghazal for Your Fingers by Tesia Wieprecht, West Chester University

Tesia Wieprecht Headshot

Tesia Wieprecht has dreamt of becoming a published writer since she was in third grade, when her class's short stories were bound in a hardback book. She is currently a senior Women's and Gender Studies student with a Creative Writing minor. She writes in her spare time and can be often seen frantically typing ideas into the notes section of her phone. Her work has been described as whimsical, with a direct tone and voice. She has a particular soft spot for alliteration and repetition, which she includes in both her poetry and prose.

Ghazal for Your Fingers

Between me and you — us and space — your fingers
splaying mine. Long and thin and knuckles wide: your fingers.

Nights spent with our heads bent over a board,
rooks and knights bowing to the genius of your fingers.

I want to give you strawberries: summer-sweetened,
soft. I want to kiss their stains from your fingers.

I've waited years for a song perfect like this: music swelling,
layered harmonies. Mingles with physical bliss. Your fingers.

Shallower breaths. What in death really leaves?
How much of me can you feel through your fingers?

Please, speak of the stars, of science, of time gone amok.
I can see the blood beat slower, slower through your fingers.

Please. Do not say you are ashamed to be mine.
Temples. Minds. Filtered through glass: you, me, our fingers.


1st Place - Villanelle of Addiction by Cassidy Graham, West Chester University

Cassidy Graham Headshot

Cassidy Graham, is a third year student at West Chester University as an English Writing Major with a minor in Creative Writing. Cassidy has always been passionate about writing, but in the past couple of years, has realized it is what she wants to do for the rest of her life. Cassidy is involved in the Creative Writing Program at West Chester and will be traveling to Greece in the summer to attend a writing workshop in Crete. Cassidy had the honor of being the featured poet at West Chester University's 150th campaign celebration this past Fall. In her free time, she enjoys reading (although that may come as no shock), spending time outdoors, and eating good food. In the future, Cassidy would like to write a book, possibly a work of poetry, though she would write anything to become an author…well, maybe not anything.

Villanelle of Addiction

The disease you have will never go away.
I see it in the bloat of your belly and the twitch of your nose,
but I really need you, so please stay.

I think we both know when I realized you weren't okay.
Don't you remember the stash I found hidden in your clothes?
This disease you have will never go away.

"Please never be like me" you always say.
But part of me is worried I don't have a choice in the matter. I suppose
that's why I need you, so please stay.

I had to move out, I know you think about that day.
Screaming and crying through your denial shows
the disease you have will never go away.

For months we didn't talk, I wanted to make you pay
for your mistakes. But anger and then sadness arose
so I really need you, please stay.

Sometimes I wonder how much longer you will be here, when will the decay
become too much for you, because I know you chose
this disease you have that will never go away.
I really need you, I'm begging, please stay.


1st Place - The Dead Deer's Cry by Ainsley Berg, Flagler College

Ainsley Berg Headshot

Ainsley Berg is an undergraduate student studying English and political science at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, where she also serves as a poetry editor for the college's literary journal, FLARE: The Flagler Review. Her work has previously been published in The Pointed Circle and Chasing Shadows Magazine. She can be found on Instagram at @ainsel.bee or outside, trying to befriend neighborhood cats.

The Dead Deer's Cry

When the doe steps out of the trees to graze by the road,
it is she and the moon for a soft moment, before headlights
cut through the satin darkness with beams made of fright,
illuminating her face with the otherworldly life it showed.
She wonders about the mechanical beasts that always strode
past her woods, shining through the shadows with their bright
glass eyes when she wandered beyond the trees at night,
and the instincts gifted to her by years of learning fear erode.

In the evening, the doe will meet her love beneath the moon,
though the thought of it makes her legs shake as she stumbles
out of the forest's safety and onto the land where no grass grows.
Eyes wide, she sees the lights and knows she will be with him soon.
One last persisting thought before her porcelain knees crumble,
and she cries out with the sharpness of finally getting to know.


Myong Cha Son Haiku Winners

1st Place - A Very Serious Haiku by Tesia Wieprecht, West Chester University

Tesia Wieprecht Headshot

Tesia Wieprecht has dreamt of becoming a published writer since she was in third grade, when her class's short stories were bound in a hardback book. She is currently a senior Women's and Gender Studies student with a Creative Writing minor. She writes in her spare time and can be often seen frantically typing ideas into the notes section of her phone. Her work has been described as whimsical, with a direct tone and voice. She has a particular soft spot for alliteration and repetition, which she includes in both her poetry and prose.

A very serious haiku

flying down the street,
bare ass on the handlebars,
I'm not coming home.




2nd Place - Grief by Kate Mahoney, Boston University

Kate Mahoney is a student at Boston University with a passion for the discovery and creation of new ideas, whether through research in STEM or the exploration of the human experiences through language. She enjoys writing, baking, and making music and hopes that each of these will help her bring joy to those around her.


I want to forget
Without losing myself. But
I can't, so I heal.

Rhina P. Espaillat Award

1st Place - Mujer de la tierra / Earth Woman by Raimy Khalife-Hamdan, University of Oregon

Raimy Khalife-Hamdan Headshot

Raimy is a fourth-year Clark Honors College student majoring in Romance Languages and Global Studies with a focus on migration, refugees, and displacement. Raimy is passionate about using the languages they know (Arabic, French, and Spanish) to connect with and support people from around the world. Certainly, an avenue for this connection is their poetry and prose. Another is service.

Mujer de la tierra

Soy hija de las Estrellas, alimentada de mitos de otros mundos.
Las grietas que tallan las suelas de mis pies,
como las valles de la arena árabe que mis ancestros cruzaron,
susurran canciones de veranos caminando descalza.
Mis rizos de carbón se enredan con el aliento suave del viento,
creando nidos de hojas y ramitas y pelo salvaje;
he renunciado a domarlos.
Respiro los fuegos de la ira
que plaga este mundo, y lloro océanos para extinguirlos.

Soy estudiante de la Tierra: la observo, la toco, la pruebo…
Mi piel se seca después de horas besando al Sol.
Intento sumergir la Luna en las piscinas oscuras de mis ojos.
Por supuesto, no puedo seducirla.
Desafiándome de los consejos de mis abuelas, me pongo ropa corta,
¡nunca domesticaré este cuerpo!, les digo con palabras ingenuas,
escapando de sus manos arrugadas para coquetear con Tierra.

¿Qué hacer con esta mujer,
que está enamorada de ambos el Sol y la Luna?

English Translation:

Earth woman

I am daughter of Stars, fed on myths of other worlds.
Cracks carve the soles of my feet,
like the valleys of the Arabian sand my ancestors crossed,
whispering songs of summers walking barefoot.
The soft breath of wind tangles my charcoal curls,

braiding nests of leaves and twigs and wild hair;
I have given up on taming them.
I breathe in fires of anger
that plague this world, and I cry oceans to extinguish them.

