Dudley Randall Poetry Prizes


Sponsored by the Detroit Mercy English Department, the Dudley Randall Poetry Prizes honor the late poet, publisher, and University of Detroit Mercy librarian and poet-in-residence. A staunch advocate for student writers, Dudley Randall inaugurated the Poet-in-Residence awards in 1970 and served as judge for thirty years, until his death in 2000. To find out more about Dudley Randall, the Broadside Press, and the university’s special collection of Randall’s papers and books, visit Detroit Mercy's library page Dudley Randall Broadside Press Collection. Read the poems of recent winners below or peruse prize-winning poems from 1970 on the Archive Research Center's page.

Dudley Randall Center for Print Culture

The Dudley Randall Center for Print Culture was established in October 2000. The philosophy of the Center is based on the elimination of the boundaries traditionally drawn in the field of publishing between electronic and print projects, and between academic, student and community scholars and writers.

Thank you

The English Department thanks the esteemed judges of the 2022 Dudley Randall Prize: Claire Crabtree, Rose Gorman, and Sarah Pazur.



Mehar Soni reading her poem
Mehar Soni reading her poem, The Crown Jewel, at the 2022 Honors Convocation.

Dudley Randall Poetry Prize 2022 Winners

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    1st place: Mehar Soni, "The Crown Jewel"

    Mehar Soni

    Mehar Soni
    The Crown Jewel

    My mother used to braid my hair;
    her seasoned hands untangling my dark waves.
    The percussion of the rain against the window;
    a perfect counterpoint to her lilting voice.

    With each pass of the comb, she wove a fairytale.
    Stories of how she met my father laced into my mane alongside
    fresh jasmine, gleaming thread, and golden bells.

    She talked fondly of my father’s love of pakora in winter,
    the British pocket watch he carried by his breast.
    She called him a young king preparing for the throne,
    or better yet, a military captain saving Indian lives.

    She said he’d armed himself with Mahatma Gandhi’s
    words: Satya. Ahimsa. Tapasya. Jai Hind!
    As if he could rub the crown jewel right out with salt!

    Her palms glistened with coconut oil, the smell
    of Darjeeling tea in the air, as my plait formed,
    molded by my mother’s hands, like Lord Ganesha.

    When I asked where Papa was, she sometimes
    pulled my hair too tight or stuck a pin into my scalp.
    Ouch, ma, you’re hurting me!

    She never told me he moved to Bombay years before.
    Childish,         what a fool was I!
    My father                 everywhere but here.


    2nd place: Jeremy St. Martin, "A Monologue in a Drive-thru"

    Jeremy St. Martin

    Jeremy St. Martin
    A Monologue in a Drive-thru

    I think that will be it. Just rub the chip, sometimes the card gets fussy…there it is. Thanks. Hey, can I get a couple of napkins? Also, my dad is dead. Like just now, dead. We pulled him off a vent–it wasn’t Covid related, so don’t worry, although he was on a designated Covid floor so I apologize for handing you plastic that could be Covid affected. Do you give discounts to those who recently lost someone? Like 15 minutes ago, someone died in your arms so here’s a free donut type thing? I like y’alls donuts–especially the Timbits. Not that I’m pandering to you for free stuff. I understand you have to treat everyone fairly, and that there are a ton of other people behind me who haven’t lost anyone or maybe they have, or they’re having a great day, but regardless, everyone needs to stop and acknowledge my grief. And I know it seems weird that I’m ordering an iced coffee in the middle of a Michigan winter-like ‘my car hasn’t even fully heated up and I’m peeking out of the small crevice of the cleared windshield because I am that guy’ kind of cold, but I just needed that thing to clutch on to and iced coffee was it. I had shit coffee in the hospital and now I at least want familiar shit coffee. And make no mistake, that’s not your fault. The shit coffee, I mean. Not my dad’s death. Though that wasn’t your fault either. Did you know his last words were double-A batteries? Who says that? I guess I was expecting some sort of rage against the dying of the light sort of thing, but you want what you want and say what you say in those moments. Well, anyway, Kelsey, you’re doing a great job. Here–take my debit card and pay for everyone else behind me. It expires in 3 days, so live it up in the meantime, right? Bad choice of words?


    3rd place: Aly Porcerelli, "What They Don't Tell You About Suicide"

     Aly Porcerelli

    Aly Porcerelli
    What They Don't Tell You About Suicide

    I’ve spent my life being easily impressed.
    So when I overdosed on my bedroom floor
    On lamotrigine, blood and tears
    I couldn’t help but admire
    The way the room started to shake
    Or how my frail fingers could still dial 911;
    How life only exists in patterns,
    O, what a wicked cycle.
    I laid weary in my hospital bed
    Counting the ceiling tiles one by one
    Like it was some sort of game,
    Some figment outside of reality
    Consuming my brain like bad TV,
    Teaching me how to halt time.

    When I first awoke from my coma
    My father had surprise on his tired face
    But me, I had plans in my thumping brain
    To return to the life I knew;
    Because the urge to do nothing, to move on
    Overpowered any desire to get better
    So I told my mind, “Be quiet!”
    Between the concrete hospital walls
    Until the doctor deemed me
    Ready to go home.

