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Award-Winning Poems: Spring 2017

Jendi Reiter

Welcome to my spring selection of award-winning poems, highlights from our contest archives, and the best new resources we've found for writers. These quarterly specials are included with your free Winning Writers Newsletter subscription.
In this issue: "Le mani" by Vittorio Sereni, translated and illustrated by Julian Peters.
—Jendi Reiter, Editor

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April Contest Deadlines
Deadline: April 1. 16th year. $2,250 in prizes, including a top award of $1,000. No entry fee. Final judge: Jendi Reiter. Previously published work accepted. See last year's winners and enter here.

Deadline: April 30. 25th year. $4,000 in prizes, including two top awards of $1,500 each. Fee: $18 per entry. Final judge: Judy Juanita. Previously published work accepted. See last year's winners and enter here.

Award-Winning Poems Selected by Jendi Reiter

by Donika Kelly
Winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize
Entries must be received by March 17
This notable award for debut collections by black poets of African descent includes $1,000 and publication by a university press. This incisive poem from Kelly's prizewinning Bestiary exposes the inadequacy of well-meant words to unlock a traumatized heart.

by Caroline Cabrera
Winner of the 2016 Hudson Prize
Entries must be received by March 31
Black Lawrence Press gives this $1,000 award for a manuscript of poems or short stories. Cabrera's winning poetry collection is forthcoming this year. These deadpan poems have the stream-of-consciousness quality of social media threads while taking on the timeless poetic topics of love, illness, and death.

by Cortney Lamar Charleston
Winner of the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize
Entries must be received by April 1
This open poetry manuscript contest awards $2,000 and publication by a press whose mission is to "encourage the publication of literature of a non-commercial and challenging nature." Charleston's forthcoming Telepathologies was the most recent winner. In this collage poem, he strings coded racist remarks together, disclosing more than the speaker wants to admit: "I mean, personally,//I don't SEE color. I'm so sorry, I really didn't see you there."

by Robert Gibb
Winner of the 2016 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize
Postmark Deadline: April 30
This open poetry manuscript contest gives a top prize of $1,000 and two finalist prizes of $250, plus publication. Gibb's After was the most recent winner. This plain-spoken poem observes the cycles of youthful hope and disappointment that would be familiar to Charlie Brown from "Peanuts".

IMAGINATION and other poems
by Christine Gosnay
Winner of the 2016 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize
Postmark Deadline: May 1
This prestigious first-book prize from Kent State University gives $2,500 and publication. Gosnay's Even Years was the most recent winner. These poems turn mental states into landscapes where sun, shade, and pleasure promise a simplicity that they don't deliver.

Read more award-winning poems.

COG Page to Screen Awards

Deadline: March 31. Sponsored by Cogswell College. Submit an unpublished short story or work of creative nonfiction, up to 7,000 words. The winner will receive:

  • Publication online and in the print issue of COG, as well as a $1,000 prize
  • A blurb about your short story by NPR/PRI's Snap Judgment host Glynn Washington
  • Your story adapted as an animated short film, 2D animation, graphic novel, or series of interpretive illustrations by students in Cogswell's celebrated Digital Art & Animation Program and Digital Audio Technology Program.

Check out the details—including a link to the full submission guidelines—at www.cogzine.com.

Please enjoy this animation made from "The Last Gun" by Anne Harding Woodworth, a 2015-2016 COG Poetry Award winner:

The Last Gun

Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry: $2,000 and Publication

Postmark deadline: May 15

The Blue Lynx Prize, $2,000 plus publication, is awarded for an unpublished, full-length volume of poems by a US resident or citizen. Send manuscript of at least 48 pages, a $28 reading fee plus SASE (for notification) to Lynx House Press, P.O. Box 940, Spokane, WA 99210, or submit online via Submittable. Please make checks payable to Lynx House Press.

The 2016 winner was Ralph Burns for his collection but not yet. Past judges have included Yusef Komunyakaa, Melissa Kwasny, Robert Wrigley, Dorianne Laux, and Kathleen Flenniken. More details at www.lynxhousepress.org.

Please enjoy "Unfinished Figures" by Dave Nielsen, our 2015 winner, from his book of the same name.

