Winners of the 21st Annual Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest

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Winning Writers is pleased to announce the results from its 21st annual Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest, judged by Michal ‘MJ’ Jones with assistance from Briana Grogan and Dare Williams. Kizziah Burton of Houston, Texas won the Tom Howard Prize of $3,000 for a poem in any style or genre, for “Cist.” Mikaela Hagen of Madison, Wisconsin won the Margaret Reid Prize of $3,000 for a poem that rhymes or has a traditional style, for “Sestina for My Daughter.” The winners also each received two-year gift certificates from the contest co-sponsor, Duotrope. 2,509 poets participated from around the world.

“Cist” takes its title from a word that means both coffin and scar. The narrator begins in the middle of an incomprehensible horror—”is that my child/lying in a hollowed tree in the middle of a field”—and stacks possibility upon possibility, one fragmentary image after another, hoping to reframe her loss into being untrue. Final judge MJ Jones said, “When I first encountered ‘Cist’ on a Saturday afternoon, sun glinting into my bedroom, I wept, closed my computer, and recovered for some time, its words still etching lines of grief into me. It was, after one reading, unforgettable. The second time, then the third and fourth, I read it aloud, each time getting it caught in my throat toward the poem’s devastating end. This speaker encapsulates the disbelief, transfiguration, and journey of loss that reaches right to my center: ‘I can’t keep her from falling / so I make my body / her soft landing.’ The poem’s etymology forces me to think about where we end and begin, what we originate from and return to. What an upending, impeccable poem. What a brave offering.”

“Sestina for My Daughter” pivots on the moment when the narrator intuits that her pregnancy is in crisis, the beautiful intimacy of pregnancy and childbirth only making the outcome more agonizing. Jones said, “The counting, the waiting with bated breath, the hope, the fear, the fear of hope, more counting, more hoping—the poem masterfully conveys a tension sensed in the formation of the poem and the life growing inside of the speaker. Its waiting, its vulnerability, its juxtaposition of light and shadow, of infinity and inexistence—this is a writing into the form like I have rarely seen—a haunting but deeply human grief in verse.”

Ten Honorable Mentions of $300 went to F.J. BergmannJa’net DanieloLee DesrosiersMaia ElsnerMary Chi-Whi KimShereen LeanneClif MasonMaya SalamehSpencer Chang, and Darius Simpson. All the winning poems are published online at Winning Writers.

The 2024 contest is open now through October 1, 2024. The two top prizes have been increased to $3,500 each. Michal ‘MJ’ Jones will return as final judge, assisted by Briana Grogan and Dare Williams. See the contest guidelines and enter here.

Founded in 2001, Winning Writers has been named one of the “101 Best Websites for Writers” (Writer’s Digest, 2023). In addition to the Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest, Winning Writers also sponsors the Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest, the North Street Book Prize, and the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest (no fee). All of these contests are recommended by Reedsy.