    What he didn’t tell me is that
    This will never go away
    That I’ll wake up choking on air,
    Feeling as close to death as I did
    On that June afternoon
    And what no one told me is how
    My mother will worry until she’s sick
    And then worry some more
    More than she did when I was small
    And the world was large

    What they will never tell anybody
    Is that the self-help books lied
    That it probably won’t get easier
    That what doesn’t kill you almost did
    But through all the suffering
    There will be moments of ethereality
    Of stardust and beacons of sun
    Laughter and magic and hope.
    So I’ll run, or walk, it won’t matter;
    Until there’s no blood left in the cut
    Because today I saw the sun
    And it was shining in celebration

Dudley Randall Poetry Prize 2021 Winners

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    1st place: Sarah Ko, "Red Packets"

    Sarah Ko

    Red Packets
    Sarah Ko

    The Windy City blows against the red lanterns outside,
    Tendrils from the awaiting hot pot waft through the air,
    With withered hands, a thick crimson packet is handed to me,
    Grandpa smiles, eyes twinkling.

    A new day in San Francisco,
    Perfect for a walk, thinks the stranger,
    His eyes shining, oh how lucky to be here,
    living so close to family.

    Such a generous gift,
    He said in his old age of 86, he found himself very lucky,
    To share such special moments like this,
    Safe, warm, with family.
    Small, crinkled, rectangular paper cannot amount to it.

    Tentative shuffles into the sunlight,
    Exercise is important for old men like me, he thought.
    84 times traveled around the sun,
    a life that is blessed, prosperous,
    --- unassuming.

    Months later,
    Grandpa did not travel around the sun for the 87th time,
    he moved on to the stars.
    Grieving, but at peace that he went forth,
    from a tranquil place.

    Pavement is cool in the shadows,
    last moments,
    a whirlwind of motion, the ground and sky realigned.
    The cold, hard, unrelenting cement,
    then nothing.

    Both coming forth from the lands of their ancestors,
    outlining new lives for their descendants,
    only for them,
    to be looked upon as a virus,
    something of contamination,
    lumped into an assumption,
    rewarded with violence. 

    may this be a year of resilience.
    The lives they have sown like oxen,
    rightfully exist in memory.
    Brothers and sisters from all walks of life,
    dignity and respect,
    that's all we ask.

    *In tribute to Vicha Ratanapakdee, his family, and those victimized by the recent attacks against the elderly Asian community. 


    2nd place, tied: Taylor Bays, "Ballad of Atlanta"

    Taylor Bays

    Ballad of Atlanta
    Taylor Bays

    Inspired by Dudley Randall’s “Ballad of Birmingham” and in response to events that took place during the Black Lives Matter movement in Atlanta, Georgia, 2020.

    “Mamma dear may I go downtown
    Instead of on my phone
    To march the streets of Atlanta
    With my boyfriend and not alone?”

    “No, honey, no you may not go,
    For the police are angry and hostile
    And batons and bullets; smoke and fire
    Aren’t good for my precious child.”

    “But, Mamma, I won’t go alone.
    Other people will be with me
    To March the streets of Atlanta
    For justice, in a land where we are not allowed to just be.”

    “No, honey, no you may not go
    For I fear tear gas will make you a crier
    But you may watch from afar
    And record what you desire.”

    She marked down history in her footage
    Then dressed to go get something to eat
    And wore an oversized hoodie on her small brown frame
    And brown Birkenstocks on her feet

    Mamma smiled to know her child
    Was capturing history from a safe distance
    But that smile was the last smile
    When she heard of the police’s unjust persistence.

    For when she saw the video
    Her eyes grew belligerent and riled
    As she raced through the streets of Atlanta
    Stomping for justice for her child.

    She stormed through thresholds of metal and wood
    And dodged remarks about calm civility
    She demanded answers to questions
    About freedom, when her daughter was not allowed to be free.


    2nd place, tied: Nurzahan Rahman, "Muslim Not Muzlum"

    Nurzahan Rahman

    Muslim Not Muzlum
    Nurzahan Rahman

    Zindagi , life

    a scarf wrapped delicately around my head
    threatens your view of freedom
    you say oppressed without knowing what oppression means

    Oppressed ● noun
    the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner - dictionary.com

    oppression doesn’t make

    1. Daughters a blessing

    4. Employment a choice,
    every penny going to me

    2. Education a right

    5. Nothing is his that is mine,
    but what is his is mine

    3. Divorce an option

    6. I will die with my maiden name,
    I am not my husband’s property
    like the west has painted. 


    that is an ounce of the power I hold
    but you make the grave mistake of seeing culture as my religion.

    countries going extinct
    facing humanitarian crisis
    seeds planted in innocent lands strip them of their beauty and independence
    they now stand divided : the only thing the west projects :
    Where is our coverage?

    are we that big of a threat?
    that you have to ban a head covering in Belgium?
    hate crimes are committed in France : dirty hijabi :
    forbidden drawings of our holy prophet (ﷺ) pollute the country
    where is the religious respect that you breathe at the mention of other religions?
    hate crimes.

    tik tok is our trusty informant
    news stations too scared to report our reality
    only when they are the victims will you hear a peep, even then it's still half the hospitality
    social media feeding me more truths than ABC, CNN, and FOX
    Where is our coverage?

    the hollocaust reborn in front of our eyes
    Uighur Muslims in Chinese re-education camps

    Raped, forced hysterectomies,
    Forced intoxication with the wrecking smell of alcohol,
    Forced consumption of bacon

    what is being "re-educated"?
    stripping the islamic flesh because they are different? because they are muslim?
    history replays itself as we stay quiet just like 80 years ago

    One of the most horrific terms in history was used by Nazi Germany
    to designate human beings whose lives were unimportant,
    or those who should be killed outright:” - The Atlantic (1)
    Uighur Muslims, Holocaust, Genocide. 2021.  

    are we that big of a threat?
    hiding in my car, worried sick for my friends,
    is today the day? Will today be the day I go?
    what attack lurks behind the shady corners in a world
    where color and religion are worth more than someone’s life,


    don’t look suspicious tattoo it on my heart
    living in fear is not the freedom promised to me in this foreign land.