In Frederic Bazille's "The Terrace at Meric,"
the outline of a woman
sitting on a bench:
ghost-like, in the shade
of a very straight trunked tree:
you get the picture
it is the outline of a dream.
And the shade of the tree is dark,
in contrast to the hot sun
on the oleander bushes,
so that the woman becomes
a dark thought.
And there, in the window,
at the far back of the world,
in the window of the big house,
another outline,
this one not as sharp, so that it seems
there was one ghost the artist was sure of,
and then one that he wasn't.

Kirkus Bestows Starred Review on De Facto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland

Judy Juanita's De Facto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland is the March 2017 Book-of-the-Month at KIRKUS REVIEWS. From the coveted starred review:

This extraordinary set of autobiographical essays gives insight into a black woman's life in the arts: everything from joining the Black Panthers to avoiding African-American chick lit.

Juanita (Virgin Soul, 2013) grew up in Oakland, California, in the 1950s. She remembers a "goody-goody" childhood of reading, spelling bees, and chores. America at the time was "a Jell-O & white bread land of perfection and gleaming surfaces," she notes in her essay "White Out"; the only blacks on screen played mammies and maids. She joined the Black Panthers at San Francisco State in 1966 and became a junior faculty member in its Black Studies department—the nation's first. In perhaps the most powerful piece in the collection, "The Gun as Ultimate Performance Poem", written after the death of Trayvon Martin, Juanita sensitively discusses the split in the Black Panthers over carrying guns. She liked guns' symbolic associations and even kept one in her purse while working at a post office. But she now recognizes the disastrous consequences of romanticizing a weapon: "It was Art. It was Metaphor. It was loaded with meaning and death." In another standout, "The N-word", she boldly explores the disparate contexts in which the epithet appears: in August Wilson's play Fences, in comedy routines, and intimately between friends. "It's not problem or solution; it's an indication," she concludes. The title essay contends that black women are de facto feminists because they're so often reduced to single parenting in poverty. Elsewhere, she discusses relationships between black men and women, recalls rediscovering poetry as a divorcée with an 8-year-old son in New Jersey ("Tough Luck", which includes her own poems), remembers a time spent cleaning condos, and remarks that Terry McMillan has ensured that a "black female writer not writing chick lit has an uphill challenge."

The author refers to herself as "an observational ironist," and her incisive comments on black life's contradictions make this essay collection a winner.

Buy De Facto Feminism at Amazon

Uncle Otto by Winfred Cook

Winner of the 2016 North Street Book Prize for literary fiction

"In a literary market crowded with Fast Food, Winfred Cook's debut novel Uncle Otto is like literary Soul Food. Cook distinctively writes with a very fresh, strong and unique voice that is reminiscent of Ernest Gaines and Jamaica Kincaid. Uncle Otto is a very brave undertaking whose path even seasoned writers may have been reluctant to journey. Cook's Uncle Otto is a throwback to the southern quilt makers of yesteryears. From chapter one, page one, Cook brilliantly and effortlessly sews the pieces of an African American family together, ultimately unveiling a master heirloom in the form of the unforgettable story of Uncle Otto. Uncle Otto is a rare gem which tells the story of the conviction and strength of the African American family and patriarch, which are far too often overlooked in the literary community. BRAVO!!!!"
—Tezira Nnabongo, PhD Attorney, Hollywood, California

"In weaving fiction and family history alongside historical events, Winfred Cook offers a brilliant literary debut in Uncle Otto. The novel is complex in plot and character development, displaying one of the most sophisticated analyses of black migration from southern rural settings to the urban north during the early 20th century in the United States. The joy, struggle, and tragedy that pervades Uncle Otto is the best that contemporary novelists have to offer."
—Ingrid Banks, author of Hair Matters: Beauty, Power and Black Women's Consciousness and Associate Professor of Black Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara

"...the novel is an important account of one family's story. While the events may not all be true in fact, they are true to life, and represent a period of time and a perspective that is underrepresented in literature. That alone makes it worth a second look."
—Kirkus Discoveries

Available at Amazon. Read the Winning Writers critique and a free excerpt.

