A Note from the Judge:

I am grateful to the organizers for this chance to read many dozens of poems, to immerse myself in so many wonderful voices and visions. It was a beautiful experience. Each poet I read taught me something new. I simply can’t resist sharing these brief notes on the wonderful poems I was lucky enough to read for this competition. – Ilya Kaminsky


PLANS by K. Eltinaé
Lullabies. Wailing Songs. Spells. Those were our species’ first poems. I love how this poem weaves a spell, conjuring something into being, making the impossible feel possible: “Sometimes if you look / hard enough at something it will bloom in your eyes & / make countries for refugees no one took in.”

This poem is beautifully made, with refrains, memorable images, strong music. But it is the combination of imagery and emotion that finally sways me, a voice that’s tender and yet bold: “I would wash you with the softest words I know.”


FOR A SOUL WITH BREATH by Tamra Carraher
Sometimes a successful narrative poem creates its own lyricism, its music. But at other times—far more rarely—a lyric poem can use imagery to create a dwelling space so nuanced one can recognize the story behind it. This poem has such a light-touch it “shimmers like a fish,” and yet there is a great deal of gravitas behind all its music. How so? Perhaps because the poet is able to find precisely the right balance between the intimacy of two people, and the larger scope of our collective history.

MATTHEW 18:10 by Laura Jarocha
Reading this, one is also reminded of Auden’s famous poem about a dictator, “September 1, 1939.” One is reminded of Marquez’s great novels. How much is done here in just two lines: “He once put babies in cages, / and now it’s God he faces.”

ENOUGH? by Pippa Little
Clarity is the deepest mystery, Mahmoud Darwish once said. Indeed. This poem’s political vision is clear, but its precision also guides us towards tenderness. This kind of duality allows the act of welcome to happen on the level of language itself. I love this poem’s voice and its tonalities.

Often when we read poetry, we fall in love with it because the medium itself becomes the message. This is the case here. The poem’s longish sentences sway the reader, and allow the music of syntax itself to become the message. The incantation, the repetitions, drew me in. Beautiful.

HEART by Kyle Pritz
It’s so hard to write a narrative poem that also sings to its own music. This is exactly what this poem is doing, to my mind. I was pleased to see how the line-breaks, especially, turned the story into a song.

AFTER SOLSTICE by Valorie Ruiz
Innovation is especially effective in poetry when a new form is created because older forms cannot communicate the poet’s message. “There are children in cages cutting wings into their arms throwing pretend aluminum furniture at faces blocked by chain-link fences. And I am watching this unfold from my phone” this poet writes. The innovative, symphonic music of this hybrid is impactful, memorable.


HEY ALEXANDRA by Moncho Alvarado
This poem’s epistolary form gives a perfect shape to its compelling, disarming tonalities: “Hey Alexandra, when I die, plant me into a guava tree in front of my family’s house.”

WAS AMERICA EVER…? By Yvonne Blomer
This poem’s free verse divided into couplets formally recreates the stroll the poet takes along the avenues of the country that is, supposedly, free. The imagery and syntax come together to tell us a very different story.

This intricate, gorgeous lyric shares a memory that is both urgent and lyrical; it teaches us that “Greening is grief too, you times two.”

WHAT TO DO IN THE RAIN by Danielle Hanson
The cento, an age-old form, is given new voice is this brief lyric, wherein the speaker addresses a the great refugee poet, Paul Celan, with his own words, and in a way that is both memorable and revealing: “Where has the day gone? / It is time the stone / made an effort to flower.”

Sometimes you discover a voice strong enough to woo you: you would follow this voice anywhere. This bold personal pronoun that creates its own myth: “I am from the country you don’t care / to know name of. / I am the people you extinguish.” I found the way this strong voice was coupled with imagery and evocative language to be particularly evocative.

I CAME TO VISIT MY FRIEND by Alejandro Martinez
This poem’s formal patterning and imagery make a real impact in recreating the speaker’s experience of visiting a friend in a detention center. The poetic devices make that experience real to the reader.

EVACUATED by Nicholas Samaras
“As one expects of a lyric poet,” Louise Gluck once wrote, “We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory.” Indeed. Here, the poem finds apt music for depicting childhood, or memories of childhood, in immigration; of childhood “stitched through countries / like tattered herringbone coats.” This memorable language weaves in both heartbreak and tenderness: “Dispossession / is a couplet for a child who tiptoes through his waking.”

I CAME TO VISIT MY FRIEND by Alejandro Martinez
This poem’s formal patterns and imagery make a real impact in recreating the speaker’s experience of visiting a friend in the detention center. The poetic devices make that experience real to the reader.


Moncho Alvarado is Latinx queer poet, translator, visual artist and educator. They have received fellowships and residencies from Lambda Literary, Poets House, and The Helen Wurlitzer Foundation.

Yvonne Blomer is the author of three books of poetry and one memoir. In 2017, she edited the anthology Refugium: Poems for the Pacific. In 2015-2018, she served as the Poet Laureate of the city of Victoria, British Columbia.

Elena Karina Byrne is the author of four books of poetry. Her work has been published in POETRY, The Paris Review, Denver Quarterly and many other publications. Her poetry has been awarded the Pushcart Prize, and has been included into Best American Poetry.

Tamra Carraher is the editor of Alexandria Quarterly. Her work has appeared in Talisman, The Penn Review, and Literary Mama.

Eltinaé is a Sudanese poet of Nubian descent, his work has appeared in World Literature Today, The African American Review and About Place Journal, among others. A selection of his poems were shortlisted for the 2019 Brunel International African Poetry Prize. Besides writing, he loves reading, the oud & kora, handmade foutas, old school rap, and Sarah Vaughan.

Danielle Hanson is the author of two collections of poetry. She is the Poetry Editor for Doubleback Books and is on the staff of the Atlanta Review.

Laura Jarocha lives in Orchard Park, NY.

Pippa Little is a Scots poet who currently lives in Northern England and works as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at New Castle University. She is the author of two poetry collections and volunteer fundraiser for RAICES.

Dyana Lopez is currently a high school student. Originally from El Salvador, she has been living in the United States for the past five years. Prior to that, she was a detained in immigration centers.

Alejandro Martinez is a Chicano poet from South Bay San Diego, who was raised on both sides of the border, transiting from Tijuana to San Diego for school. Currently, Martinez teaches photography at The AjA Project in San Diego.

Jed Myers is the author of two poetry collections and winner of several literary awards, including Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize.

Dayna Patterson’s is the author of Titania in Yellow (Porkbelly Press, 2019) and If Mother Braids a Waterfall (Signature Books, 2020). Her creative work has appeared recently in POETRY, Sugar House Review, Ruminate, Thrush, and Tupelo Quarterly. She is the founding editor-in-chief of Psaltery & Lyre and a co-editor of Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry. daynapatterson.com

Kyle Pritz left U.S. Marines in 2012 as a conscientious objector. He currently lives in Brooklyn.

Valorie K. Ruiz is a queer Xicana writer who currently lives in Las Vegas. She is assistant flash-fiction editor for Homology Lit.

Nicholas Samaras was born in Greece and was evacuated in 1967, after Junta Dictatorship takeover. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The New Yorker, Poetry, New York Times, and other publications. He won The Yale Series of Younger Poets Award for his first collection, Hands of the Saddlemaker.

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