2013 Poetry Contest Winners

Speculative poet and fantasy author Jane Yolen selected the winners of this year’s SFPA Poetry Contest. Prizes were offered in three divisions: Long (50+ lines), Short, and Dwarf (≤10 lines).

Contest coordinator Michael A. Burnstein received 41 Dwarf, 98 Short, and 28 Long entries from around the world. Finalists were blindly chosen by preliminary readers Tiel Aisha Ansari, Alicia Cole, Robert E. Stutts, and Amanda Werhane.

Starship Sofa Poetry Planet podcast of 2013 winning poems, read by Diane Severson

Long Form winning poem:

The Girl Who Tipped Through Time …

by Robert Frazier

hailed from pure black-haired Roma gypsies
and from dark skinwalker brujas
also con women and somnambulists
the golden bloodlines for a soothsayer
and for the gift of reading truth

but she found herself living by a dusty road
near the beaches of Madequesham
where clouds hung like weighted curtains
and sunburnt boys rode waxen boards
visiting her with driftglass and driftwood

beached below her cottage
of gray shingles and curtained windows
horse-headed seals gathered at dawn
their soot-black eyes looking expectant
hoping for a glimpse of her face

only she kept to kitchen and hearth
whipping tall bushel baskets
out of stringy weavers of seagrass
and wolf’s-bane threaded with flotsam
trapping the wishes of lost mariners

for she herself was both lost and at sea
having timetipped from another century
stranded in this wasteland of days
trapped with only one hope of escape
that of foreseeing by sea-worn stones

at dusk she stalked the water’s edge
chewed a bit of Salvia divinorum
picked along like a sanderling
where the rounded glacial gravel
lay exposed in thin beds

some evening she must surely find
the right bit the right keystone
with a crack made precisely
on the day and exact moment
of her temporal dislocation

then she will rub her exile out
by rubbing her thumb
along the length of that line
opening an exploitable cosmic fissure
a way to timetip for home

this evening she found a carnelian
oblong and rife with inclusions
upon reading its serial history
her exact dateline was lacking
she pocketed the near-miss and moved on

at midnight she stoked a driftwood fire
against the back bricks of her fireplace
then tossed in the carnelian with others
she had stored in her baskets
cracking them on the red hot coals

in this way she marked memories
for an age as yet unfound

Robert Frazier works as the curator of exhibitions for the Artists Association of Nantucket. His oil paintings and etchings are in galleries in New York State, Cape Cod, and on the island of Nantucket where he lives with his wife Karol Lindquist, a nationally-recognized basketmaker. He attended the Clarion Writers Workshop (1980), as did his daughter, Timalyne (West 1995). Some of his favorite other things: making scrimshaw, sushi, polishing beach stones, small-boat sailing, mah jong, modern Americana music, and weather photography. He is the author of nine books of poetry, and a three-time winner of the Rhysling Award, as well as an Asimov’s Reader Award for poetry (collaborating with James Patrick Kelly) and has been on the final ballot for a Nebula Award for fiction (collaborating with Lucius Shepard). Stories have appeared in Omni, Twilight Zone Magazine, F&SF, and other markets. Books include Perception Barriers, The Daily Chernobyl, Chronicles of the Mutant Rain Forest (with Bruce Boston), and Phantom Navigation (2012). His collaborative poem with Bruce, “Return to the Mutant Rain Forest,” received first place in the Locus Magazine Poetry Poll for 'Best All-time Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror Poem." Recent works are upcoming in Asimov’s SF, F&SF, Star*Line, and Dreams & Nightmares.

Long Form Second Place:

Hungry as Living Sorrow

by Jenny Blackford

He left town one night, without even a text message.
Her parents did their best: “These things happen.
He was your first. You’ll find another boy, a better one.”
She didn’t want a better one. She wanted him—
but he’d disappeared into an internet black hole, untrackable.

“Don’t ask about my past,” he’d always said. “Trust me.
You don’t want to know.” His phone just rang and rang.
Every day without a message brought
another bruise to her battered heart until,
squishy as a peach fit only for the compost bin,
it plopped from its unsafe cage within her ribs,
down into the fetid tangle of her guts.
Soon the flesh fell off the seed inside the rotted fruit.

She could feel the heart-seed pulsing,
nestled amongst her pale intestines,
hungry as living sorrow.
She knew it couldn’t be a thing truly alive, a child—
they’d never—not that she hadn’t wanted to,
but he’d always said, “We don’t need that.
Trust me. You don’t want to go there.”
And he would kiss her again, his long tongue
uncoiling tenderly into her mouth,
and she would melt softly into him.

Nothing was enough to fill the gap
he’d gouged inside her when he left.
The seed deep in her guts was full of emptiness.
She fed it bleakly, and it grew,
squishy and sorrowful, out from its hard centre.
She knew her mother knew about
her midnight chocolate raids—milk and dark,
cake and mousse, bar and slab.
Endless chocolate. Chocolate was good.
It was all she could remember ever seeing him eat.