    1. Opening sentence of an Atlantic post. Taylor, Alan. “World War II: The Holocaust.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 16 Oct. 2011, www.theatlantic.com/photo/2011/10/world-war-ii-the-holocaust/100170/.

    3rd place: Mehar Soni, "A Letter to Olga"

    Mehar Son

    A Letter to Olga 
    Mehar Soni

    Dear Olga,
    I’m not one to put pen to paper quite often
    I find the activity akin to patching holes in leotards:
    a temporary cover, but never quite permanent enough.

    In this way however, I hand in my resignation.

    I know you found my skin a particularly gleaming fabric to display;
    especially when the scene was suiting.

    Ah but I’m never quite like Clara am I?
    Not nearly as lithe and swan-like
    her skin presented a unique translucent quality.
    Almost like a little dancer in a snow-globe,

    Quite useful to suit an array of scenes, tutus, and roles, don’t you think?

    Anyway, I thought going to the Academy would be enough.
    My toes playing tag with the x-ray machines.
    I remember being told
    my port de bras had never been so beautiful.

    Your little Clara couldn’t stand it, so she found ways to break them.
    Who knew your beautiful dorogoya
    Was more like a Caliban en pointe!

    From my time here I’ve learned one thing.
    For some, the snow settles on stage once the lights dim.
    For others, the dust remains dust.

    But I know!
    The aftermath is neither dust nor snow,
    but the chalk one dusts pointe shoes with.

    Thank you,
    “The Nutcracker-Mouse #3”  

2020 Winners

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    1st place: Mary Elizabeth Johnson, "a shoplifter in amity, new york gets caught on purpose"

    Mary Elizabeth Johnson reading her poem at podium

    a shoplifter in amity, new york gets caught on purpose
    Mary Elizabeth Johnson

    it’s 1975 and it’s so easy to pluck
    a vial of nail polish from the shelves of the corner shop.
    the owner had a tv by the cash register playing the local news:
    they think they finally got the shark that killed the naked girl,
    the little boy on the floatie, and the black dog.
    the shoplifter sees chief brody’s nose,
    sharp and sunburnt, sweat slipping
    underneath the weight of his wire-rimmed glasses.
    he says he thinks the fight is finally over.
    summer has closed its jaws
    and people don’t have to be scared of the water anymore.
    the shoplifter falls in love.
    so she picks up a can of bud light, looks around
    (something only an amateur would do)
    and puts it in her purse. she picks up another and drops it.
    she halfheartedly rushes to the doors and gets caught
    as easy as that first shark, the red herring.
    chief brody shows up and looks into her eyes,
    all stern-like. she wonders if he’ll sing her a sea shanty.
    she twirls her hair, wants to be like the dead naked girl,
    like ophelia, wants to be caught, drunk,
    in the heat of the night. but she’s not even the boy or the dog,
    she’s the one with the gills.
    movies will tell lies about her
    and hunt her down until her kind is endangered,
    not knowing that she only took the nail polish
    because she wanted to look pretty when the girl-killer came along.


    2nd place: Jency Shaji, "Citizen"

    Jency Shaji
    (Inspired by Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen”)

    The words out your mouth and the fake smile on your face have no regard for the fear in my

    With skin like that and a name that can’t be
    pronounced, you should make up for it.
    Clothes must be American. Hair must be
    American. Accent must be American.

    But am I not American? Not according to the color of my skin. Is it not the place of my birth?
    I know the difference now:

    I ate chicken biriyani at school once—

    a girl told me I smelled like it and looked like it too. 

    I was helping my mom with groceries—

    an old man pushed his cart in front of mine,
    condemning me for not speaking English.


    I attend a class with all white students—

    they don’t see their privilege.

    When I’m on the phone with my dad—

    a boy asks me if I speak Indian or Hindu.

    TSA checks me for the second time—

    my hair could be hiding something. 

    I tell the class I am Indian—

    Are you Cherokee or Navajo? 

    I’m in my churidar, walking with my husband—

    Were you actually in love or was it arranged? 

    I get stopped every time I go on a plane—

    when I ask why

    they look at my eyes but stare at my brown face.


    3rd place, tied: Dante Lamb, "Moments of Monachopsis"

    Moments of Monachopsis
    Dante Lamb

    If you want a sound: It is your name uttered
    By someone you don’t know
    The name new in their mouth
    They play with the pronunciation
    ike prey
    Or say it like a mantra
    Hyperaware of the lip movements made
    Soon growing bored of it
    Because it sounds weird
    And they will ask you anew
    Next time anyways.

    If you want a smell: Take the hardened air of autumn
    Fill it with an apple orchard
    Post season
    When the fumes of candy sickness waft through the gnarled branches
    All of this
    As you pass by in a car filled
    Too fast with body heat
    Windows now down
    Tumbling air
    Whisking away the traces.