I am student of Earth: I observe her, touch her, taste her…
My skin dries after hours kissing the Sun, and
I try to submerge the Moon in the dark pools of my eyes.
Of course, I can't seduce her.
Challenging my grandmothers' stories, I dress in short clothes,
I will never tame this body! I tell them with naive words,
escaping wrinkled hands to flirt with Earth.

What to do with a woman
who is in love with both the Sun and the Moon?

2nd Place - El laberinto del corazon en conflicto / The Labyrinth of the Conflicted Heart by Amanda Trout, Pittsburg State University

Amanda Trout Headshot

Amanda Trout is a senior at Pittsburg State University pursuing a double major in English (Creative Writing) and Spanish. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the Cow Creek Review and has been published in several literary magazines (The Lyric, Bacopa Literary Review, Stripes, etc.). She plans to pursue a Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (Poetry) after graduation.

El laberinto del corazón en conflicto

—inspirado por Borges, maestro de laberintos

Corro por pasillo, por la esquina; pero
solamente camino con el llanto
de Asterión, la bestia descomunal.

El camino es largo y sinuoso;
solo empezó a girar ese día
la oportunidad de los dos, tú y yo,

sangró de la existencia y cubrió
el piso de adoquines, y todo
lo que pude hacer fue caminar en

rojo, manchar mis pies, y mantener
el ritmo del tiempo. Cada hora
la bestia se acerca y yo camino.

Una parte de mi quiere correr;
el otro quiere frenar y dejar
que la ira me lleve.

English Translation

The Labyrinth of the Conflicted Heart

—inspired by Borges, Master of Labyrinths

I run down the hall, around the corner; but
I only walk with the tears
of Asterion, the colossal beast.

The road is long and winding;
it only started spinning that day
when the opportunity of us, you and I

bled from existence and covered
the cobblestone floor,
and all I could do was walk

in red, stain my feet, keep
the rhythm of time. Each hour
the beast approaches, and I walk.

A part of me wants to run;
the other wants to stop
and let the anger take me.

Donald Justice Award


JD Debris Headshot

JD Debris writes poems, songs, and prose. He was a Goldwater Fellow at New York University, where he completed his MFA. His work has been chosen for Ploughshares' Emerging Writers Prize, and he has twice been named to Narrative's 30 Below 30 list. His releases include the chapbook SPARRING (Salem State University Press, 2018) and the music albums BLACK MARKET ORGANS (Simple Truth Records, 2017) and JD DEBRIS MURDER CLUB (2022).



Remembering that heavyweight
we'd call Hercules,
a mellow steroid fiend
who never sparred, just raised

barbells ‘til he was swollen as that solemn
British killer from Ninja 2: Shadow
of a Tear. He'd flex, hit vacuum
poses in ringside mirrors, taking photo

after photo, & lounge in the locker room,
nothing but a sideways Sox hat on.
A garden-variety goon
with a garbled, guttural monotone

& shriveled steroid balls:
so Hercules seemed, on the surface.
But every word he spoke was praise—
"So sick, bro"—softly, near-inaudible.

One night, the gym screened a pay-
per-view—De la Hoya or Money May.
All us gym rats came back
in jewelry, jeans, & the reek

of cologne instead of sweat
to cozy up between dormant
heavy bags & watch the fights
projected on industrial concrete.

I brought my old acoustic
for between-fight amusement,
background-strumming a soundtrack
to our cacophony. Hercules sat

beside me, saying, "Bro,
can you play a corrido beat?"
I started to strum a stock waltz-meter,
& Hercules, in a bass bel canto
that could rumble the cheap seats
of an opera hall, began a Spanish ballad
about a lost bantamweight
named Amen, who had disappeared,

the lyrics went, to Mexico last spring,
whom no one had heard from since.
The gym was quiet one verse in.
Pay-per-view muted, everyone listening

to this supposed bonehead
channel beauty. To his ballad,
its fragility—Fly,
little dove, fly, he'd sigh

at verses' end. I'm amazed
that no one laughed at him—
insults, back then, our lingua
franca & form of praise—

in that moment so holy
& ridiculous, when his lips formed O's
on long, pure
tones, & every chord

I can't tell you which prize-
fighter won that bout,

or if we gorged on pizza & beer,
blowing off our weight-making regimens.
I can't tell you if it rained, I can't pretend
to know if sparks flew inside all those ears

bent in unison toward the amen
Hercules incanted. As for him,
his trainer, a hardass marine,
got sick of his preening

& told him go find another gym
where he could kiss his biceps
in the mirror, & drink his creatine
& beast his endless deadlift reps.

How many songs has he sung since,
in the shower of a distant gym
where he still takes his sweet time
soaping every ropelike vein?

What I know, I'll tell:
around the campfire of the muted fights
that night, he was our horn of Gabriel,
our nightingale mid-flight.

Sing it again, Hercules?


Wil Mills Poetry Award

Karen Peterson, Trembling

Karen Petersen Headshot

Karen Petersen has traveled the world extensively, originally as a combat photojournalist and later as a foreign correspondent. Now retired, she has devoted herself to publishing short stories, flash, and poetry both nationally and internationally in a variety of publications which deal with her many experiences both here and abroad. In 2019, she was the first person in the history of the Pushcart Prize to receive five nominations in three categories: poetry, short story, and flash. In 2021, one of her poems was long-listed for the Bridport Prize. She has also been nominated for the Forward Prize, the Saboteur Prize, and the Best of the Net. Her poems have been translated into Persian and Spanish. More information can be found at:

From Trembling

The TBI/Return

This was the year I lost my voice.
Words, sentences, language
used to flow out of me like a magician
pulling from his mouth long strings of pearls.
Then the string broke.
Oh, I could talk all right,
but it was my inner voice
that had slipped away slowly
like a boat leaving its moorings
and gently drifting out to sea.

At the hospital
I thought I was the odd one out.
Something in me had collapsed
but I had two arms and two legs,
these other people were in wheelchairs.
And then there she was,
a young pretty girl, injured
but all smiles,
greeting a man also in a wheelchair,
seeing only him.

As she leaned forward,
the gown slipped off her thin shoulders.
Her skin was the palest pink
like a rare Gallician rose.
A deep line, angry red,
wound its snakelike way down her spine,
but she was oblivious to my stare.
Although one leg and half an arm
was all that remained on her torso
hers was the attitude of a toreador,
fierce and proud in her loving.

Suddenly I felt small, petty,
silly for having gawked.
I had to admire her defiance,
dwelling in that arcade of
needles, muscle, metal, pain.
Then she was swallowed by an elevator
and vanished,
smiling and talking
as if it were that easy.
I never saw her again.

