banner USF College of Arts & Sciences A-Z Index CAS USF Search OASIS myUSF

USF Home > College of Arts and Sciences > Humanities Institute - Poetry Month

2015 Poetry Contest Winners

The Humanities Institute is pleased to showcase the winners of the 2015 poetry contest. This year’s theme was “Everyday Life” and was divided into two categories: High School Poets and USF Poets. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd place poems as well as all the Honorable Mentions will be featured on the NPM@USF Website throughout the month of April, 2014. A new poem will be posted each day, Mon. - Fri. so be sure to check in regularly. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners in each category received their awards at a special event featuring distinguished poet Naomi Shihab Nye, who was in residence at USF the first week of April.

April 30
Robert Annis: Honorable Mention – 1st Place

Graduate Student, University of South Florida

”On Cessation”

A crow clinging to a reed stabs
a little fish. The lake holds
its setting sun a moment longer
than the horizon. Mosquitoes prick
what bleeds. A timed fountain
ceases plashing and violet evening descends.
This moment of fading day,
after all the returning cars stop ticking,
waits, suspended. The turn of a breath, from inhale
to exhale, a moment of stillness before the blow.
No sutra, surah, or psalm. No meditation. No prayer.

April 29
Jerico Lenk: Honorable Mention – 2nd Place

Undergraduate Student, University of South Florida


his hazel eyes spark
like embers from the cherry
of his cigarette.

he stops, bone weary,
settles on my shoulder like
the devil he is.

the truth is, when we
die worms will tuck their babies
to bed in our skin;

our bruises won’t be
blue in the black. and he knows
i can’t sleep alone.

he whispers to me
in the slants of moonlight that
paint him brittle blue.

he gets mad my hair
tickles his face when I roll
on top. i love it.




April 28
Rebecca Sternlicht: Honorable Mention – 3rd Place

Undergraduate Student, University of South Florida

”sea legs”

step one and hollow bird bones take flight, breath stoppering on the hook of my ribs, sole catching or is it soul?

step seven hundred seven and blood sluices like water behind my eyes, so slice the veil and I sprint straight through the red sea, feet shimmering, slipping, sliding like silver minnows, sleek and small, swimming too swiftly to stay still.

step three thousand forty nine and hips pitch forward; bucking, stuttering, stoking my body into the rhythm it seeks -
a cradle endlessly rocking (one mile)
a cradle endlessly rocking (three miles)
a cradle endlessly rocking (five miles)
my bones like hard white salt licks and blood a warm playful tongue lapnipsoothing until I am inside clean and hot all over, limbs honey smooth and pliant like sunsoaked wood.

step four thousand seven hundred fifty two and air is saltwater taffy in my lungs. breath guttered, sputtering. calves squeezing like wrung-out washcloths. sweat splattered on the track below me.

step nine thousand three hundred ninety one and my body is wrenching open at the seams, water cleaving down the silken folds of my breastbone where my clusterfucked heart coiled tight like a whirlpool is cresting, breaking beating against too-thin skin that is pulled taut from the effort of straining, restraining.

step one. o captain, my captain! I am the wide open mouth of the sea and yet the swift-flying bird skimming the waves and still the leaping silver minnow punctured by sharp talons and again the sunlight glinting off the wet slick blood that drips back into the laughing mouth of the sea.




April 27
David Straske: Honorable Mention – 1st Place

12th Grade, Berkeley Preparatory School

”A slow and silent good morning”

Sometimes I wake with a pound
Not a rap on the door, or even a ring of the alarm
I hear it in my ears – it bounces on my wrist – it pings on my neck

But, a heartbeat – a pulse, a constant reminder
resonates throughout me

My chest dancing along, rising higher and falling lower,
the in and out matching that same thump thump

The clear films come
In and out
of my flickering
my eyes shift, itch, and then settle into place

The toes point and flex, bones popping and cracking
The head shifts from side to side, neck stiff yet still flat and supported by the fluffed pillow I grip with my
The hair rustles by the edges of ears, burshing like a broom over my eardrums

All because of a knock
A constant, up and down, double tap, loud and silent
Beat beat

Good morning, you are
It seems to scream




April 24
Monika Fernandez: Honorable Mention – 2nd Place

Howard W. Blake High School

”He Never Planned to Take Astronomy”

Today he’s in love with the girl
whose eyes shine brighter than any star,
and he’ll spend all his days dreaming of her.
Tomorrow it’ll be the same
but just like the stars in the sky
she’s too far away for him to reach.
Someone once told me
long distance relationships are hard
and I guess that’s why God stays so far away.
He stays up way too late speaking to her
and when he wakes up far too early
the first thing he does is close his eyes again,
only to imagine what it would feel like
to run his fingers along her soft skin.
Every night,
he looks at how the stars are twinkling
and he’s reminded of her.
He wishes he could her
but even if he was able to reach her,
everyone knows that the stars burn your fingertips.