    If you want a taste: The bitter of an unwashed English cucumber
    Will coat your mouth
    And make your chewing
    It will not be driven away by the first wash
    of barely cool sink water
    Instead it will make your breath heavy
    And prompt you to scrape your teeth
    Along your tongue.

    If you want a touch: Don’t put lotion on for a month
    Wash your hands four times a day
    And tell your lover to put on corduroy pants and a velvet shirt
    Run only your palms
    Over their entirety with your eyes closed
    As your fully clothed body
    In a confusion of arousal.

    If you want a sight: Look into the mirror
    After a day where everything
    Has gone wrong
    Leave one light on in the other room
    So the shadows are now heavy and one side of your face looks
    Like a charcoal portrait
    Stand there for a time alone and watch
    The shadows stagnate
    In a moment of stillness.


    3rd place, tied: Savannah Sloan, "I am in the graveyard across the street from the McDonald’s"

    I am in the graveyard across the street from the McDonald’s
    Savannah Sloan

    I am in the graveyard across the street from the McDonald’s
    I went to every Thursday to grab a chocolate shake
    I could dip my fries in. In a sea of navies, blacks, and grays,
    my friends and family mourn, mingling laughter with tears.
    No two handle it the same, but each one places a white daisy
    on the ground in front of the headstone, new beginnings
    for all of us. My best friend comes up to me,
    or where she thinks I am, to lay a flower down.
    Eyes red, not only from crying, she remains the same
    and I am dust and dirt and worms. Whole body trembling,
    her mother leads her away, holds her close. I could not say with certainty
    what brought my mother here, for we never saw eye to eye,
    were never cheek to cheek. We did not even speak
    after she found out what I had been up to
    with the boy who came over on summer afternoons
    to eat mint chocolate chip ice cream and watch cartoons,
    but she must have felt something, even though I had lost God
    and she had lost me. She prays, asking Him to forgive me,
    begging forgiveness for herself
    for raising a wicked little girl—a sinner. I am next to her
    reaching out with hands that touch nothing,
    calling out with a voice I do not have
    and for whom or what I do not know.

2019 Winners

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    1st place: Mary Elizabeth Johnson, "winter scars."

    winter scars.
    Mary Elizabeth Johnson

    My father once broke a man’s hand
    while standing on a dirty curb
    outside a bar.

    That’s what he tells us. Your dad’s hands
    say something different each time you look,
    changing in your eyes like you’re the funhouse

    mirror and he’s the drunk kid paying too much
    to impress his girlfriend. It will start with
    teddy bears and elephant ears. When his hands

    are gnarled with fungus
    it’ll be child support. When his hands
    are ashy and cracked, it’ll be mittens

    for the kids. His hands will never break,
    even though he won’t let me
    give him a manicure.

    Are my cuticles skin or nails?
    They’re a part of my nails, but next to my skin. I held
    my dad’s hand and asked, “Did you

    know that horse’s hooves and elephants’ tusks
    and bull’s horns are made out of the same thing
    hair and nails are made out of? I thought

    they were teeth.” He eclipses my hands with his
    and says, “Teeth? Who has teeth on their hands?”
    And I said, “The Devil?” And he laughed and laughed

    but he never let go of my hands. I thought of hair and teeth and nails
    in teratomas. I thought, just maybe, my nails might grow
    like tusks through my father’s hands.

    *Inspired by the title and first line of Larry Levis's poem "Winter Stars."


    2nd place: Hannah Tillman, "S. Franklin St."

    S. Franklin St.
    Hannah Tillman

    “A king’s design, he lived in the law. He wrote the book together with me.”

    Saturday, S. Franklin St. behind the old Lutheran church
    A white open wall beckons.
    No windows, no witnesses. He calls me:
    “Bring my bag” and flips the phone shut.
    Summer, 2004, and the sun is beginning
    To hit the brick, golden splashes like the Sahara.
    I slip in, bag strapped, swing it over my shoulder, and toss it
    At his feet. The St. of S. Butler—he turns tagging into aesthetic
    Historic lecture. I sit back on the cool still-shadowed cement
    And wait for the St. to perform his miracle.

    A king’s design, he lives in the law of creation,
    Mind melting and fluid like the waves of Monona
    On the cusp of spring. Paint lids popped off
    By young black fingers as he wakes the liquid up,
    Exciting it to be born. Paint hits the wall, and he steals
    The golden warmth from the sun.
    I watch God create the earth then—
    He starts with sandy plains flowing like water
    Into cracked, craggy soil. I watch an acacia sprout
    From the brick, fresh and damp, the Queen of the Jungle rests beneath.
    His works today a miracle of blood memory,
    Buried, dormant, hibernating. In back-alley Madison,
    He tagged: You’re it.

    He wrote the book together with me
    On guerilla graffiti. It requires
    A message, a mission. Today he colonized
    A small white church in a small white city.

    We capped the bottles, packed them away,
    And chased the sun to East Wash. The warden queen
    Watched us go and languished in her stolen sun and space,
    Ready to guard her turf tooth and nail.

    She wasn’t going to be erased again.


    3rd place: Jasmina Cunmulaj, "The In-Between"

    Jasmina Cunmulaj
    The In-Between

    …The thoughts of a first-generation immigrant caught in between two worlds, unaccepted by both, neither as one or the other. Dedicated to the in-betweeners.