Vacui Magia by L.S. Johnson

Winner of the 2016 North Street Book Prize for genre fiction

Dwarves and golems, Fates and minotaurs, metamorphoses, murder, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. L.S. Johnson delivers a provocative and original short story collection that ingeniously blends myth and nightmare. Whether it concerns the efforts of an infertile witch to construct a golem-baby, or a daughter's quest to understand a father's guilt and a mother's supernatural infidelities, or a woman's violent association with a group of possibly imaginary but nonetheless dangerous little men, each story in this remarkable collection demonstrates the limitless capacity of intelligent speculative fiction to enthrall, inspire, and amaze. Available now at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks. Read a free excerpt.

"I can say without hesitation, reservation or exception that this is a collection full of brilliantly written and powerfully affecting stories, each of which profoundly impressed me in different ways ... Johnson's Vacui Magia is a book that never goes quietly, and it is wonderful for it." – The Future Fire Reviews

Red Blood, Yellow Skin by Linda Baer

Winner of the 2016 North Street Book Prize for creative nonfiction & memoir

Red Blood, Yellow Skin is the story of a young girl's survival in war-torn Vietnam during the First Indochina War between France and Vietnam, the civil war between North and South Vietnam, and the later American involvement in the Vietnam War. Linda Baer was born Nguyen Thi Loan, in the village of Tao Xa, Thai Binh Province, in North Vietnam in 1947. When she was four years old, the Viet Minh attacked her village and killed her father, leaving Loan and her mother to fend for themselves. Seeking escape from impoverishment, her mother married a rich and dominating widower who was cruel to his free-spirited and mischievous stepdaughter. Loan found solace in the company of animals and insects and escaped into the branches of trees.

In 1954, her family chose to relocate to South Vietnam, rather than live under the yoke of communist North Vietnam. When Loan was thirteen, she ran away to Saigon to flee the cruelty of her stepfather and worked at menial jobs to help her family. At seventeen, she was introduced to bars, nightclubs, and Saigon Tea. At eighteen, she dated and lived with a young American airman. Two months after their baby was born, the airman returned to America, and Loan never heard from him again. She raised their son by herself. However, time healed her heart, and she eventually found true love in a young Air Force Officer, whom she married and accompanied to America.

Red Blood, Yellow Skin is a story of romance, culture, traditions, and family. It describes the pain, struggle, despair, and violence as Loan lived it. The story is hers, but it is also an account of Vietnam—of those who were uprooted, displaced, brutalized, and left homeless. It is about this struggle to survive and her extraordinary triumph over adversity that Baer writes.

Available on Amazon. Read the Winning Writers critique and a free excerpt.

The Two Natures Blog Tour is Underway

Two Natures

Two Natures is currently touring two dozen book review and M/M fan blogs thanks to Embrace the Rainbow, a blog book tour site specializing in LGBTQ authors. To coincide with the tour, the Amazon Kindle and iBooks editions of Two Natures are on sale for $0.99 through March 17.


Stop by the tour sites for insights into the book and tips on writing!


Palmetto Poison by C. Hope Clark, On Sale Through March 15

Third in the award-winning Carolina Slade Mystery Series

A Governor keeping secrets. A drug lord bent on revenge. And a DEA agent out to make her case, no matter who gets hurt in the process. Once again, Carolina Slade finds herself caught in a web of lies and murder, only this time the case involves a Governor's family secret, and a history of poisonous peanuts with the ability to kill.

"Carolina Slade is the real deal—Southern charm, a steely determination, and a vulnerability she'll never admit to. Slade is at her absolute best in C. Hope Clark's Palmetto Poison so hold on for the ride!"
—Lynn Chandler-Willis, bestselling author and winner of the Minotaur Books/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Competition

"Author C. Hope Clark writes an offbeat thriller with fascinating characters. The pages crackle with energy, the heroine ever struggling to balance her job, her family, and her emotions. She doesn't like being told what to do, and repeatedly gets herself in hot water by challenging authority. She makes mistakes, any one of which could be fatal. This is the third book in the Carolina Slade series and in my opinion the best. Author Clark is maturing as an author, her writing becoming more complex, deeper and richer. Her characters are more lifelike, her plots more intriguing. You would never figure out where this one was going without knowing in advance, but in the end it all makes sense. Looking for an unusual thriller with a South Carolina setting and a marvelous cast of characters, this is one novel you need to get hold of."
—Louis N. Gruber, Vine Voice Amazon Reviewer

On sale March 1-15: $1.99 at all online venues. Winner of the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for best traditional mystery. www.chopeclark.com

Buy Palmetto Poison now at Amazon

Favorite New Resources

Here are some of our favorite newly added resources at Winning Writers. For a full list, see our Resource pages.