The thing that once had been her heart
thrived on its bittersweet diet. Night by night
it grew and divided, grew and divided, filling her belly
with firm frogspawn bubbles.
The whisperings of her myriad tadpole children
disturbed her sweaty dreams: “Father!
We’re ripening fast. When will we meet you? Where?”

She felt, rather than heard, his answer.
“Wait till your wings form. When you are fully ripe,
the husk will spring open, and you will fly free.
Our ship is hidden in plain sight, high in the blue.
Meet me above the clouds, and I will guide you through the hatch.”

Up in their room, her deluded parents plotted
drugs, psychiatrists. She couldn’t blame them.
They meant well, in their way. They'd never understood.
She stroked her squirming abdomen with tender hands,
dying to see her lovely babies, their tails lashing
in the sky, their new wings drying in the sun.

Jenny Blackford is an Australian writer and poet whose work has appeared in places as diverse as Westerly, Cosmos magazine and Random House’s 30 Australian Ghost Stories for Children. Pamela Sargent described her subversively feminist historical novella set in classical Athens and Delphi, The Priestess and the Slave, as “elegant.” Later this year Pitt Street Poetry will publish an illustrated chapbook of her cat poems, to be titled The Duties of a Cat.

Long Form Third Place:

The Dyson Tree’s Promise

by Bryant O’Hara

In the melancholy gravity
of a scorched gas giant,
doing a cold, tight tango
’round a burned-out star,
a tree
rooted in an icy moon,
bred for hard vacuum,
basking in gamma rays,
sings a long ditty
to itself
as it dances,
as it dreams …

An automated search heard its whistling,
redundant and dense,
full of melody and data.

Our poet,
a Cloud-dwelling number-cruncher,
took a decade to decode it,
understand it,
then feel it,
be at peace with it,
and express it.

is the header
from the mecha-poet:


[ I have never put my hope in any other … any other … ]

I’m not tired, though I should be.
My arms don’t fold the way they used to.
My hands have become filaments
to catch lightning from a gas giant,
and I am an artery,
a tree,

I have never put my hope in any other …
any other but my mother star …

I stand … though as a polyp
filled with conscious sand …
Eyes straight … on stalks
to catch a wider spectrographic band …
Arms raised … in three hundred sixty directions,
three dolorous dimensions …
Feet knotted into a history of a condensed, dead race
into the intimate,
the intricate,
the life and the death and the breath and

I have never put my hope in any other …
any other but my mother star …

and yet I hold out my arms.
I hold out hope:
five trillion souls—
a grove
for a planet made
of ghosts.

I hold out our hope …
I hold out my hope …

[ I want to sleep, ]

#% but I am always on. %#

[ I want to close my eyes, ]

but I am awake and
I can never blink again.

I want to blow out the fire
tickling my fingers,

but five trillion voices
are laughing too loud.

[ I want to breathe, ]

but I am a closed system
falling around a gas giant
falling around a white dwarf.

[ I want to run, ]

but my roots run too deep
inside an underground ocean
of a modest-sized moon.

[ I want to walk away, ]

but trees in space don’t walk.

So I hold out my hope,
and whistling
and wailing:

#% [ COME! ] %#

Use me for firewood!
See, and be warm.
Find me and warm me!

[ SPEAK! ]

#% Dance, %#

[ DRUM … ]

#% Play, %#

[ Stay … ]

Fly away,
and then be still.

[ … and then be still. ]

#% [
I hold out hope,
howling into the void
so no soul will lose their way
because I did not hold out my burning hands
in this night.

In the wasteland, where one tree stands,
there is always—always—
the dream (at least the dream)
of a forest.
] %#

I have never put my hope in any other …
any other but my mother star ….
I hold out trillions of hopes,
pass them on,
and scatter them.

[ In the name, ]

#% In the spirit, %#

#% [
In the terra firma
of those dreams

I hold out my hope …
] %#

I hold out my thousand-eighty hands for all to see.
I hold my arms,
and I hold out.
I hold.

#% [
I have never put my hope in any other …
and I hold out hope …
I hold out hope …
I hold …
I hold …
I hold …
] %#


In the bright, groovy gravity
of a ringed gas giant,
doing a long, exact slingshot
’round a bright yellow star,
a tree
rooted in an icy moon,
bred for hard vacuum,
basking in gamma rays,
sings a loving ditty
to a lonely little forest
as it dances,
as it dreams.…

Bryant O'Hara is a programmer, poet, occasional musician, and budding maker - not always in that order, sometimes all at once. He has worked as an industrial engineer and technical writer, and is currently a software developer. He started writing poetry in earnest during the mid-1990s, performing as part of the Klub Kuumba poetry collective in Atlanta, GA. After a long hiatus, he revisited many of those poems and began creating new ones. He lives in Stone Mountain, GA, with his wife Alice and two of his seven children.