    Somewhere in the in-between
    dreams of picketed fences and overflowing
    rose gardens disappeared
    into pristine mowed grass boundaries
    and yellow weeds that were close to being

    Close to

    being an American,
    like shooting off fireworks from your
    cottage on the fourth of July.
    Smoke of the barbecue fogged the night sky
    and our vision.
    Still, we were never close enough.

    Close enough-

    to see and smell and hear
    the generations of
    American families,

    who wrote their history on the cloth
    ripped from the backs of their ancestors
    tossed into an attic and sold off as antiques,

    that we were close to

    Somewhere in the in-between
    we found an identity that fit in the palm of a
    pale hand
    with just enough room for our
    names and foods that were “exotic”
    bringing us close to our new homes,
    we found comfort in our cramped spaces
    yet craved to stretch our limbs and tongues
    when words and gestures became
    too foreign,
    too close,
    to our neighbors.

    Close to

    becoming American
    was like saying we can eliminate poverty
    with a donation for just 2 dollars a month
    identifying as precisely one nationality
    was like saying humans need
    not oxygen to breath.

    Stuck in the in-between,
    we were forever bound by the dirt from our
    past villages hidden beneath our fingernails,
    and the stain of American money that ran
    through our fingertips,
    reaching to get somewhere
    close to the other side.

2018 Winners

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    1st place: Jasmina Cunmulaj, "She Loves Him, She Loves Him Not"

    She Loves Him, She Loves Him Not
    Jasmina Cunmulaj

    He held the delicate daisy
    as he would have held her hand,
    between his cracked hands
    after years of work.
    Dirt found a home underneath his nails
    and between his calluses,
    and the white petals stood bright
    against his dull earthy palm.

    one petal floated to the ground.

    She loves him not.

    There was something about
    the darkness and ache in his gaze,
    that made me tired.
    The way the years
    had carved fine lines into his skin.
    Like the way water marked the earth,
    and formed rivers.
    And the hollowed crescent skin
    that turned upward underneath his eyes,
    rung with familiarity,
    inviting me in with a feeling of home.
    Smile wrinkles hugged his gently pressed lips
    and glanced down

    as another petal floated off.

    She loves him.

    And I can’t help but wonder,
    if he had longed for his other half
    for she had taken the color
    out of his grey cheeks,
    and left him
    for her longing of another life elsewhere.
    And as she left,
    his bright eyes followed her,
    full of hope,
    full of love,
    then became flooded with a bleak gaze,
    which replaced the vision of his bride.
    in her own field of daisies
    dancing under the gleaming sun.

    the last petal floated down,

    She loves him not.


    2nd place: Indira Edwards, "When I Am Young Again"

    When I Am Young Again
    Indira Edwards

    When I am young again I ride my bike.
    Mud painted Sketchers turn the pedals like time, a caterpillar in eternal rotation,
    Oily gears pumping a metal heartbeat, held down by the animal’s gravity.
    There is a heaving, dancing tree at the end of the block
    Cornered off by a frizzy hedge, and if you wanted to keep it a secret
    All you would have to do
    Is brush your open palm to the other side of its locs,
    Close your eyes, and seal the memory. I remember in this moment
    I am young and religious--
    I say a prayer while passing below the bough on two wheels and god grazes my chin upward, an index sprouting past her offshooting thumb. Toward an angel
    She lifts me with gossamer wings; I approach the eudicot’s venation with scorpion’s pincers (you see that’s a description i learned later on, when i was older and did know that when i was younger i did not know things that i do now)
    Well, I am still here, suspended from my bicycle, this angel’s wings a part of mine.
    I observe the broad, milky specimen where light hits;
    I observe that I’m a fish and this is the sun filtering through the crest of the tide’s music.
    The trunk of the brooding, clay cast tree crashes through a whitecap and whispers to me a loud ocean’s SHHHHH!!!
    She does not need to yell at me.
    The tree faces me, blood creaking, gurgling through raspy vasculature:
    “You remove what once sits upon this earth, yet you are foolish enough to believe that it does not sit upon the earth once removed.”
    I watch with beady eyes, tense for her to elaborate--
    But trees do not need elaborate.
    We are what elaborates upon the veins we seek our blood to reach,
    To understand that time and leaves are one in the same--
    Not 5 minutes later did I mold to the breast of my home with the ghost of a leaf in my palm,
    And not 10 more years later did I molt to the present moment
    A breath that the tree had left-- much more than that leaf I believed I had suffocated.
    That leaf that never died
    In that moment remained in this world
    For nourishment, a gift
    To birds and mosses and molds and worms,
    To all bodies of cotyledons, new venations to groan upward through the soils,
    Plucked off, new life and life alike.
    I am young again and I ride my bike;
    A fresh leaf flutters into an upturned palm,
    A secretive, zig-zagging string dangling ceaselessly, embalmed.