As the nurse puts a hot towel on my neck
it's like a warm embrace,
the only warmth in my life now.
How pitiful I think, and then
my anger forces me to remember
remember the half-woman, all-woman,
and the love on her face,
the world she has made for herself.
Holding that inside me, I know I am not lost.


Iris N. Spencer Winners

1st Place - Returning by Alejandro Lucero, University of Colorado Denver

Alejandro Luceros Headshot
  • Alejandro Lucero,
    University of Colorado Denver

Alejandro Lucero is a writer from Sapello, New Mexico by way of Denver. He is a senior at the University of Colorado-Denver where he serves as an intern and assistant editor for Copper Nickel. Pushcart Prize nominee, his most recent poetry can be found, or is forthcoming, in The Susquehanna Review, Thin Air Magazine, Sink Hollow, among other journals.




Talk about the dying alfalfa

fields. How what’s left of the golden straws scratch your grandmother’s

legs when she returns from the river. The fleas

who jump to her swollen ankles. How her hair

came back white and wiry. Talk about her path

to recovery. How it could be


like her walk home from the river. Say it could be

like walking home from the river in the dark. How she grew alfalfa

for survival. For the hay. The seeds dangling from the purple flowers were a path

to better seeds. Talk about your grandmother,

who lined the bodies of gophers in the crosshairs

of a rifle when they ruined a bush. Their bodies became grenades. Talk about the fleas


on the back of a barn cat. Talk about how the fleas

picked your grandmother’s blood over that cat’s. Be

sure to mention how they crawled through her hair

like the ladybugs that pocked the alfalfa

field like red zits. How, after cancer, your grandmother

hacked away at the dead alfalfa blocking her path


home from the river. Say how she cleared that path

with an idiot stick, and how the fleas

clung to her new hair and old ankles. How your grandmother

swung that blade, bisecting the body of a honey bee

trying to pollinate the last bulb of the dried-out alfalfa

flower. Talk about how, when you were younger, her hair


was long and dark like a cape. How the thick braid of her hair

shaped your path

back to the alfalfa

and the biting fleas

and the cancer be-

ginning to stain the inside of your grandmother

again. How your grandmother’s



came a path

to flee

the dying alfalfa.

Talk about your grandmother and the path back

from the river. How her hair pulled the fleas off a cat.

How returning home would be easier if the alfalfa were still green.

2nd Place - Claws by Carmen Perez, Whittier College

Carmen Perez Headshot
  • Carmen Perez,
    Whittier College


Carmen Perez is a fourth-year student attending Whittier College and majoring in English. She has found that writing poetry helps her find peace in times of stress. She lives in California with a hyper Chihuahua and enjoys hiking, baking, and sewing.



The rats nature sends

Are my only friends.

When the

Soft light of my lamp is turned off.


They scratch through the walls

With welcoming calls.

The loud,

Convivial squeaks comfort me.


They used to disgust

Me; had to adjust

To the

Sensation of small cutting claws.


Recurring Price I Pay to Sleep Inside This Room by Kelly Morgan, Vanderbilt University

Kelly Morgan is a junior at Vanderbilt University, where she is majoring in creative writing and minoring in mathematics. Originally from the mountains ofKelly Morgan Western North Carolina, she now lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She has worked as a bookseller and a journalism intern, and she hopes to continue her career in the literary world. She is currently the poetry editor of both The Vanderbilt Review and the SciLit Journal, and next year will begin work as editor-in-chief of The Vanderbilt Review. Her writing has appeared in Vanderbilt Lives, The Vanderbilt Review, and Scaffold: A Showcase of Vanderbilt First-Year Writing. In her free time, she enjoys drawing, ballroom dancing, and studying astronomy.

Recurring Price I Pay to Sleep Inside This Room

There is a man in my bed—

He is fucking me.

My body turns to lead.


The first visit, he leaned in and said,

“I’m not the sort who’ll let you stay rent-free.”

There is a man in my bed,


and now it is his bed instead,

and I am learning how to pay my fee

even as my body turns to lead.


The starting cost, the unsurprising overhead,

is that there is no privacy—

there is a man in my bed.


The monthly charge is “spread

yourself; I get your body.”

These times, my body turns to lead.


The bills collect. They pile up like dread

as I grow cold, and the unceasing memory grows heavy:

there is always a man in my bed—

and my body beneath him, turned to lead.


Winner: January Spring by Monica Colon, Wheaton College

January SpringMonica Colon


Mesquites send yellow tendrils out unfurling

in roadside ditches, and peach blossoms break

like amethysts from geodes. It is early

for daffodils, for mourning doves to make

their slipshod nests in shrubs. Everyone knows

about encroaching seas and plastic islands,

depleted fisheries, softening floes.

I keep my distance and uneasy silence.

Today, the high is eighty. I wear shorts

and follow the meanders up the creek

to sift through cobbles, pocket cherts and quartz

and fossils. I admit it: I am weak,

and glad, and sorry. This won't last.

Not every ammonite will leave a cast.



Myong Cha Son Haiku Winners

1st Place - Precious Metals by Tylyn K. Johnson, University of Indianapolis

Tylyn Johnson Headshot
  • Tylyn K. Johnson,
    University of Indianapolis

Tylyn K. Johnson is a third-year honors social work student at the University of Indianapolis. He is also pursuing a minor in Applied Spanish. A part-time writer with a love for community, Tylyn nurtures his passion for writing through the occasional spoken word. In his artistry, he focuses on building communion and empowerment with other marginalized folx. His work has appeared in Etchings literary magazine, Parody Poetry Journal, Indiana Voice Journal, and Rigorous, among other spaces. If he's not writing or dialoguing, Tylyn is learning how to better support the work happening in his community. @TyKyWrites on Instagram, Twitter, and Medium.

Precious Metals


Melanin mama,

she steels her kind, weary soul

to sharpen gold child.

2nd Place - Unstitched/Wounds by Daniel Garcia, University of North Texas

Daniel Garcia Headshot
  • Daniel Garcia,
    University of North Texas

Daniel Garcia's essays appear or are forthcoming in SLICE, Denver Quarterly, The Offing, Ninth Letter, Guernica, Hayden's Ferry Review and elsewhere. Poems appear or are forthcoming in The Puritan, Harbor Review, The Arkansas International, Ploughshares, Zone 3 and others. A recipient of a Short Prose Prize from Bat City Review and a Poetry Prize from So to Speak, Daniel has received awards and scholarships from Tin House and the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, and currently serves as a reader and editorial assistant for Split Lip Magazine. Daniel's essays also appear as Notables in The Best American Essays.



You can’t unstitch the

story from a wound. All you

can do is dress it.