April 23
Rebecca Jefferson: Honorable Mention – 3rd Place

10th Grade, Howard W. Blake High School

”She Reads Like a Symphony”

I held the last piece of Oreo between two fingers
A tiny piece
A crumb, really
Broken off of a cookie
Meant to be encompassed whole
By my waiting mouth
I looked at it with disdain
Such a small part of something
Would only make me crave something bigger
“No, no, no!”
You said, this right here,
And I looked at you like you were crazy
And you ate it, the last piece
Of my Oreo
Just a small crumb
Meant to give me a
Craving of something bigger
Something better
Something brighter
Something waiting
Something greater
This, you said, is a story




April 22
Laura Estes-Swilley: Honorable Mention

Graduate Student, University of South Florida

”A delicate loss”

…and she positions herself purposefully
to look up at him who-
shaking his head pretending
he can’t believe she is real –
asks in a voice thick with
“do you have any idea how beautiful you are?”

She doesn’t tell him that she knows
she is the Mona Lisa.
Instead, she folds herself into
his palm




April 21
Elan Justice Pavlinich: Honorable Mention

Graduate Student, University of South Florida

”What Ever Happened to Patient Griselda?”

8 a.m.: she wakes and goes to the water closet in a tattered terrycloth robe
the same color as the stale-cigarette scent that clings to the surfaces of spaces
presenting themselves as home.

She sets herself: forcing brittle hair to bend around curlers and bake,
while pasting dentures into her mouth to keep lips from collapsing
into the chronic frown that threatens to invert its host.
She tightens translucent skin over the surfacing skull,
concealing corrugated complexion with its own elasticity.

Chores: from the window she checks on the garden,
monitoring spindles of trees adorned by bright ribbons,
with branches that bear pie pans that bang in the breeze;
the festive litter outnumbers the leaves,
in hopes that this crucified arboretum
will deter the birds from domesticity.

Umpteen hours of watching:
murder-mystery marathons, and then
she replaces coffee with white wine
and in the din she remembers
grown-up grandchildren, too young to recall
the man whom they call “Grandpa,”
who she avoided in this hovel,
‘cause he inhabited her head.

Early to bed, numb enough to rise:
Now that he is dead she is alive
and tomorrow starts at 8.




April 20
Edith M Freeman: Honorable Mention

Graduate Student, University of South Florida

”The Days After”

light flickered through the kitchen
window blind, the room usually
a family meeting place
was now strangely silent
and devoid of the joy and life
that would be there.

outside in a nearby church yard
a popular song filled the air
piped through a modern sound system.
the music competed
with the high-pitched squeals
and unhibited joy of children
who loved the carnival’s spine-tingling rides
and over-stuffed prizes tossed carelessly
in a row of tiny booths.

inside the carnival sounds hovered
over the silence and sadness
that had settled there.
the music died for a while
and the soft evening sunlight
stole its way with ease
through a west window in the quiet room.
and then you touched my hand-
reminding me that tomorrow will come
and you will be here with me.




April 17
Sarah Robinson: Honorable Mention

Alumni, University of South Florida

”On your Birthday”

On your 62nd birthday
Kailey listens to Disney songs
baking your birthday sweets.

So joyously she sings along
So content
So complete.

Spatula in hand
Apron around her waist
Black bow in her
Ponytailed hair
She hums and whirls
around the place.
The place that she has always known,
And only known, as home,
this central kitchen space
where life’s flavors blend.

No matter how sour our sweet hath become
Today, she is as sweet as life gets.




April 16
Joseph SanFilippo: Honorable Mention

Undergraduate Student, University of South Florida

”To the Bowels, Royale”

So frail but so dark was the one that dropped
Apollo moons like pieces of cracked gravity
just below those drunken leaves that mocked
my sorry ass to sleep on that ridged balcony.

And what was I to do? Sit back and wait
while the Pearly Gates pops kernels around
the fireplace? Their echoes space so second-rate
to the sounds; comes a movie bowel showdown.

I woke open every last green pale down the line
lifting lids before Armageddon tick tocks
the sun-rise dead-alive, crafting the occult swine
and dry, lone whispers cries and underbelly boondocks’
Socratic song: Who be so frail and dark
to have tainted used trash their final mark?