    3rd place: Antony Nedanovski, "m--y"

    Antony Nedanovsky

    “babe, here’s something i just wrote—i think you might like it! it goes like this:

    ‘the truthful glance you cast upon me felt like concrete poured into a casket
    .it crushed me.
    crushed me into a pulverized valentine’s card,
    you know, the ones with sweet nothings smothered on a canvas donning a bleeding heart;
    but this valentine’s card dared to push through to the other side of the cuckoo house nest—
    that damned rib cage within this punctured chest.
    a noble, humble pursuit
    so i then draped that valiant, valentine heart onto the shoulders of blessed pallbearers,
    each convulsion of the sealed casket a decree from the tomb:
    i love being nothing for you.
    and still, my oldest love lives young.’”
    she paused, never being one to first speak without thinking:
    “hmm, baby, it sounds quite poetic. its meaning is completely lost to me
    but it reminds me of a cherished line my mother always said to me:
    ‘you know m---y,
    there’s nothing unsettling in our substance of being nor our being of substance.’”

    i stirred from the magnitude of that message’s power—
    christ, even in my daydreams the girl’s modest.


    Honorable mention: Mianna Gonczar, "Reflections on Almost"

    Reflections on Almost
    Mianna Gonczar

    It’s amazing how life happens
    And you don’t even realize because
    You’re too busy hoping
    That you’ve done enough and
    You spend all this time
    Forgetting that you are still
    Doing right now
    But in our defense
    To live in the moment is not
    As easy as it sounds
    Because, do I look good in the moment?
    I should’ve done my hair this morning
    So that all my moments were good
    And how do I know which moment
    I should live in?
    Moments are a minute, a year, a day
    I let the moment pass.
    I always regret when moments pass
    And the regret is always more tangible
    Than the moment itself
    But I really miss that moment
    I knew it would’ve been a good one
    Sometimes I spend so much time regretting
    A moment that passed
    I go on and let the next one pass too
    This happens all too often because
    Life is just a string of moments
    And sometimes I forget that
    It’s not like watching a movie twice
    A second chance is really just
    A different chance
    A sorry doesn’t take back the hurt
    And even if I buy a new car
    It doesn’t take back the fact that
    I crashed my first two
    But I’m working on it
    I’m working on noticing when a moment is
    One worth noticing
    And understanding that not all moments are ones
    To be remembered
    But most of all, forgiving myself for letting moments pass
    The next one is sure to happen soon

2017 Winners

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    1st place: Alexis Carlisle, "Honey, I love you"

    Honey, I Love You
    Alexis Carlisle

    She bleaches her hair as if she is trying to bleach away the past;
    And even though my roots have grown long
    I can still remember the burning sense of rebirth.
    She soaks in the first blush of the sun
    Like a cat bathing in the rays that
    Run their fingers through her hair; Long and tangled
    With past stories that only come out
    On late night drives home from the bar.
    She doesn’t remember telling the story.
    And when she asks if I’ve heard it before
    I always say no
    Because when she speaks, it is the spring
    Not the cruelest month, nor the one that comes after or before.
    She is the month in between.
    Skipped in calendars – Bleached out – Lying in the sun –
    – Laughing – She is actually laughing –
    At all of the things about me that my mother rolls her eyes at
    And in that moment I start to understand what love is
    She –
    – is the month of love
    The protector and the keeper
    And I wonder why I do not protect her as she does for me
    But I’ve learned there has to be a teller and a listener
    I let her tell
    Because out of her mouth sprout flowers and perfume
    And I am just the schoolboy
    Who forms his first crush on Persephone
    Not knowing she is the eternal spring
    She melts in the passenger seat of my car
    With the seat warmer on she melts like honey
    The weather is most unstable in spring
    But she doesn’t know, the voices she hears
    Are just the bees at work building honeycombs in her hair
    Lightweight, but stronger than you could ever imagine
    The man outside the bar told us that spring is here
    And she will not back down
    She is two swords and no armor
    She is honey with arsenic
    The month that no one can see, nor can they pronounce,
    She is the first blossom and the first crush,
    She is as unstable as spring and twice the beauty
    But will slap the mouth that calls her beautiful
    And tell them “I. Am. Smart.” Brighter than the sun.
    But also, right now, asleep like the moon.
    Behind me I can hear her purr with golden strands,
    Basking in the sunlight.
    And it is all of this that is stored in the body of a girl
    And the underestimation of such feminine power is punishable by damnation
    That pulls Persephone back down.
    But please, be cautioned, because like the sun,
    She will rise again.


    2nd place: Jasmina Cunmulaj, "A Note to My Father"

    A Note to My Father
    Jasmina Cunmulaj

    You placed your hand
    over mine
    that grasped the fishing pole
    so tightly,
    as you whispered
    the winning strategy
    and performed
    a rhythmic jerk
    like a marionette,
    playing his puppet
    and danced the invisible line across the pond
    that reflected
    a shadow
    of a moment in time.
    And as the line pulled
    and rippled a crack
    down the middle,
    a silver-breasted fish soared out, like a newborn
    wailing for a first breath
    of oxygen.
    But quickly delved back
    into the one-way mirror,
    and released our connection,that was held simply by string. Just as the ripple calmed,
    the shadow of our bond that once casted over the grey waters, vanished with the sun.
    And with every sunrise overlooking the pond,
    I hoped it would return
    with you,
    once again.


    3rd place: Jazmin Nevarez, "I wonder"

    I wonder
    Jazmin Nevarez

    I wonder what it’s like,
    to live in a house
    That doesn’t chip from the ceilings,
    Into our Holy Water bottles
    That Tita uses to bless our doors, daughters and foreheads.
    I wonder.

    I wonder what it’s like, to live in a house
    Without missing shingles on the roof,
    walls that are finished,
    fresh paint-covered plaster
    Scratch-resistant, bulletproof.
    I wonder.