Rhina P. Espaillat Award

1st Place - For the Seekers /Para los buscadores by Kensington Mikhaila Eiler, University of Indianapolis

Kensington Eller Headshot
  • Kensington Mikhaila Eiler,
    University of Indianapolis

Kensington Eiler is from Lafayette, Indiana and is a senior at the University of Indianapolis studying Human Biology and Spanish. She spends her free time reading with her cat, writing her own stories, and singing in her university’s choir program.

Para los buscadores

Me escondo en mis poemas

En mis escrituras

En mi trabajo


Me escondo mis palabras

En la lenguas

Solo yo digo


Me escondo mis pensamientos

En los libros en mis estantes

Que mi familia no lee


Me escondo de todos

Nadie me ve

Soy invisible


Me esconderé para siempre

Es mi libertad

Es mi soledad


English Translation:


For the seekers


I hide in my poems

In my writings

In my work


I hide my words

In languages

Only I speak


I hide my thoughts

In the books on my shelf

That my family doesn’t read


I hide from everyone

No one sees me

I am invisible


I will hide forever

It’s my freedom

It’s my solitude


Donald Justice Award

Alexis Sears is the 2021 Donald Justice Poetry Prize Winner

Alexis Sears, Out of Order

Alexis SearsAlexis Sears is a graduate of the MFA program in poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she earned her Bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Writing Seminars. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Cortland Review, Hopkins Review, Cimarron Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She was a 2019 Sewanee Writers’ Conference MFA scholar, and she was a finalist for the Vassar Miller and New Criterion poetry prizes. Currently, she lives in northern California, where she teaches sixth grade English. Out of Order is her first book and was chosen by this year's judge, Quincy Lehr.

From Out of Order

Hair Sestina

I’m 24 and yes, by now I know
I have a problem. “Oh, but don’t we all?”
everyone jokes as if it’s really brilliant.
But not like this. A slippery chunk of life
has slid on by, and still I am without
an inkling of real knowledge about black

hairstyles. Some bus driver says, “You’re ‘black’
in name, but you will never really know
their struggles.” Their. It sticks. I’m left without
a comeback (since I know it’s true). She’s all
proud now and continues on, “Your life
seems easier than most.” Gee, that is brilliant.

I’m not sure if I’m hurt or not. A brilliant
professor told me once (her hair dyed black
as licorice bites), “Sometimes, you know, in life,
you’ll want to cry but can’t. Just so you know,
the answer is to bite your thumb. That’s all.”
My cluelessness, though? Soon, I’ll be without

a thumb, a life, a man to dine with. (Out
of time.) I only care about hair now. Brilliant
black scholar’s what I aim for. I spend all
my leisure time these days researching black
hair looks. I nod, I practice, hope I’ll know
a twist-out when I see it. I watch Life

(the one with Eddie Murphy), plan a life
where someday I’ll have cornrows, braids, without
the insecurity. Should I—oh no,
no flashcards. What’s the point of being brilliant
if you wear white girl hair to Sam’s Club, lack
inheritance and understanding? All

I know is this: it wouldn’t be right to call
what happened to me abandonment. See, life
can be too hard for us, including my black
father, once-Marine, 6’2, without
someone to speak to, even me. Not brilliant,
but he could have helped me come to know

my hair, my blackness, self. Oh, well. Without
some emptiness, what’s life? 24. “Brilliant.
Accomplished.” All I know is what I don’t.





Wil Mills Poetry Award

Mark Stevick, Local Habitations

Mark StevickMark Wacome Stevick directs the Princemere Poetry Prize, and the Five Ponds Writers Festival at Gordon College. Besides poetry, he writes fiction, essays, and plays, which include The Fish Mysteries, a version of The Second Shepherds Play, and Cry Innocent, which runs seasonally in Salem, Mass.. Mark leads writing workshop on ekphrasis in Orvieto, Italy, summer theatre seminars in the UK, and student storytelling sojourns to The Moth, Boston. (He’s a StorySlam winner). He earned his master’s degree in creative writing from Boston University, where he studied with poets Derek Walcott and Robert Pinsky


Iris N. Spencer Winners

1st Place - Bodega Rosé - Julián David Bañuelos - Texas Tech University

Julian David Banuelos Headshot
  • Julián David Bañuelos
  • Texas Tech University

Julián David Bañuelos is in his final semester for his bachelor's in creative writing at Texas Tech University. He will be pursuing his MFA in poetry at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the Fall. He has been a finalist for Texas Tech's Stephan Ross Huffman Poetry Award and his poems can be seen in a forthcoming undergraduate journal. He currently resides in Lubbock, Texas, a city cultivating talented writers and poets.

Bodega Rosé

  • Damn it all! Everything we had built rose
  • Like day & night– like the moon you felt close.
  • My hands were shown the cracks time filled with dust.
  • My greatest adventure: peeling your hide
  • To find faults, neither mine nor yours. Time saw
  • Everything. Patience. Growth. Decay– We sink
  • Because we bit. Our glasses in the sink,
  • empty & stained with bodega rosé.
  • No man is an island. Your favorite saw
  • To cut deep. Kept cutting. Digging too close
  • To worlds within. Buried under my hide,
  • There were your words, clogging my veins like dust.
  • I built an altar of cedar, saw dust
  • Danced around us. We craved something to sink
  • Our teeth into like animals. Our hide
  • Heated in seconds, burned away, then rose
  • From ashes. No one has ever been this close.
  • My past: wilderness, a constant seesaw,
  • Up & down, pushed & pulled just like the saw
  • Used to build this body. You shook the dust,
  • Brought the stars before my eyes, held me close
  • Enough to taste the clouds. At times I sink
  • Into myself & unfurl like the rose
  • Bush outside my mother's home. Run and hide.
  • The definition of a man: tough hide.
  • That's what I was told & taught, but I saw
  • My own skin as delicate as the rose
  • Without thorns. I redefined man. Bit dust
  • & poured most of myself straight down the sink.
  • Ready to be filled once again & close
  • Ranks. Love like a bulldog, but when up close
  • The wrinkles are something not meant to hide.
  • They represent the feeling when you sink
  • Your teeth into guilty pleasures. We saw
  • Rough times but we were able to shake the dust;
  • People watched as a weed turned to a rose.
  • I played a game of hide and seek & saw
  • My reflection close in the sink. Dust
  • Of my bones fell to my feet, and I rose.

2nd Place - Platform - Latif Askia Ba - Edinboro University

Latif Askia Ba Headshot
  • Latif Askia Ba
    Edinboro University

Latif Askia Ba is an emerging writer from Brooklyn & Staten Island, NY. He studies at Edinboro University, majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Mathematics and Creative Writing. It wasn't until he went away to school that he discovered his passion for literature and language. His first chapbook, "Wet Monasteries," was published by the Erie-based magazine Alien Buddha Press. He hopes to continue this fulfilling work.


