Philip Metres, this year’s judge, has chosen Velvet Hounds by Aimee Seu of Charlottesville, Virginia as the 2020 Akron Poetry Prize winner. The contest received a total of 643 entries in 2020.
Velvet Hounds is an exploration in all-consuming want. In this linguistically decadent debut, Aimee Seu holds readers captive where danger and beauty collide. Interrogating themes of first love, bulimia nervosa, biracial pansexual embodiment, psychic inheritance, legacy and legend, hopelessness and euphoria, this collection conjures a hallucinogenic vision which emulates the chaotic unravelling of experience itself. In this world, mouths become “bludgeoned fruit,” orgasms are “high-pitched / as neon,” the beloved is encountered “among the tangles of light / at the bottom of the swimming pool,” & heroes carry “a duffle bag and a sawed-off shotgun.” These poems stand before the mirror heartbreak holds to us and what’s reflected back is both demented and exalted, ravaged and blinding.
About the winning manuscript, Metres comments:
Poetic descendant of Sappho, Sexton, and Plath, Aimee Seu grabs the page by its white lapels and doesn’t let go until it’s memorized her, mesmerized by her fiery vulnerability, her bold candor. To read Velvet Hounds is to wriggle oneself through the narrow tunnel not to being John Malkovich, but to being a young woman trying to give birth to herself. Poem by poem, she does. You think it is hell at times, that dark close place, but no, as she writes in “G-Spot,” it’s the “country beyond language, compelled / as the tide, such lunacy / & unbearable gush.” This is the sound of a poet taking ownership of her life, line by line. Gutting and lovely, these poems wrestle with unfaithful unknowable preacher fathers and troubled mothers, wrenching hungry addictions, the anarchy of desire. Velvet Hounds is an earthquake of a book. Bone-rattled by desires, these poems seek love. They seek love, not just the “chandelier / made of frozen rain,” not just inside the “marvelous, decadent palace” of the body—but the sort of love that homes us, page by page, a home that could “outstay us our own bodies.”
Aimee Seu graduated from the University of Virginia’s Creative Writing MFA Program as a Poe/Faulkner Fellow in 2019. She was recipient of the 2019 Academy of American Poets Prize at the University of Virginia, the 2016 Academy of American Poets Prize at Temple University, the Temple University 2016 William Van Wert Award, and the Mills College Undergraduate Poetry Award. Her work was a semifinalist in the 2019 New Guard Vol IX Knightville Poetry Contest judged by Richard Blanco. Her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared or have forthcoming publications in Ninth Letter, Pleiades, BOAAT, Redivider, Raleigh Review, Minnesota Review, Blacklist, Wildness Journal, Harpur Palate, and Runestone Magazine. She is a Philadelphia native.
The judge for the 2021 competition will be Erika Meitner. Meitner is the author of five books of poems, including Ideal Cities (Harper Perennial, 2010)—a 2009 National Poetry Series winner; Copia (BOA Editions, 2014); and Holy Moly Carry Me (BOA Editions, 2018), winner of the 2018 National Jewish Book Award and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry. Her poems have been published in Best American Poetry, The New York Times Magazine, Tin House, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Believer, and elsewhere. Meitner is currently a professor of English at Virginia Tech. Her sixth book, Useful Junk, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2022.
Full Akron Poetry Prize competition guidelines may be found here.
2020 Akron Poetry Prize finalists and semifinalists
Note: Numerous finalist and semifinalist manuscripts were withdrawn during the contest deliberations, and are therefore not listed below. Congratulations to those authors who had collections accepted elsewhere, and much gratitude to all who sent work to this year’s contest.
peep by Danielle Blau
The Enemy of My Enemy is Me by Conor Bracken
Happy Everything by Caitlin Cowan
Double Bind by Caroline Crew
Hymnal/Repair by Meghan Maguire Dahn
Sex Depression Animals by Mag Gabbert
Instructions Between Takeoff and Landing by Charles Jensen
Dual by Matthew Minicucci
Come Clean by Joshua Nguyen
Boats in the Attic by Alison Powell
Lately by Ethel Rackin
bury your horses by Brandon Rushton
The Return from Calvary by Mary Ann Samyn
Intricate Rituals by Jasmine Dreame Wagner
Scully, It’s Me by E. Kristin Anderson
Field Guide to Living with Yourself by Shuang Ang
Rat Year by Stella Corso
Fixed Star by Suzanne Frischkorn
Fireproof by Jeannine Hall Gailey
Near Stranger by Jessica Garratt
Susurrations by Charity Gingerich
Swan Hammer: an Instructor's Guide to Mirrors by Maggie Graber
Rehearsals for Girls by Rochelle Hurt
Every Last Thing by Alyse Knorr
Glossary of Middle Things by Anna Leahy
Our Lady of the Fallow by Megan Neville
Courting Disaster by Carolyn Oliver
Where We Split by Sebastián Hasani Páramo
Pocket Universe by Nancy Reddy
Dear Selection Committee by Melissa Studdard
Dummy Prayer by Gale Marie Thompson
Leftover Hymns by Brandon Thurman
Mercator by Alpay Ulku