    I wonder what it’s like
    To not live in fear of the Red Line.
    Especially on summer nights alone,
    In one ear-headphone. Waiting, watching
    Cityscapes with high rises too pretty to see
    My South Side home,
    I wonder.

    I wonder
    I wonder what it’s like to permanently live in a house
    Where the windows and doors have molding
    And white picket fences are in view.
    A bedroom to myself,
    No urge to record silver badges on front lawns
    Just in case another Black and Brown life
    Is taken too soon. I wonder.

    I wonder what it’s like
    To live with a deep, dwelling security.
    Not having to fight
    consistently for equality.
    A tiring effort, unfortunate example of timeless
    Time and again.
    I wonder.

    I wonder what it’s like
    To live with peace of mind.
    Without the thought of my 9-year-old brother
    Wearing a transparent backpack to school.
    Walking through metal detectors before class
    Because, maybe, just maybe
    His classmate’s father left his nine
    Unlocked, easy access
    To protect himself, his family, his pride–a true Sugarman, in his prime.
    I wonder.

    I wonder what it’s like to live
    Outside the confines of condensed, cramped
    Almost-sweltering poverty.
    Polluted danger forced upon us,
    Away from suburban and lavish properties
    That unsuccessfully attempt to suck the soul from what is left of our woods.
    Moving in on us.
    Capitalizing off our soon-be-gentrified neighborHoods.
    I wonder.

2016 Winners

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    1st place: Alexis Carlisle, "Things I've Found While Cleaning My Room"

    Things I've Found While Cleaning My Room
    Alexis Carlisle

    1. The band aid you gave me when we were in 8th grade when I thought we were going to get married, I never took it out of the wrapper and for some reason I’ve kept it in the same box I keep money.
    2. A pearl necklace that my dad added a pearl to each year on my birthday; it is now a complete never ending loop.
    3. Anna Nicole Smith’s biography where most would keep a bible, I know her holy words better than Father Joseph knows the scripture.
    4. A receipt that slipped out of his pocket and I shoved it into mine to remember a time when I loved him.
    5. The stereotypical half eaten rotten apple that only the grossest people keep under their bed.
    6. A student written postcard from Alma College I received as a junior, I kept it not because of an overwhelming interest in the college, but rather because I felt like Cody class of 2014 really cared even with no picture on the card I cried because I loved Cody class of 2014 so much.
    7. A 16th birthday card from my dad, the inside said “I will always love you, no matter if we are together or apart” it was the first time I realized he completely understood what 16 meant.
    8. The picture I was drawing in math class the first time I ever pierced my own skin on purpose it was only half finished and some things are better incomplete.
    9. A miniature pin from a miniature bowling set I threw away during a panic attack I threw away 2 garbage bags full of things that day and I cried the entire time as my mother kept on saying “you don’t have to do this”.
    10. A very tiny pencil...You snapped my pencil in half the day you didn’t have one and you then sharpened the half with the eraser and gave it back, I taped it to my wall in memoriam of the senior boy who put the sad sophomore girl first.
    11. I found some notes that I took when while talking on the phone to you when were best friends and you were telling me about how you wanted to become a pilot because you were chasing the crash and you said “it will be sunny and I will go down quick” as I continued to cry you told me it would be fine, that you would die quickly and it wouldn’t hurt that bad.  I couldn’t fall asleep that night.
    12. A spider that I was going to kill but started to appreciate the mutual comfort we both felt living together.
    13. A water bottle with her chewed gum stuck to the side of it I kept on my bedside table for weeks as a reminder that she had been in my room, she had been in my bed.
    14. Ripped nylons that I promised my mother would last me until New Year’s but it was only November and they were very ruined.
    15. Diamond earrings my dad gave me for my sixteenth birthday, I held them in my hand for a minute wondering why he gave them to me.  I was turning 16 years old not 23, and that’s when it hit me, that my dad understood that he would never see 23 or 46 or 17.  He understood how everything happens suddenly and at once and I didn’t even understand the situation enough to write a goddamn eulogy.
    16. 16 will mean more to me than 21 ever could, more than a 21 gun salute and the bullet shell casing from the ceremony on my nightstand there will always be a weight on 16 and goal on his 66. I finish dusting off old memories and shove most of them back under my bed and as I leave no matter how many times I try the switch, I can’t turn off the light.

    2nd place: Patrick Redigan, "Bradley"

    Patrick Redigan

    I remember the dashboard,
    the trashed ashtray woefully
    overcrowded with
    discarded bubblegum and
    lipstick-pinched Camels

    Beside lay a royal blue sticker:
    simple and shiny reminding her
    “one day at a time”
    the fever mantra, the
    words she pledged her life to.
    Her gold medallion
    hung from the rearview mirror
    but we knew there was no sense
    in looking back.

    Ten years clean, or so it seemed
    I never could tell when she closed her eyes
    and hid her hands beneath our table.
    A high-strung junkie for Jesus, watch as she
    drowns her sorrows in his blood,
    stained like the glass, the depiction

    of the blessed mother that
    hung on the living room wall
    beside my 7th grade portrait made
    crooked by my clumsy fingers.
    The gaze of the virgin caught me
    dead in my tracks, my heart was
    hers to hold. The features were soft and
    her shawl was the shade of a dream,
    a creamy bluish-green like the little eyes on
    my little face. I close them
    for my nightly prayers,
    but when I wake, I want to face my fears
    and no longer force my smiles. To
    speak my mind, love my enemies and to
    test the waters of a fiery lake and
    cool my tongue with the serpentine
    mercury of ceaseless self-discovery.
    I want a puppy.