  • One day I'll fall into the train tracks.
  • Driving along the edge of the platform,
  • On the rutted yellow part, at the lowest speed,
  • I steady my hand on the joystick,
  • But the powerchair tumbles in my mind,
  • Crushing my chest into the third rail.
  • Or maybe some crazed man will throw me to the rail
  • With a confident push. My lips will kiss the tracks.
  • Hunched and broken, I cower from the whip of my mind,
  • And search like a fiend for platform's narrow elevator.
  • I think my bastion's around the next pillar, but I'm in error,
  • My thoughts kicking like ground-beating horses.
  • The train will come and exhale in style--
  • A great sigh after miles of wheels grinding rail.
  • The conductor will squawk in an analog voice with no passion nor error.
  • Looking down his tunnel, his eyes will dull from the tracks.
  • He'll stick his head out of his window and stare down the platform
  • Like a fenced-in cow, his uniform worn out.
  • He'll see me driving and twitching like a man on speed,
  • Looking around the pillars of the empty platform.
  • He'll gawk for a while as he sits on the rail,
  • Wondering if I'll fall onto the tracks
  • after he takes off—
  • A minor error, that finds its catastrophe.
  • Nothing like a wheelchair in the middle of the tracks
  • To make New Yorkers pause for a moment
  • To stare at brown flesh mangled in rail.
  • Death will dangle her hairless legs off the platform.
  • Strangers will flood the empty platform
  • To look at the marvelous error,
  • The new décor of the rail,
  • The oncoming train losing all speed,
  • Another delay on the piss-soaked tracks.

Myong Cha Son Haiku Winners

1st Place - Constriction, Chidinma Opaigbeogu, University of Maryland, College Park

Chidinma Opaigbeogu Headshot
  • Chidinma Opaigbeogu
  • University of Maryland, College Park

Chidinma Opaigbeogu is an English major with a focus in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland. Her love of writing was ignited in the seventh grade when she wrote her first poem about the fear of grease splashes when frying bacon. Many of her poems focus on the cultural dissonance she has experienced as a Nigerian-American. She hopes to inspire other people from multi-cultural backgrounds to feel secure in their identity.

Aside from reading and writing, Chidinma loves watching dramas with her family and cackling with her little sister over memes. Her work has appeared in Rattle Magazine and The Lyric. She is the 2020 first place recipient of the Jimenez Porter Literary Prize for prose and second place for poetry.


  • Before class, I bound
  • the girl inside of me tight
  • enough to choke her.

2nd Place - Repentance, Emma Grunhaus, Florida Atlantic University

Emma Grunhaus Headshot
  • Emma Grunhaus
  • Florida Atlantic University

Emma Grunhaus is 19-years-old and is graduating this May from Florida Atlantic University with a 4.0 GPA. She is receiving her bachelor's degree in English with a concentration in Writing and Rhetoric and a minor in Criminal Justice. She has received multiple awards in poetry from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, including a National Gold Medal, and was a semi-finalist for the National Student Poets Program in 2017. In her free time, she enjoys writing, reading, working out, walking her dog, and bingeing Netflix shows.


  • you leave left-handed
  • love letters on my doorstep
  • …I leave them there too

Rhina P. Espaillat Award

1st Place, Entre láminas de vidrio, Kara Barlow, Wheaton College

Kara Barlow Headshot
  • Kara Joy Barlow
  • Wheaton College

Kara grew up in Windsor, Connecticut as the youngest of four in a homeschooling family. After graduating high school, she spent a year living in a village in rural Spain as an au pair and teacher's assistant at an elementary school. Kara loves the opportunities that have come with bilingualism, from teaching high school Spanish classes online, to travelling, to writing poetry. She spent a semester studying literature at the University of Salamanca and is currently pursuing an English Writing degree at Wheaton College. Kara is working on a book of poetry, If Pebbles Were Songs, which she hopes to publish at some point in the future. Besides writing, her other passions include art, music, crafting, cross-cultural engagement, and making flower crowns.

Entre láminas de vidrio

  • Cuatro cristales de ventana
  • pulverizados en nube evaporada
  • y un arbusto de alambre de púas
  • gotean lavanda y rosa
  • diáfanos como las alas
  • de una mariposa.
  • El ala de mariposa en la mesa,
  • prensada entre dos láminas
  • de vidrio con un cerco de oro
  • y colgada de una cadena,
  • está rota.
  • Unas manos pequeñas, girando
  • y punteando el vidrio para admirar
  • la belleza del ala, al final
  • la desgarraron. La mariposa, desvanecida
  • con el tiempo – un regalo para mi abuela
  • en sus días de volar (porque todos
  • volamos una vez en esta vida) –
  • balancea con alas de siena,
  • amapola y crema como si fuera
  • a volar, pero un ala – un ala
  • está rota.
  • Lo hicieron las manos.
  • Yo también he visto mis manos
  • manosear cosas hermosas y frágiles
  • y destruirlas: como la mañana
  • batiendo sus alas al otro lado
  • del cristal:
  • la manoseo, y ella se disuelve.
  • Pero yo también me he disuelto.
  • Quizá la mariposa
  • piensa que soy yo
  • la tullida –
  • Quizá ella está libre
  • sin pájaros y serpientes y arañas,
  • contenta con su ramita
  • de flores secas, sorbiendo para siempre
  • el néctar de sus días de volar al alba.
  • A veces me pregunto,
  • bebiendo el cielo
  • al amanecer, quién
  • realmente reposa
  • en el interior – yo
  • o la mañana.

Between Sheets of Glass

  • Four windowpanes
  • powdered in evaporated cloud
  • and a barbed-wire bush
  • drip lavender and rose
  • diaphanous like the wings
  • of a butterfly.
  • The butterfly wing on the table,
  • pressed between two panes
  • of glass with a gold ring
  • and hung from a chain,
  • is broken.
  • Small hands, turning
  • and tapping the glass to admire
  • the wing's beauty, finally
  • tore it. The butterfly, faded
  • with time – a gift for my grandmother
  • in her flying days (each of us
  • flies once in this life) –
  • balances with wings of sienna,
  • poppy and cream as if it were going
  • to fly, but one wing – one wing
  • is broken.
  • The hands did it.
  • I also have seen my hands
  • finger beautiful and fragile things
  • and destroy them: like the morning
  • beating its wings on the other side
  • of the glass:
  • I handle her, and she dissolves.
  • But I too have dissolved.
  • Perhaps the butterfly
  • thinks that I am
  • the cripple –
  • Perhaps she is free
  • without birds and serpents and spiders,
  • content with her little branch
  • of dried flowers, forever sipping
  • the nectar from her dawn days of flying.
  • Sometimes I wonder,
  • drinking the sky
  • at sunrise, who
  • really rests
  • in the interior – me
  • or the morning.