April 15
Cath Mason: Honorable Mention

Staff, University of South Florida

“Dent in the Day”

Each day a dress rehearsal, life scripted by infinite lists:
mail Michael’s birthday card, sort soccer medals,
sign field trip form, pull together poetry presentation
for Monday, bake chocolate dessert, buy ninety cent stamps,
don’t forget Aleve and melons at Publix. Trish in
hospital tomorrow, call. Look up Henrietta Levitt scientist,
online. Contact handyman, check no rain in crawl space.
Add lacerate, trample, curdle, smudge to word list. Email Vicky,
plan to visit paint store Find Wordsworth poem. Renew
Thyroid prescription and AAA membership, clear clutter
start to-do list oh and remember Patrick’s password is pottle
and weak writers rely on language that shouts and pounds.

Take a moment. Touch an alternate universe, Patrick with play-doh
I’m making clouds for you, Patrick in the pool I’m covered in wet,
Patrick in my lap to read. Hold on to the snuggle-heap of him,
tomorrow he will be fifteen, untouchable. For now clasp the crag
with Tennyson’s eagle, crawl with his wrinkled sea and live this day.


Author Bio: Cath Mason was a lawyer in England before moving to the U.S. twenty years ago. She works at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI-USF) where, in June, she will facilitate a course on modern British poetry. Twice a month, she hosts a poetry discussion group at the Jimmie B. Keel library. She loves the way spoken poetry feels intimate because it is carried by the breath and breath is the bridge connecting the speaker/reader of poetry (sometimes across centuries) to its writer.




April 13
Sammy Blazejack: Honorable Mention

12th Grade, Howard W. Blake High School

”Fathers Don’t Grown On Trees”

One day when I was younger I broke a beer bottle over a tree
To see where the pieces landed
Of course, when my mother asked in angry endearment why, I simply
Answered, that I wanted to see if the pieces
Buried deep into the bed of the earth would do something magical
I wanted to see if my father would grow like a tree
And greet me tenderly under the shade of his hushed leaves
I wanted him to carry me in his branches, as if I were an infant again
Maybe then he would have a chance to see what he had missed
I stood there for a while, waiting, waiting for the magic to happen
But the only magic I saw was the doctor with his stitches, closing
The gash I had made into my palm
I wonder, if he had grown from the soil would he have the same scar too
Although, I find my palm stinging with reminiscence, and yearning every time I pass by the tree
If I look hard enough, I can make out a face in the bark amongst the many,
And I wonder, if I carve the wood into a mask, would the face be yours
Could I have painted it to be the father I was searching for
That lonesome summer day
Crafty as I may be I cannot think of the shape or form
In which my father would have grown
So the mask I would have held in my scarred palm
Would be a shadow of a forgotten memory
Lost in an abundance of leaves




April 10
Anne W. Anderson: Honorable Mention

Graduate Student, University of South Florida

”Gentle Remonstrance”

Mosquito, dainty vampire, sip no wine
From me and leave no poison in its place;
Go bother someone else with your shrill whine.
Insert your needle-mouth in other’s face;
Or probe another’s neck or leg or arm
In search of crimson nectar-honeyed mead
To insect palate. Leave and do no harm-
Beware your fate, protect your future seed.
Or stay a while and put your life at risk-
It’s your choice, not mine; I already know
My plan should you delay forsaking bisque
Du jour of me.
Just take my word and go;
Forgo unwise desire to hover still
Lest sorrow at parting try my goodwill.




April 9
Rachel Ballard: Honorable Mention

12th Grade, Howard W. Blake High School

”Shaking: A Tribute to the Survivor of Madness”

Her bony hands are shaking
As she loads her
Bread, butter,
Eggs, cereal,
Milk, water,
Rice and two cans of tuna
With chicken flavoring
And instant coffee.
Her veins seem like strips of wire,
Eyes with busted vessels, a cloudy
Red haze with the piercing grey
And her dull eyebrows rise
When the cashier asks
“Would you like to buy a bag?”
To which her natural reaction
Happens to be exasperation
A reluctant pain of habit.
Little things are the hardest hitters
So I, speechless and fond ease
Hand two nickels and a penny
To the cashier.




April 8
Madison Sasser: Honorable Mention

10th Grade, Durant High School


He takes my hand and pulls me through the water.
Following him I realize I’m capable of more than I thought possible.
We’re doing yard work around the church and he takes the bag of soil from my hands.
He notices my runny nose, goes to the car and hand me a warm McDonald’s orange juice.
The Sunday morning after homecoming I come in beaming.
His jaw clenches at the thought of me with another guy.
I ask him if I can teach him a dance and he spins me around in the middle of Panera.
Sitting next to him at the moveis we share out poetry no other eyes have seen.
He holds me close to him and as his body starts to relax, he twitches.
Which he tries to hide with a shy smile.
The same one he shines when he throws paper balls at me from behind the table,
Or hides my Christmas present in his bible. I had been staring at it for weeks.
We can debate politics for hours. He enjoys being wrong even though he would never admit it.
New Years Eve our fingers tanlfe together under the table.
We lay hands on each other and pray for a better year.
When it’s just us he takes my hand and says, “I’m looking forward to our future together.”
He looks me in the eyes and all the air leaves the room. I swear he’s going to kiss me.
“One! Two! Three! Four! I declare a thumb war!” I scream not sure how to deal with the tension.
Loving him is a choice I make; day by day. In a million little ways.




