2023 Akron Poetry Prize Winner


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Sandra Beasley, this year’s judge, has chosen Lady Smith by Jess Smith of Lubbock, TX as the 2023 Akron Poetry Prize winner. The contest received a total of 612 entries in 2023.  

Regarding the winning manuscript, Beasley states:

Lady Smith crackles and reckons, urgent in syntax and imagery, as it unpacks a series of troubled relationships not just with others but with body and self. Let us be clear that the systems designed to regulate and manage violence commit, in themselves, a kind of violence, as when an academic bureaucrat asks, “Did you wear bare legs in some / goosebumped hope for this exact preamble?” Or, in lines from nimbly titled, darkly funny “DARVO”: “Sounds like dashcam, like // doorway, like bard, like darnedest, / like the flabbiest acronym, though / it was intended to tighten // the duration of comprehension.” The poet’s title evokes a particular model of gun, but the collection ultimately invokes something more powerful—survival instinct, a desire to devour and thrive, a dare to pleasure and be pleasured, to “pink and thick and glisten”—and the strange, unapologetic intimacies that can save someone’s life once shared. Maybe yours.

Jess Smith is currently an Assistant Professor of Practice at Texas Tech University. Her work can be found in Prairie Schooner, The Cincinnati Review, 32 Poems, The Rumpus, and other journals. She received her MFA from The New School and is the recipient of support from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Vermont Studio Center.

The judge for the 2024 Akron Poetry Prize competition will be Matthew Olzmann. Olzmann is the author of Constellation Route as well as two previous collections of poetry: Mezzanines and Contradictions in the Design. A recipient of fellowships from Kundiman, MacDowell, and the National Endowment for the Arts, Olzmann’s poems have appeared in the New York Times, Best American Poetry, The Pushcart Prizes, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. He is an assistant professor at Dartmouth College and also teaches in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

The guidelines for the annual Akron Poetry Prize competition may be found here.

2023 Akron Poetry Prize Finalists

“When the Fever Left My Hands” A Historical Reimagining of Typhoid Mary’s Quarantine on North Brother Island, Lauren Berry

Hungry Ghost/아귀, Joan Kwon Glass 

The Deletions, Sarah Green 

Museumish Love, Michael Homolka

Mouth, Amorak Huey

Don’t Let it Kill You, Theo LeGro

The Sea Hands Over its Ropes, Lauren Mallett   

Vernacular Geography, Mary Rose Manspeaker

Warble, Alicia Rebecca Myers

The Wonder Girls, Candice Reffe

Post/Conditional, Purvi Shah

Unrivered, Donna Vorreyer

Meuse is So Close to Muse, Elinor Ann Walker 

Unconditional Endorsement Of The Future (Forty-Nine Stories), Jeff Whitney

Tori Amos Nursing the Pig, Maya Jewell Zeller