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 Susana Childress, Rhoda Janzen, and Pablo Peschiera, creative writing faculty in the English Department at Hope College
Logan Pitsenberger’s “Dragon’s Milk“
The judges write:
This poem’s well-crafted, subtle allusions to the visual arts, in its pastel and precision, speak volumes about the poet’s sensitivities to environment and space. We’re particularly impressed that this poem is about young men who are emotionally available for each other, in which each moment is often minutely etched in a specific time frame (“the clock with its minute hand stuttering between 5 and 5:08”). The title speaks to the weakness the speaker feels in the face of his friend’s emotional breakdown. All the speaker has to offer—a bottle of stout—indicates that his friend’s suffering also overwhelms him. “Dragon’s Milk” paints a slow picture, and a clear portrait structurally grounded in the tender care for a friend’s pain.
We waited for him as two eggs sizzled and the aroma of charred cheese on the frypan’s bottom twisted my nose. Sid had scribbled at our small table the solution to a biochemistry problem and sipped chocolate milk. Night shuttered our curtainless window. But soft white lights, taped above chipped cabinets, the clock with its minute hand stuttering between 5:07 and 5:08, and the doorframe to our bathroom hovel, illumined us: small, stuck. The door never closed so soft. He passed uncoupled shoes, the T.V., shelves stacked with ramen. He passed the door to our basement where our pockmarked dartboard slept. His head had bent to his chest and curly hair drooped below his eyebrows. His hand splayed over his nose, eyes, mouth, and ragged mustache. Peter sighed. Then his long torso expanded and contracted like a sump pump. Sid bounced to his feet and touched Peter’s shoulder. I flipped the eggs. Peter hugged Sid, then Sid retrieved the box of tissues from our bathroom. Peter hugged me, too. “Jasmine,” he whispered. “It was horrible. It was horrible, the entire thing. I messed it up, man.” He squeezed my chest. “I messed it up.” His grief: a blackened hull. Sid’s tissues dissolved like clouds over water. Peter slumped at the table as I failed to find a bottle opener. I struck the last Dragon’s Milk on the counter. “Please, take it.” Peter preferred lighter fare, IPA and Pabst Blue Ribbon, but what else could I give him? His lips kissed tilted glass. I recalled the calm power of the drink smolder in my own chest. Dragon’s Milk would transmute into a sea of tears, into pastel beer dripping through pastel mustache and pastel jaw—blurred, as Redon’s flower clouds, the boat going nowhere at all.
Adriana Barker’s “Unwritten”
The judges write:
“Unwritten” reflects an awareness of popular structural conceits in contemporary poetry, using the listing technique, and the apostrophe in the last line of the poem. Seemingly coincidentally arranged, the poem builds to an anaphoric moment as a way of walking through grief and struggle, allowing the images to both propel and ground the reader. The references to the chest near the beginning and then at the end of the poem display a skilled use of a subtle, classic technique of craft. The speaker in this poem looks to the future, and, though conflicted, sees it inexorably unrolling.
She and I in the car, singing
and eating death by chocolate
concretes from Curly’s. Yesterday
I went to a play. The way her skin
glowed in the lavender sweatshirt,
the way she people-watched over
my shoulder at lunch. She got a tattoo
of a painting – she got a tattoo with her
new best friend. They match. My cat, his
frail body before death, his fragile
walk, his cancer trapped inside.
Isn’t it ironic, that the oncologist
had a cat with cancer? Isn’t it ironic
his daughter will one day have chemo
dripping into her arm? Until then I will
put on a bra with thanks, like a prayer,
like a ritual I know will end. Wait –
don’t turn the page, don’t click off.
I sat in the stall next to her as she ripped
paper from a clear tube. Today
I saw a horse spook at the ice
crashing off the roof. Today I heated
soup. Today I rubbed medicine
on my jaw. Today I flew home.
Today I read Frank O’Hara. Today
I watched her sort through a bin
of cheap clothes. Today my brother
got the flu. Today I stuck a sticker
on my wall. Get off my chest
immediately, images, you
almost-poems that can’t
seem to leave the nest.