Donald Justice Award

John Foy

JohnFoyJOHN FOY’s third book, It Is What It Is, won the 2020 Donald Justice Poetry Prize. It was selected by J. Allyn Rosser and will be out early next year from Autumn House Press. His second book, Night Vision, won the New Criterion Poetry Prize and was published by St. Augustine’s Press in 2016. It was also a finalist for the 2018 Poets’ Prize. His first book is Techne’s Clearinghouse. His work has been included in the Swallow Anthology of New American Poets, The Best of the Raintown Review, and Rabbit Ears: TV Poems. He has published widely in journals, including The New Yorker, Poetry, The Hudson Review, The New Criterion, The Village Voice, Parnassus, American Arts Quarterly, Alabama Literary Review, The Dark Horse (in Scotland), The Yale Review, Barrow Street, and The Hopkins Review. His poems have appeared online in Literary Matters, Poetry Daily, Ducts, Kin, The Nervous Breakdown, Big City Lit, and Angle, an online literary journal in the UK. His essays and reviews have run in Parnassus, The New Criterion, Contemporary Poetry Review, The Dark Horse, and other publications, and he has been a guest blogger for Best American Poetry. He lives and works in New York.

It Is What It Is

It is what it is.
It’s not what it might have been.
It’s not what it had been.
It isn’t what it could be
It’s not what it ought to be.
It won’t be what it might have been.
It was what it ought not to have been.
It will be what it ought not to be.
It ought not to be what it is.
It’s surely not what it was.
It can’t ever be what it had been.
It’ll never be what it could have been.
It ought never to have been what it had been.
It was what it was.
It’s not what it was.
It is what it is.

Kathrine Barrett Swett (Donald Justice Poetry Prize)

Kathrine Barrett Swett

Kathrine Barrett Swett's collection, Voice Message,  was selected by Erica Dawson for the 2019 Donald Justice Poetry Prize. It is forthcoming from Autumn House Press in 2020. A high school English teacher, Swett lives in New York City. She received a PhD in American Literature from Columbia University. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in various journals including,The Lyric, Rattle, Mezzo Cammin, The Raintown Review and The Orchards. Sonnets by her were finalists for the Nemerov Contest in 2016 and 2017. Her chapbook, Twenty-one was published by Finishing Line Press in 2016. 

Below is a poem from the upcoming book, Voice Message.


A bullfrog calls across the pond at dusk
while children capture fireflies in jars.
As I rip off a dozen stiff corn husks,
a neighbor revs the engine of his car.
The bats keep swooping out in silent flight
and distant firecrackers cut the air.
We sit outside at dinner; it is light
till nine or ten, and we just  linger there
because it seems like it will stay this way
always. We'll never change, never leave
this table here; these kids will awlays play
out there. Not one of us will grieve
 a worse annoyance than the whine and bite
of bugs attacking on a summer night.

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Alecc Costanzi (1st Place - Iris N. Spencer Poetry Award)

Alecc C. Costanzi, from West Chester University, won first place for his poem “Arcom.” Alecc is an upcoming writer, graduate of West Chester University of Pennsylvania, and veteran of the United States Army. With his Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing and Digital Humanities, his writing concentrates on life experiences; especially in regards to his time in Iraq and the military. He strives to the tell the real story, not of larger than life heroes and battles, but of "the Everyman in the trenches." ARCOM, the Iris N. Spencer award winning poem, is one such narrative. Costanzi currently resides in South Eastern, Pennsylvania, and is working on publishing his memoir Iraqi Soup.


He stands before me, a child

No more than ten meters away.

Meters, not yards.

(The Army does not use yards.)

He is the enemy. My enemy.

He stares right at me.

The boy wears a small orange jersey

And yellow mesh shorts with a blue lining.

I wear ACU’s with tan combat boots.

The black M4 Carbine in my calloused hands

Is loaded with 5.56mm ballpoint,

Full metal jacket.

He clutches a (stuffed) dog,

A mutt, maybe some golden lab in him.

Maybe a bomb.

The dog, not the child.

The boy is clean.

(His parents must love him.)

He begins to cry.

But I shoot him anyway.

He dies. Not slowly, but not quickly, either.

Blood pools in a puddle under him.

I stand there.

Later, I receive an award.

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Eliza Browning (2nd Place - Iris N. Spencer Poetry Award)

Eliza Browning is a rising sophomore at Wheaton College MA. She is the winner of the Fitzgerald Museum Literary Contest and the Poetry Society of Virginia Undergraduate Poetry Award. Additionally, her writing has been recognized by the YoungArts Foundation, the Lex Allen Literary Festival, and the Connecticut Poetry Society, among others.

The Things We Cannot Touch

Sometimes when I woke at night I thought

I could hear the sea in my ears, a distant

current like the faint static of a telephone wire.

Maybe I’d lived too long near the coast because

the shadows of the pines outside were no more real

to me than window views from some earlier home,

a time before loss was permanent, when all missing

things would resurrect themselves in the sand.

It’s winters like those, after the sandpipers were gone,

when I felt most alone, wandering the halls of the old

motel until dusk. During one migration I rose at dawn,

expecting to find in the next bed not the husk of your body,

but the hollow where you once were, transient and fleeting

as the impression of a cloud as it abandons the sky,

or the arc of a footprint once the tide leaves the shore.

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Ariel Horton (1st Place - Myong Cha Son Haiku Award)

Ariel Horton is a second-year student at Whittier College studying Creative Writing and Theatre Performance. She has been fortunate enough to win a handful of awards for poetry, including a National Gold Medal in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the Clark County Poet Laureate's Award, and 1st and 2nd place prizes in the Whittier College Prose and Poetry competitions. Among others, her work has been published in ANGLES Literary Magazine, The Greenleaf Review, and Clark: Poetry from Clark County, Nevada. Beyond the pen, she is an actor, a feminist, a doting dog-mom, and a lover of all things Art.

Here is her award winning Haiku:

kissing you is like

pressing my mouth to the eye

of a hurricane.

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MaKenzee Gossett (Runner-Up - Myong Cha Son Haiku Award)

Makenzee Gossett from Lee University for the poem “Icarus Complex.” MaKenzee Gosset is a 23 year old 2019 graduate from Lee University, located in Cleveland, TN. While at Lee, he studied English Literature, Deaf Studies, Linguistics, and TESOL. Having finished his undergraduate degree, and receiving acceptance to the University of Tennessee’s Masters program, he plans to attend UTK in pursuit of a Masters in Teacher Education, emphasis in Deaf Education. With a desire to continue learning, MaKenzee hopes to pursue a Doctorate in Deaf Studies, once he finishes his Masters.

Icarus Complex:
Trusting your prideful feathers
Humbled by the sun

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Zach Pellis (Runner-Up - Myong Cha Son Haiku Award)

Zach Pellis is graduating senior at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, PA. He is runner-up for the Haiku, “Down on the Beach.”  He is majoring in Biochemistry on the Pre-Health track and plans to attend medical school in the fall. This is his first time to submit his writing to a competition, but his goal is to continue writing and publish his work.