Long Form Honorable Mention

The House and the Galaxy by Rita Steckler

Short Form Winner:

We Pay Our Fare in Apples Here

by Megan Arkenberg

Everything in this station has a story, he said.
The walls are curved in such a way that the echo
of a penny dropped in the exact center of the tunnel
sounds like an apology from your late father.
If you crawl beneath the turnstiles in the wrong direction
the next train you board will take you
to every place you’ve ever forgotten,
and the ride will last for seven years.
One time, a woman fell off this platform
and touched the edge of a rail.
She turned into a swan.
Commuters find feathers in their briefcases,
sometimes. They always smell like summer.

Megan Arkenberg lives and writes in California. Her work has recently appeared in Asimov's, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 5, and has tried for best short story of 2012 in the Asimov's Readers' Award. Her poem "The Curator Speaks in the Department of Dead Languages" won the Rhysling Award for best long poem of 2012. Megan procrastinates by editing the fantasy e-zine Mirror Dance.

Short Form Second Place:

The Martian’s Wife

by Helen Patrice

after reading H.G. Wells

I loved him most
when he climbed down
from the tripod machine,
his skin glistening like wet leather,
smelling of human blood.
I’d go to where he squatted
in the corner, his eyes lidless and staring,
his body heaving in gravity,
and touch the writhing skin of his back
as he trembled in the air
that ate at him.
He tasted of red weed, and old sand.
I’d ease him back to the floor,
but he could not mate me.
He’d seen too much,
of war,
of my weakened world.
Even as he suckled at my wrist,
he died,
and I lived to take into myself
all the microbes of his desolate home.

Helen Patrice is.

Short Form Third Place:

Wolf’s Four Questions

by Megan Arkenberg

Perhaps he wasn’t even chasing you.
Perhaps he caught your scent in the moldering leaves
and the stink of soap, of lilac and clean wool
turned his stomach.
What then?

Afterward, you wrap yourself in blankets
or bath towels, and your hair on your shoulders
is damp and cold and heavy as something dead.
Every light in the house burns. The television
sighs and whispers from the kitchen, and every shadow
is something fluid and unfamiliar.
Afterward, you wait.
Why do you listen so intently for the catch
on a lock that isn’t there?

The running is the best part. Everyone agrees—
the running is magical. Branches snap
and scrape, break and draw blood.
Your feet slide, you catch your weight
on raw palms and fingernails caked with dirt.
Air burns your mouth, your vision dances
black. And still you are running.
How did you get so far without once
looking over your shoulder?

It was never just a walk in the woods.
You were searching for something, looking
for beauty sharp enough to pierce
your loneliness like moonlight
falling through branches.
What was it you expected to

Short Form Honorable Mention:

Longing for Death at Christmas by Helen Patrice

Due to an error, the original Dwarf Form winner has been found ineligible, and these awards have been redistributed accordingly.

Dwarf Form Winner:

The Spell No One Said at Her Birth

by Jennifer Schomburg Kanke

May that baby have steel in her veins
so she can walk by any X in the sand
knowing the bomb that’s ticking
ain’t going to get her. Whatever shrapnel
may come in the night, all her lights are off
and her blinds are down. Just keep from her ears
the insistent daily drippings of rain and leaky faucets,
may they never find her cracks, may she never discover rust.

Jennifer Schomburg Kanke is a fourth-year doctoral candidate at Florida State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, Court Green, The Tampa Review, and The Laurel Review. She currently serves as the Poetry Editor for The Southeast Review.

Dwarf Form Second Place:

A Butterfly in Costa Rica

by Mary C. Rowin

He is reading Wing Systems Theory
when a fly lands on the page.
Paper turns to liquid,
flows over his palms
and evaporates
in the space above his knees.

Mary C. Rowin’s poems have been published in Verse Wisconsin, Stoneboat, Solitary Plover, the Wisconsin Poet’s Calendar, and the Museletter. Her work appears in Echolocations: Poets Map Madison (Cowfeather Press, 2013).

Dwarf Form Third Place:

Dung Beetle

by John C. Mannone

You put on your polarizers
for that bright starlight
swath of Milky Way
because you need to see
the right sort of glare
the wet stare of stars
as you roll your dungball
in a straight line
with unerring telemetry.

John C. Mannone has work in Tupelo Press, Poetica Magazine, Agave, Tricksters Journal, Raven Chronicles, Mobius, The Baltimore Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, Rose Red Review, Star*Line and others. He’s the poetry editor for Silver Blade and Abyss & Apex, and an adjunct professor of physics in east TN. His work has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. Visit The Art of Poetry.

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