A Note from the Judge:

It’s an incredibly moving and humbling experience to hold in one’s hands these poems from refugees detained on US borders, to read them and read them again. I was so touched by the honesty and clarity of these voices that it seemed obvious that there should be at least two winners and several runners up and finalists—one wants to encourage as many poets as possible—especially those who find themselves in such a difficult situation, especially when all of it is created unjustly, by our unjust government, in our name. – Ilya Kaminsky

CO-WINNERS

AM I AN IMMIGRANT by Daniel B

An honest voice, set to music, touches the heart. I admired the use of incantation in this poem, as well as use of symbolism, done with the elegant simplicity of a letter from one person to the world.

MY NATION by Marlon R S

“My nation has a people with a deportation order” this poet writes, and the directness and openness of its tone sways us. Knowing the context of this poet’s dire condition gives additional power to the final lines: “lend my people a hand.” It is difficult not to be touched.

RUNNERS-UP

THOU SHALT LOVE THY NEIGHBOR by Jose Luis HL
“You help me, I help you / We help each other. / Thou shalt love thy / neighbor as thyself”
The poet takes the Biblical aphorism and makes it a refrain, giving it a new life. Even in a camp, even in captivity, help thy neighbor, the poet says. Indeed.

I’D LIKE TO BREATHE AGAIN by Esperanza SR
The directness of tone coupled with the litany of repetition impacts the reader’s apprehension of the piece, making the terrifying landscape that surrounds this poet clear: “I’d like to breathe again / the fresh countryside air / and leave this nightmare behind / not hear any more screams nor see / angry faces.” This plea, this prayer, reaches us here, shows us what is being done in our name.

THE FRIEND by Rene HW
This brief poem packs a lot in just four lines: symbolic, direct and nuanced in the way the sentence extends itself across the four lines. Knowing the context of where this poem was written, and to whom it is dedicated, adds an additional meaning, an additional emotional weight.

MY ENEMY ISN’T YOU, NOR OTHERS, by Javier Absalon HO
This poem’s dynamics, starting with “enemy” and ending with “friends” is skillful, and its tone (“my days – without fortune – will be tranquil”) is both wise and moving.

MY EXPERIENCE AS AN IMMIGRANT, by EM
“I came with immense expectations / hoping to find safety and better life, / instead I am trapped in immigration” this poet writes, in a ballad-like story of their life, a chronicle of injustice, a song of dispossession. This song about judges “who refuse to believe narratives” is as compelling as it is terrifying.

FROM MY CROSS TO YOUR LONEINESS, by Antonio MC
This mysterious, spiritual piece is compelling and calm. Given the context of where it is written, this open voice is both admirable and touching. The voice of this poem— intimate, direct— contains a mystery to which a reader will relate.

FINALISTS

Senay T
Keness F M
Marcel V L
Luis F H M
Akum A H
Luini G O / preferred name Violet

ABOUT WINNERS & RUNNERS UP

Originally from Eritrea, Daniel B is currently detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center.
Originally from El Salvador, Marlon R S is currently detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center.
Originally from Honduras, Jose Luis HL is no longer in ICE detention. His location is unknown.
Originally from Guatemala, Esperanza SR, who is bilingual in Kiche’ and Spanish, is currently detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center.
Originally from Cuba, Rene HW is currently detained at Otay Mesa Detantion Center.
Originally from Honduras, Javier Absalon HO is currently detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center.
Originally from Africa, EM is currently detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center.
Originally from Mexico, Antonio MC is no longer in ICE detention. He is presumed deported.

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