2018 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize Winners: Paula Harris + Clemonce Heard

2018 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize Winners: Paula Harris + Clemonce Heard

by Ruminate Magazine August 03, 2018

Ruminate Magazine is excited to share with you the winners of the 2018 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize. The winning poems were selected by our final judge Ilya Kaminsky who writes, "It was an honor and a pleasure to read these wonderful poems. I feel I have learned something about craft from each piece."

Ilya Kaminsky was generous enough to respond to every poem he read for the competition. Read his comments below and join us in congratulating these fine poets!


FIRST PLACE: “You will dig me from the earth with your bare hands,” Paula Harris 

Paula Harris lives in New Zealand, where she writes poems and sleeps in a lot, because that's what depression makes you do. She won the 2017 Lilian Ida Smith Award and will be a writing resident at Vermont Studio Center in late 2018. Her poetry has been published in various New Zealand and Australian journals, including Poetry NZ Yearbook, Snorkel, takahē, The Spinoff, Landfall and Broadsheet. She is extremely fond of dark chocolate, shoes, and hoarding fabric.




Ilya Kaminsky writes: This poem is a rhapsody that can be humorous and heart-breaking, playful and emotive, intelligent and musical all at the same time. Marvelous. 

SECOND PLACE: "Our Hands Are Bowls of Dust," Clemonce Heard

Clemonce Heard is a New Orleans native, 2018 Tulsa Artist Fellow and recent Oklahoma State University creative writing graduate. His work has appeared in Obsidian Magazine, Naugatuck Review, and Four Way Review among others, and is forthcoming in Saranac Review, Connecticut Review, and Opossum. He worked for over seven years as a line cook and is interested in food apartheid (Karen Washington), specifically in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he resides.  












Ilya Kaminsky writes: Every poem I have read for this competition had something interesting to offer. But this one also offered the fusion of form and content, the way its gorgeous sentences worked to deliver the spell of the narrative, while maintaining the rhythm of the lyric. A wonderful poem. 




Ilya Kaminsky's comments appear in italics below.

Shangyang Fang, "Marsysas Returning" 

Who can stop reading the poem which begins with "last year I planted my severed ear / under the magnolia tree"? But ultimately, it is the poem's attentiveness to detail, to form, to tonal shifts, that won me over. 

Kevin McLellan, “The Art of Fugue: Contrapunctus I” 

Towards the end of this poem the music is really strong: "so instead of saying / that he had nothing to say he said / nothing at all, and we turned into notes." This reminded me of Stevens. Any poet who can remind one of Stevens and survive is a real thing. 

Mark Wagenaar, "It Was While I Was Looking at the Oldest Wooden Wheel Ever Discovered" 

This poem takes us on the adventure of its narrative, but never takes its attentive eye of the musical requirement of a good orchestration. Wonderful work. 

Mark Wagenaar, “Oculi" 

What an intelligent, surprising voice. I loved learning that "Weather's the marginalia of our dislocation," that one can "push the piano / into an empty grain silo." The thinking here is emotional, experimental, as well as intellectual. That is an uncommon, wonderful thing. 

Renia White, “In this Village” 

There are many things to praise here, but I particularly loved this: "the yell is just an announcement in the spirit." A  beautiful lyric poem.


Allison Adair, "Something Like a Prayer" 

This poem reinvents itself as it goes, with beautiful tonal sifts leaving us surprised with each turn. Hallelujah, we hear, and then, "God conceding the first day's always a sack." Very nice work. 

Chaun Ballard, "Rendition" 

Beautiful phrasings here, turning narrative into a song: "a song of the sun/ his permanent silhouette / his glowing"

Geffrey Davis, “Grant us the Ruined Grounds” 

The emotion and music of this poem will stay with me. It is powerful. 

Carly Flynn, "I am River Parish" 

So interesting how the anaphoric repetition in this poem takes the form and makes it into something larger, an incantation, a rhapsody in which the author is asked to "be a mystic / be my own mother." I also marveled at the wonderful echo of Langston Hughes at this piece's end: "and as the river moves must I move"

Benjamin Gucciardi, “Type Two” 

A moving poem, here emotion is also rhythm, is also vivid surprise of image which at times snaps like "a rabbit's spine" 

Benjamin Hertwig, “Syringa Afganizca/Annuntiatio” 

I was very interested in the rhythms of this poem, its line breaks, its orchestration of the page. 

Jessica Hincapie, "Dream Joy" 

I admired the short lines in this poem, how they conveyed the tonal shifts and delivered images, holding "hostage / their light."

Marya Hornbacher, "Jesus Murmurs to His Lover, Half Asleep" 

So many wonderful surprises in this poem, its music, its stanzas and sentences, its tonal discoveries. And, I loved this: "a song precisely the size of God"

Kendra Juskus, "Drawing the Wire Horse" 

The spaces between the lines in the poem mirrored its content beautifully, as did the ending's lyric uplift.

Michele Karas, "Portable Saint Cento" 

I was stunned here by the marriage of poets as different as O'Hara and Emerson, Seuss and Bond. What a wonderful chorus, what verve. 

Lary Kleeman, "In early spring before leaves have taken place" 

I love how this piece navigates the page, how "a house, having refused /the goldfinch, pine siskin & chickadee chorus / stands." 

Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, “Things the River Forgets” 

The way this poem's lines and spaces work on the pages is interesting, memorable. 

Matthew Landrum, "City of Refuge"

I was moved by this poem, its narrative drive, its resolve. 

Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers, "Anticipating the Wreck"

I particularly appreciated the way syntax works in this poem, the way it surprises and shifts to its own melody. 

Jacob Oet, "Diane, Just a little Longer" 

A moving poem in which elegy becomes a force of life, a desire to go on, to stay on. 

Elizabeth Oxley, “Trepanation” 

I was astounded by the start of this poem: "I cannot tell what harm it does, / so slight is the instrument: hand drill." Such phrasing here is memorable. As is this: "skull / punctured with a hole like a wishing well."

Samuel Piccone, "When I say everything in the world can look beautiful" 

I was particularly interested in how the lines & sentences work together in this poem, how its momentum rolls and surprises. 

Emily Ransdell, "After Your Illness I Think of Perseids"

A moving, lyrical poem.

Emily Ransdell, “Husband Bring Me”   

Emotional, well written, tender, playful piece. The way anaphora is sustained throughout is lovely, the way line breaks & sentences work together here is wonderful, too. 

Jen Stewart Fueston, "Trying to Get My Body Back"

A powerful poem that teaches us how we live in our bodies, how our bodies are our tenderness, our terror, our geography. 

Sophia Stid, "Apophatic Ghazal," 

Not an easy form to pull off, and this poet does an excellent job with it, I feel. And then, what is more, the poem exceeds its own formal expectation: "There is the law. And then there is something better."

Seema Yasmin, “The Queen's English” 

A moving, memorable poem. 

Jihyun Yun, "Homonyms" 

A tender, musical poem; a premonition. 


Thank you to all of you who entered the poetry prize!  

Ruminate Magazine hosts an annual contest for short fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and visual art. You can read more about our writing contests and art contest here.

Want to read the winning poems? Subscribe and you'll receive the poetry prize issue this coming winter! 


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