April 7
Micheila Madera: Honorable Mention

9th Grade, Clearwater High School


I daydream of beauty

Of starlights and novas

I fantasize of synesthesia

Of breathing music and dancing colors

I dream of polychromatic skies and far-off lands

Of blistering snow and sun-kissed sands

To hold liquid lightning in my hand.

I've known a realm of shades and colors unnamed

I've seen and imagined Eternity's shame

I've longed to venture lands near and distant and close and far-

My reverie is to scatter the stars.




April 6
Katherine Stairs: Honorable Mention

10th Grade, Howard W. Blake High School

”Sketched Love”

Sketched Love
With the stroke of a pencil,
Something new takes life,
It breathes in grey lines that fill its form,
Cries when its given eyes,
Curses when its given scars,
She smiles when given a story,
And clings to my finger as I lift my hand,
As she cries out “Mother please continue.”
“I’m not finished yet.”




April 3
Christian Corcoran: Honorable Mention

12th Grade, Howard W. Blake High School


The light of heaven came from the flick of a switch after sundown
and showed me that truth lives in a garden after a rainstorm

and that it is as purple as the raindrop, that sits on purple petals…

it is a giant ant under the lens of your child’s magnifying glass,
and is as sure as the shadow you cast when walking through the garden at night

When we turn on the porch light, these shadows do not know the differece
between natural light and artificial illumination,
but nonetheless will stretch from our feet,

just as we the moths will fly towards the light,
thinking that it is the moon,
or the sun
or a star…

it doesn’t matter
we don’t know the difference.

Truth lives as the clear raindrop
that drips from purple petals,

but dies when you proclaim that the raindrop is purple by nature,
when you call the ant a giant,
and when you beat your wings amongst porch lights.

Do not fight for truth,
Instead, fight for the little, clear body of the raindrop
that falls off deep purple petals, and slides down light green stems,
and sinks into dark brown soil…

where it will nourish the colors of the world.




April 2
Daniela Silva: Honorable Mention

12th Grade, Berkeley Preparatory School

”The Routine of La Lancha’s Passengers”

It floats on an emerald pocket, on water, rocking gently,
Awaiting its passengers
Adorned by bruise-colored barnacles, which reopen wounds and wear the paint’s
Prominent layers
Like a manila folder, a comfortable dictator
Inviting, liberating: Gradient: think matte
Above it the muted mouth,
Of a maroon sky devouring the remaining orange
Think street lamps on a highway,
The stars seeking our eyes, ---Seeking Seeping through the cavities of a clouded tooth
It slices below unaware of time or sorrow        ----a vacuum of humanity
Denying delusion. It breathes a narcotic in the form of thing air
Which gooses the flesh. Each passenger a unique stranger
On a relentless pursuit, a modern Exodus.
As if, sitting on the bow
For hours, the diligent student’s scattered assignments, finally coherent and
Uniformly trashed in a manila folder. -Again
Suppose la Lancha was our constant truth,
A chronic equilibrium, infinite dawn crowning an ambitiously impatient prince
What would become of us? Us---- Lobsters in a simmering pot.
The soft, hollow bed—We ride from shore to shore
Its metal rods we cling to as it grazes the sand bar, we brace ourselves for collision.
On this buoyant embracer, we place our toes on the forgiving earth and
Bid farewell to the fading moon.




April 1
Michael Ian Baillie: Honorable Mention

12th Grade, Admiral Farragut Academy

”This Ashen Night”

The ash thick in the air
Tears still drying on my face
Still bent over in agony
Then shoved aside like rancid meat
(pause) My brother was murdered
Shot in the head while talking
I saw the gun come out
Heard the click of the hammer
Saw the chamber light up
The shocked blank stare of my brother
His right eye disappearing in a bloody mess
Some matter entered my gaping mouth
The bile rose ever higher
My brother crumpled at an odd angle
The German man smirking in my face
A whip brings me back to reality
My brother’s remains floating
I must live for him, for me
Trudging through the snow
Snow both white and grey
To the dilapidated wood shack
The shack that’s my home