2022 Poetry Contest Winners

Congratulations to the winners of our 2022 Poetry Contest! In third place we have “whisper & smoke” by henry 7. reneau, jr, a stirring poem about coyotes that dissects race relations in the U.S. between the colonizers and indigenous people:

whisper & smoke 

In second place we have “American Pastoral” by John Sibley Williams, an exploration between the lines that divide the myth of America and its realities:

American Pastoral

In First Place we have “They Buried Him In The Sand” by Ella Latham, a poetic deconstruction of America’s myth of John Henry.

“They Buried Him In The Sand”

Praise from Asiya Wadud for “They Buried Him In The Sand”:

The fan-folds of American history diminish the distance of the past and instead creates one, contiguous field between past, present, and foreseeable future. Seemingly ancient ghosts remain at the center of our imaginary, animating our mythology; haunting the landscapes; wending their way across the distance.

What astounds me in “They Buried Him In The Sand” is the proximity of the utterly quotidian and foreboding violence. This closeness belies the myth and formulation of a distant past and instead we are asked to contend with the ways that “ghosts graze/ the land”. These opening lines are instructions for how to enter this piece. As such, we enter with the knowledge that the ghosts have gone nowhere. Their sturdiness is uncontested. They float up, they graze and hover, but they don’t dissipate. 

Throughout the piece, “S’s” nimbly slide across the page, creating a reverberation and reverence all at once: “song says” is followed by “signs says” which is followed by “song says.” Elsewhere, we have “the sun lifts/ the spirit—/ sun-summoned spirit.” 

Against the backdrop of violence are moments of transportive clarity and radiance as well as reminders that “nothing sees me/ that isn’t/ being still with me.” The subterranean brutality abutting attempts at order, jostling for space and attention, though it is in the space of their prolonged tension that the poem exists. As the piece notes, “Past the gravesite/ the world gets groomed.” This poem instructs its readers to peel back, to look past the neat exterior to see what exists under the veneer of uncleaved space.

About the Judge:
Asiya Wadud is the author of Crosslight for Youngbird, day pulls down the sky/ a filament in gold leaf (written with Okwui Okpokwasili), Syncope, and No Knowledge Is Complete Until It Passes Through My Body. Her recent writing appears in e-flux journal, BOMB Magazine, Poem-a-Day, The Iowa Review, Triple Canopy, and elsewhere. She also regularly collaborates with Fortnight Institute to write exhibition texts.
Asiya’s work has been supported by the Guggenheim Museum, the Foundation Jan Michalski, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Danspace Project, Finnish Cultural Institute of New York, Mount Tremper Arts, and Rosendal Theater (Norway), among others. She lives in Brooklyn, New York where she teaches poetry at Saint Ann’s School and Columbia University.