Here is "Down on the Beach"

A foot leave its mark.
Like a thief, a creeping wave
steals it from the sand.

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Eliza Browning (Honorable Mention)

Eliza Browning also won an honorable mention for her Haiku.

Scent of citrus and
the mirror of ocean, blue as
an eye, unblinking.

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Janie McNeil (1st and 2nd Place - Rhina P. Espaillat Award)

Janie McNeil from West Chester University won first place for her poem “El Nacimiento” or “The Birth” and she won second place for her poem “Compariendo la Culpa” or “Sharing the Blame.”  The skillful organizing of words is her life’s purpose. Janie wrote her first short stories when she was six years old and has always considered herself a writer. She says, "I could no more stop myself from writing, than I could stop myself from breathing." She is an Army Veteran, and recently retired from the Department of Corrections. She worked with mentally disabled people for five years, and as a bartender for six years. She has had the opportunity to cast a wide net over the bounty of human experiences. "The things that I drawn in are the things that nourish my writing, and help me to create a strong foundation for my conveyance of the written word. I transpose the melody from physical poetry into verse. From diamonds into lumps of coal..." (McNeil)
Below are both poems in English followed by the Spanish translation.

"The Birth"

I didn’t ask to be born

I grabbed firmly the fallopian tube

And struggled against the force

Trying to eradicate me from my throne

The harsh light pierces my tightly closed lenses

As my resistance falls short

The pain outweighs the joy

And I cry out

I shall never forget the oppression of their will…

"El Nacimiento"

Yo no pedí nacer

Agarré firmemente la trompa de Falopio.

Y luche’ contra la fuerza.

Tratando de erradicarme de mi trono

La luz dura atraviesa mis lentes bien cerrados

Como mi resistencia se queda corta

El dolor supera la alegría.

Y yo grito

Nunca olvidaré la opresión de su voluntad …

"Sharing the Blame"

Let’s share…

Not the profits

Those we’ll keep for our self

Not the businesses

That’s how we maintain our wealth

Not our positions

That makes us leaders of tomorrow

We’re speaking of the blame

A constant source of sorrow

“Compartiendo la Culpa"


No las ganancias

Aquellos que guardaremos para nosotros mismos.

No los negocios

Así es como mantenemos nuestra riqueza.

No nuestras posiciones

Eso nos hace líderes del mañana.

Estamos hablando de la culpa

Una fuente constante de dolor.

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Chad Abushanab (Donald Justice Poetry Award)

Chad Abushanab

Chad Abushanab is the winner of the 2018 Donald Justice Poetry Prize. His first poetry collection, The Last Visit, published by Autumn House Press, is now available for purchase.

His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Best New Poets 2017, Birmingham Poetry Review, Ecotone, Southern Poetry Review, Measure: A Journal of Formal Poetry, Shenandoah, The Hopkins Review, Unsplendid, and 32 Poems, among others. He currently lives in Lubbock, Texas where he is a doctoral candidate in literature and creative writing at Texas Tech University, as well as an associate editor at Iron Horse Literary Review.

Here is one of Chad's poems, "Love Poem with Five Lines Stolen from VHS Boxes."

Love Poem with Five Lines Stolen from VHS Boxes

I woke up wild, soaked in nervous sweat.
I stepped outside and thought that I might howl
but found the clouds too dark to see the moon.
Inside, I felt the nubs of fangs put pressure
on my tender gums, and searched the fridge
for anything that bleeds, anything raw.
My clothes became too tight, and crescent claws
broke through my fingertips. "It's beautiful,"
you said, while floating down the spiral stairs.
I wallowed in disgusting joy and tore
your powder evening gown to ribbons. You fit
me with a studded leash, a mongrel beast
who writhed beside your feet and lapped the pools
of moonlight from the street. I loved the way
you made me less than man. I loved the way
you fed me from your hand, and told me good
when I was being bad. I drank the blood
of alley cats I snared between my teeth,
and dug the graves for each beneath the porch.
From what I can recall, the lust for meat
was terrible and sweet. We made dark love,
you sent me out for more. When neighbor kids
began to disappear, you stroked my head.
You watched old horror tapes for strategies
to keep me wild, hidden, yours. For weeks,
I stayed inside. I fed on bones and rot. 
You sat in the window, wished away the sun, 
and waited for the day they all forgot.
You asked of me just who is more depraved,
the monster or the one who made him so?
Your love's like blood. It coats my hungry tongue.
For reasons such as this, I still don't know.


Morgan Ome (1st Place - Iris N. Spencer Poetry Award)

Morgan Ome, Johns Hopkins University

Morgan Ome is a rising senior double majoring in Writing Seminars and Italian at the Johns Hopkins University. Her poetry has been published in Rookie Magazine, and in addition to writing poems, she enjoys reporting as a student journalist. This year, Morgan was a News & Features Editor for The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, the independent, student newspaper of the University, and will serve as Editor-in-Chief in the fall.


The place where you once stood is filled with light
that’s soft like sunrise, pearly grey and blue.
It will not disappear or fade from sight.

Fine particles of dust pulsate, like white
noise, off your spectral silhouette. It’s true
the place where you once stood is filled, with light

and quivering shapes, reminders that you might
return one day. You left a single shoe.
It will not disappear or fade from sight.

You left more things like leather journals, bright
striped t-shirts, vintage whiskey: gateways to
the place where you once stood. Is filled with light

the same as filled with love? Stop by the site
where we exploded, see the mess that grew.
It will not disappear or fade from sight.

The heartache on my face this sleepless night
(post-you, post-me), carves lines. I ache for you.
The place where you once stood is filled with light.
It will not disappear or fade from sight. 


Emily Stepp (2nd Place - Iris N. Spencer Poetry Award)

Emily Stepp, UNC

Emily is a rising Junior and an English major, with a concentration in creative writing, at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. She self-published her first fantasy novel during her senior year in high school. When not reading science fiction or fantasy, she is usually working on one of her many story ideas.

In New York, Before We Met

You’re not smiling in this one either
but I imagine that
under those sunglasses
your eyes smile for you.

Your headphones
make me wonder
if I’d like that song too.

You don’t seem to notice the buildings
staring down at you;
you’re too focused
on staring at the camera.

You don’t smile in photos
not even selfies.
And I wonder if

Your smile
would make me feel better
than when you say

I love you.


Daniel Garcia (1st Place Myong Cha Son Haiku Award)

Daniel Garcia, University of North Texas

Daniel Garcia is a Pushcart nominated, queer writer of color based out in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Daniel’s work has appeared in Write About Now Poetry, Button Poetry, Hawaii Pacific Review, Crab Fat Magazine, Rathalla Review, and more. When Daniel isn’t writing, Daniel can be found giving as many hugs as possible, living by the words, “You are all that you have,” and falling off the edge of the Earth. As of 2017, Daniel is the current College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) national haiku champion, and the recipient of the 2018 Myong Cha Son Haiku Award.

