About the Prize

The Hope College Academy of American Poets (AAP) Prize award is funded by the University and College Poetry Prize program of the AAP. The academy began the program in 1955 at 10 schools, and now sponsors nearly 200 annual prizes for poetry at colleges and universities nationwide. Poets honored through the program have included Mark Doty, Louise Gluck, Joy Harjo, Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Sylvia Plath, Gjertrud Schnackenberg, and Charles Wright. The winning poet receives $100 from the Academy of American Poets.

This year the judges were creative writing faculty of the Hope College Department of English: Rhoda Burton, Susanna Childress, Susanne Davis, and Pablo Peschiera.


The Winner: Jolie Smith’s “Your Friend Calls it Cotard Delusion, Your Therapist Says ‘Stop Diagnosing Yourself ’ (in other words) the Flame Goes Out Again and Again”  

Jolie Smith (’20), winner of the 2021 AAP Prize for Poetry

The judges write:

 “Your Friend Calls it Cotard Delusion…” gave us goosebumps. This poem surprises in its turns of departure and distance traveled. The poet invites us in by addressing us directly in line one: “There’s a Shadow in the corner tonight. Sooner or later/you will understand that it’s you….” We immediately felt locked into this unique vision of self-examination. The poem gathers urgency early, and develops it with the rhetorical technique of readdressing the subject in lines like “before I forget to mention it/you will hate the shadow in the corner/of your room at night…” and “all I’m saying is there’s one last thing to tell you/one day you will taste something sweet and barely know what’s coming.” Specific in image and clear of vision, “Your Friend Calls it Cotard Delusion…” is a self-reflective, intimate, and deeply wise poem.

Your Friend Calls it Cotard Delusion, Your Therapist Says ‘Stop Diagnosing Yourself’ (in other words), and the Flame Goes Out Again

1.

There’s a Shadow in the corner tonight. Sooner or later
you will understand that it’s you (looking for a lost earring) or you (losing your mind)
or whatever else you got into last night. The Shadow will crack under
through the skylight, under the sea—turning into a face mankind forgot to confront
long ago. The world grazing your cheekbones in a single hush.

You’re eating dinner with a stranger tonight. You ask, Am I real?
She doesn’t give you a straight answer. Thinks you’re kidding,
but she never really looks you in the eye. You have yet to break
any pearly cracks of contempt. Yet to cross the desert lines of your own small child.

2.

Before I forget to mention it,
you will hate the Shadow in the corner
of your room at night and
it’s not even the long fingers
turning over your neck, but the arrival
of a darkness you’ve never met.
The licking of plums,
the spot at the back of your head
that doctors keep fixing with band aids. In dreams
fear is absent, I should warn you,
you’re just a dizzy clump of bones and not much else.
It’s so much easier to become a ghost.
I must tell you before I forget.
I must tell us all before I forget.

3.

Imagine this. There are ants crawling up and down your kitchen sink.
You reach for the vinegar and it is October 17, the sun is a bright orange ball
and the neighborhood kids are playing tag. The ants reach in and yank a bone
out of you. But it is time to move on. The person you love says, Tell me a story.

It is April 4, you are six years old, and your mom says, Look up!
She kisses under your neck. Your ears tingle from the mess.
The person you love says, That’s not a story, it’s a feeling.
And she is right because your ears still ring with mess.

It is 6am on June 28 and you are washing your favorite bowl.
The ants appear, stomping around the faucet while you try to find
what crumbs you left behind this time. The ants seem heavenly
eating up the sticky mess. They sway and circle and—

There’s a shadow in the corner tonight. Time. Such a thief.

The ants suck sweet poison from the cupboard. They’re gathered in numbers now.
You wonder if it tastes like the stream that goes down into the valley,
or the Pleiades at night. All I’m saying, and here’s this one last thing to tell you,
one day you will taste something sweet and barely know what’s coming.


Honorable Mention: Zachary Dankert’s “Mumbai Breaks Over Michigan

Zachary Dankert (’21), Honorable Mention for the 2021 AAP Prize for Poetry.

The judges write:

We were bowled over by the precise words and the images those words conjure, playful and clear. The poet built great trust through his wonderfully etched language, and the musical sensibility in the two-line stanzas beautifully evokes the paired locations in the title. “Mumbai Breaks Over Michigan” brought us the musical pleasure of language in lines like “I always loved the waters leavening asunder,/necromancing air to monsoon/ghosts of my grandmother’s India,” and “In the rain, I’m left to ruin./In ruin, to rain/that swelters past streaming by my young/grandmother and Lord Ganapati, where such heat/thickened and choked the streets.” The poet romanticizes their identification with their past, but the finely wrought imagery never allows the overly dramatic. “Mumbai Breaks Over Michigan” offers us a subtle meditation on place, past, and identity, and takes us to a double landscape we couldn’t visit without this poem and poet.

Mumbai Breaks over Michigan

It always rains when I drive
back to school. No one notices

as I nestle the superstition in heart’s
claws and quaking humors, offerings

to unnamed temples. I always loved
the waters leavening asunder,

necromancing air to monsoon
ghosts of my grandmother’s India.

what elephant-trunked murthi would you have seen
drowned in your stifling springtime?

But this rain is diluting air, drafting into ice.
There is too much of it of me slicked onto

road rearview mirrors, too much
mirroring tomorrow onto yesterday,

onto next week, next century;
clods of clay kicked up the highway.

In the rain, I’m left to ruin.
In ruin, to rain

that swelters past streaming by my young
grandmother and Lord Ganapati, where such heat

thickened and choked the streets. But here the road
is cold and the water shrinks

slithers over my windshield
yet fails to wash my skull clean.

Not enough of a watery snake
to swallow my sphere of sentiments.


The AAP Committee thanks all applicants for their work & we look forward to reading more next year!

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1 Comment

  1. Congratulations!!!!!!!! Holy cow! These truly knocked my socks off and the last I saw of them they were headed your way. What artistic mastery surrounding material one is ever grateful for,
    Jack

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