    I want to be someone new, someone cool
    too free to be me, too true to be you.
    I want creation.

    But placed beside expired plates,
    a grey and faded sticker pasted
    hastily long ago:
    a word, a whimper

    One last commandment heard
    high above the demon hiss of the
    rusted exhaust pipe, fuzzed slightly
    by a ghostly sneeze of smoke.

    It spits in the face
    of my mother’s embrace,
    murmured into ears too
    broken to be bothered:


    3rd place, tied: Antony Nedanovski, "My Ladybug Queen"

    My Ladybug Queen
    Antony Nedanovski

    “Antony,” even after all these years of having heard my name, I know that this word—out of all the
    words she may say daily—will bring out that accent. “Antony, leave those girls alone.” I couldn’t
    help it. They wouldn’t move, and neither would my eyes, which had been transfixed on them
    momentarily. I was trying to derive some meaningful lesson from their spotted shell when I nudged
    one with my finger. With sunlight illuminating its underbody, glimmering between its tiny wings, it
    flew down towards my feet. Despite having witnessed the climactic descent of their sister, the others
    continued to rest on the window. I thought of the times I had accidentally crushed them under my
    feet; the absolute terror of thinking what lay beneath my sock. Or the times when I found them at
    the windowsill, already resting. I wondered with fates like these, and no outcome other than death,
    why my mom loved these little critters. Sometimes their shell was attractive to the eye, a smooth red
    with black dots; but then there were the bland, light brown shelled ones that roamed the basement
    tiles and found themselves under my feet. She viewed them like they had just married into the
    family—she wouldn’t kick them out, but then again, she didn’t want them to be at the table when we
    ate. So on her finger, or sometimes on a napkin, she’d pick them up and place them at the
    windowsill. They were her girls, because with three sons and no time for company, she found them
    comforting. Uninvited visitors, but a gracious host she was—and a very clumsy tenant I was,
    uneventfully ending their lives time to time. Then came my nudging finger, rudely making this
    ladybug soar against its will. At my mom’s insistence, I let the others be. Sitting at the mahogany
    table, cluttered with books from past semesters, I watched the other girls remain steadfast.

    “Just leave them alone, they’ll bring good luck.”

    I could tell without looking that my mom was in her chair, doing her Sudoku and shaking her head
    at me. She was always superstitious.

    3rd place, tied: Erin Stein, "Frustration While Watching the Evening News"

    Frustration While Watching the Evening News
    Erin Stein

    “It’s about the children here, Huel.”

    The News shares a mini-documentary on how

    Michigan let toxic water corrode pipes

    and how it has seeped into people’s bloodstreams,

    as if they need more negativity in their systems.

    “88 schools were closed, how does that help the children?”

    A fancy(ish) man in a cheap looking suit, (let his dress define him)

    paired with an even cheaper tie— pipes in to remind the three social justice soldiers that strikes

    are unconstitutional. And that it’s immoral to stand up for better rights.

    The Suit must have never read Jeremy Bentham or Martin Luther King Jr.

    “Were any of the members involved fired?”

    Of course not, they kindly stepped down, because resigning

    looks more noble than getting ripped of one’s title.

    But then again, teeth falling out because gums can’t hold

    bone anymore doesn’t look that noble either.

    “You should let the parents know if another sick out is planned, it’s only fair.”

    The term fair seems to bite a little,

    it is filled with ironic venom that does not go unnoticed.

    When the textbooks used in these ancient ruins of schools don’t include the last

    two presidents, nor the Recession, that seems to ring more to the hymn of unfairness.

    What’s unfair is daydreaming in class and looking up to see the bleak

    heavens poke out between the cracks in the ceiling, while rocking in a desk that has barely two legs.

    It’s walking down a hallway and seeing bits of nature take over the cracks were the

    Foundation (ha!) of the building meet dirt.

    But don’t worry Suit, this picture of history will make its way into books

    that hopefully everyone will get to read.

2015 Winner

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    1st place, Patrick Redigan, "beads"

    Patrick Redigan

    "hail mary, full of grace
    I’ve been given this glorious rosary”
    red threaded beads like Jesus blood
    to assure she stays a good girl. 

    a decade for the boys overseas
    and one for johnny kennedy.
    say a prayer for patti hearst,
    saint catherine protect my purity

     the gospel according to luke-
    who picked sunflowers and
    bought her cracker jacks
    a catholic and a gentleman 

    he took her hand
    she took his name
    into suburban obscurity
    though their love was real
    and shapeless like the night.

    she took a job as a secretary
    he found work in Ford’s assembly lines
    salt of the earth, middle of the pack
    lord knows

    three babies broke out, two boys
    and a girl, I believe. They said their
    prayers and avoided swears
    and soon became soldiers of Christ,
    cheeks slapped by the wicked bishop,
    knuckles bruised by Sr. Sarah’s

    the children had children and
    they were very good. The girl
    (who, as a grandmother, ate chocolates
    and watched televised mass
    on her floral-print sofa)
    closed her eyes
    her wooden box was overpriced and
    her bones were cloaked in a
    matronly shawl
    and her rosary
    was wrapped around
    her world-weary fingers