Me, Too

“Is it my fault,” the
skirt asked. / “No,” said the veil. “It
happened to me, too.”


Haley Beasley (Runner Up - Myong Cha Son Haiku Award)

Haley Beasley, West Texas

Haley Beasley, 22 years old is from Muleshoe, TX. She is currently a senior at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, TX and will graduate in May 2019. She enjoys writing and reading in her spare time and plans on going into publishing after graduation while continuing to write her own work. She also enjoys spending time with her two dogs, Belle and Morgana.

The Nightly Routine

You, me, and three dogs
Sleeping on a twin-sized bed
Is pain in Heaven. 


Jemma Fisher (Runner Up - Myong Cha Son Haiku Award)

Jemma Fisher, Sarah Lawrence College

Snow swallows our tracks
White hushed horizon and a
Solitary finch

Yvette Ndlovu (Runner Up - Myong Cha Son Haiku Award)

Yvette Ndlovu, Cornell

Yvette Lisa Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean writer studying English at Cornell University. She has worked at Durland Alternatives Library’s Prisoner Express Program as a Poetry Editor and received the 2017 George Harmon Coxe Award for Poetry. Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post and the Cornell Daily Sun.

Soul Mate

roots snaking through dirt
nourished by a frothing spring
few will ever find


Alejandro Lemus Gomez (Rhina P. Espaillat Award)

Alejandro Lemus Gomez, Young Harris College

Alejandro Lemus-Gomez was born in Miami, the son of Cuban exiles, and now lives in the rural Appalachian Mountains. He is the 2018 winner of the Agnes Scott Writers’ Festival Contest in poetry. He studies English and philosophy at Young Harris College in North Georgia. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in storySouth, Indiana Review Online, Reunion: The Dallas Review, and other journals.

Bautizo de Agua Salada

Déjame mojar mi cabeza en el agua salada
que yo nací muy cerca y quiero hundirme lentamente 
en el mar solo para emerger de nuevo. 

Deja que mi piel de oliva se convierta en polvo, 
déjame vadear el fondo del Atlántico como 
cuando apisono su arena—sus partículas blancas

que se despiertan alarmadas solo para caer
suavemente, como mi madre cuando se duerme.
Deja que mi sangre tiña el agua, como manchas

de luz—cubriendo las caras de mis ancestros 
y bisabuelos a quienes solo conozco por cuentos.
Déjame ser un grano de sal en el mar, una gota

de sudor que caiga en el agua, o una lágrima
de niño, para cuando Miami vuelva a crecer
poder romper en la orilla como una ola. 


Mayra Arrevalo (Rhina P. Espaillat Award)

Mayra Arrevalo, Augustana College

My name is Mayra Arevalo. I consider myself a chicana. I take great pride in the neighborhood in which I was brought up. I was forced out in order to pursue an education. From Chicago to Rock Island I am working to obtain a sociology major at Augustana College. I focus my poetry on daily struggles faced by Latinos. I focus my time working at the Boys and Girls Club of the Mississippi Valley and running our on-campus group Latinx Unidos. I feel very passionate about both due to being able to inspire and empower youth and other college students.


Vivo en dos mundos 
Uno en cual los libros abundan 
Y otro en cual la canción de cada noche es el ruido de una sirena
Un mundo en cual no pertenezco 
Y otro en cual todos ven muy bajo
Aprovecha me dicen a cada rato
Que no vez que tienes la oportunidad de volar lejos de aquí
La realidad no la ven pues de lejos y sobre la superficie todo es hermoso
Pero no ven que mantenerse aquí se vuelve complicado 
Empiezas a sentir coraje pues pones todo de ti y nunca es suficiente 
Y ahí es cuando te sientes sola pues los del otro mundo no entienden eso 
Y llegas a un punto que ningún mundo es tuyo
Ni el nuevo ni el viejo ni los dos juntos 


Ryan Wilson (Donald Justice Poetry Award)

Prize awarded for The Stranger World.

Ryan Wilson was born in Griffin, Georgia, and raised in nearby Macon. His poems, translations, and criticism appear widely, in journals such as 32 Poems, Able Muse, Dappled Things, First Things, the Hopkins Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Measure, Sewanee Theological Review, and Unsplendid. Recently he has been a finalist for the Vassar Miller Book Prize, the Morton Marr Poetry Prize, and the Frost Farm Poetry Prize, and he has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and awarded the Eleanor Clark Prize from the Robert Penn Warren Circle and the Walter Sullivan Prize for Promise in Criticism from the Sewanee Review. He holds graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins University and Boston University, and he is currently a doctoral candidate at the Catholic University of America.

Ryan Wilson

Brittney McDonald (Iris N. Spencer Poetry Award)

Brittney McDonald is a Cache Valley, Utah, native and is currently studying Creative Writing at Utah State University. She is President of her campus' creative writing club and has had poetry published in Vanilla Sex Magazine, Helicon West: An Anthology, and on broadsides and collections. Upon graduation in May of 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, Brittney plans to work in Spain for a year in the school system as a Language Assistant.

Brittney McDonald

Morgan Bilicki (Iris N. Spencer Poetry Award)

Morgan Bilicki is a Georgia native, and currently lives in a small town tucked between the mountains. She is studying Creative Writing at Young Harris College, and while her focus is in poetry, she enjoys reading and writing in every genre, with her work often exploring Southern family dynamics, ties to old objects, and feminist themes. When not writing, she can be found catering to her miniature schnauzer’s persistent demands.

Morgan Bilicki

Jacqueline Keshner (Myong Cha Son Haiku Award)

Jacqueline Keshner is a rising junior and an English Literature and Economics double major at the College of William & Mary. Her work has been honored by the Illinois Upstate Eight Conference, the Illinois Association of Teachers of English, and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.

Jacqueline Keshner

MeiMei Liu (Myong Cha Son Haiku Award)

MeiMei Liu is a 22 year-old first-year student at Whittier College, who has autism and is non-verbal. MeiMei is majoring in English with an emphasis in creative writing and is a student of Tony Barnstone. She was recently awarded first place in the Whittier College annual scholarly writing contest for her paper on Homer’s Odyssey.

MeiMei Liu

Alejandro Lemus-Gomez (Rhina P. Espaillat Award)

Alejandro Lemus-Gomez is a junior English major and Philosophy minor at Young Harris College. Originally from Miami, FL, he moved to the North Georgia mountains to attain his bachelor's degree. His poetry reflects his experiences growing up as a Cuban-American and his transition from urban to rural life. When he is not writing or reading, he can found gardening, playing music, or crafting jewelry.

Alejandro Lemus Gomez
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