Half Mystic
Music-themed literary journal

Madness Muse Magazine
Quarterly journal of dark poetry and social commentary

Representation Matters: A Literary Call to Arms
Tips and resources for writing non-stereotypical characters with diverse identities

Reviews of Trans and/or Non-Binary Lit by Trans and/or Non-Binary Reviewers
Blogger Xan West surveys contemporary trans and nonbinary literature

TCK Publishing's List of 100+ Author Tools
Self-publishing tools, sources for stock photos and editing, book marketing sites and more

Half Mystic

Favorite New Books

Douglas Kearney

Read these energetic, challenging poems once quickly for their frantic virtuosity of sound and rhythm, and again slowly to tease out the allusions in each compressed line. "Buck" was a racial slur in post-Civil War America for a black man who was sexually powerful and defiant of white authority. By juxtaposing it with "Studies", Kearney mocks the pseudoscientific white gaze, and also demands a place for black subjectivity in the canon of high culture. This second theme emerges most strongly in the two poem cycles that bracket the collection. The first reworks the Labors of Hercules through the legend of 19th-century African-American pimp Stagger Lee (the subject of numerous murder ballads by artists as varied as Woody Guthrie, Duke Ellington, and The Clash). The second cycle replaces Jesus with Br'er Rabbit in the Stations of the Cross. As great satires do, these mash-ups make us ask serious questions: Who gets to go down in history as a hero instead of a thug? Would an oppressed people be better off worshipping a trickster escape artist, rather than a martyr?

Charlie Bondhus

Finding one's identity is just the beginning of the struggle, in this updated and expanded version of an award-winning gay poet's debut collection. With lyricism and an empathetic imagination, Bondhus claims a place for himself within multiple traditions, daring to juxtapose a comic tryst with a resurrected Walt Whitman, a disciple's erotic memories of Jesus, and the lament of a post-Edenic Adam. New work in this edition includes the poem suite "Diane Rehm Hosts Jesus Christ on NPR", narrated by a very human messiah who "would speak about what God shares with humanity...I mean loneliness".

Reena Ribalow

This stately, melancholy collection of poems is steeped in sensual memories of bittersweet love, be it for a holy city or a forbidden affair. Her roots are planted in Jerusalem, sacred and war-torn, harsh and captivating. Her more personal poems show the same mix of pleasure and pain in romantic relationships. One way or another, history is inescapable.

Phillip B. Williams

This debut collection from Alice James Books is a formally innovative, visceral and intense collection of poems through which the American tradition of violence against gay and black male bodies runs like a blood-red thread. From concrete poetry collages to experimental sonnets, Williams makes us contemplate murder as a twisted outburst of intimacy across caste lines, and love as a battle cry. Winner of the 2017 Kate Tufts Discovery Award.

Selections from Our Contest Archives

"Night Farming in Bosnia"
by Ray Keifetz

Honorable Mention
2015 Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest

"Everything Makes Music When It Burns"
by R.G. Evans

Honorable Mention
2014 Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest

by Madeline Baars

First Prize
2015 Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest

"A Small Fortune"
by Roberta George

Honorable Mention
2015 Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest

"Massive Metaphysical Twat"
by Luke Archer

Honorable Mention
2014 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest

"Hampton Bay Progressive Wall Sconce"
by Janine Certo

Honorable Mention
2014 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest

See the complete archive of winning entries from our contests.

Ray Keifetz

PSA: Literacy Is a Bridge

ProLiteracy, the largest adult literacy and basic education membership organization in the nation, believes that a safer, stronger, and more sustainable society starts with an educated population. For more than 60 years, ProLiteracy has been working across the globe to create a world where every person can read and write. Learn more.

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"Le mani" by Vittorio Sereni, illustrated by Julian Peters

Reprinted by kind permission of Julian Peters. See his translation below. See more comics.

The Hands

These hands you raise in self-defense:
They cast an evening over my face.
When you slowly open them, there ahead
The city's a crescent of fire.
On the future sleep
They'll be blinds striped with sun
And I'll have lost forever
That taste of earth and wind
When you take them back.

Writer's Digest: 101 Best Websites for Writers