Columbia Granger's World of Poetry

2017 Student Poetry Contest Winners

Columbia University Press is pleased to announce the three winners of the first-ever Columbia Granger's World of Poetry Student Poetry Contest.

The contest had a great response with over 80 entries from across the US and as far away as Turkey, with very high-quality submissions.

Below are the three winning poems followed by the three honorable mention poems from the contest.

Winning Poems

My poem was inspired by Strange Fruit by Lewis Allan

by Max Johns
Woodberry Forest School, Virginia

we watched our own inglorious death
over and over again.
there was an air of irreverence
when we died,
perhaps that’s how it should be
for the death of nobody.
we lay there for hours
with our blood hardening against the pavement;
belonging to no one.
everything was done to make an example of us,
so that it wouldn’t happen again.
we asked when we would stop dying this way;
nobody gave an answer.
we went to bury ourselves
while nobody wept.
we remember how familiar it felt,
to lie there like strange fruit
and fester in the sun.


My poem was inspired The Marsh by W.D. Snodgrass

Small Days

by Ryan Kauffman

Woodberry Forest School, Virginia



Dewslip and stone forts;

the yellow lawn overgrown.

Yo-yos and marbles are found again

by bodies in flannels and jean shorts.

Chalk drawings on the sidewalk unknown;

Here, there is no when.

The cracked pavement, burnt yellow,

runs narrowly alongside the road.

Charcoal tire skids turn the yellow to fire;

yard-sale bikes set the sidewalk aglow.

While the walkway begins to erode,

the bikes are racing ahead, finding new thrills to fill their desire.

Back behind the bike trails lay a forest;

a rivulet of opaque verdant water, sunken into a ditch,

trickles quietly into a pool shaded by catalpa trees.

There, bunkers and crow’s nests are built and blessed;

a thousand hiders to be found in a secret niche;

bases to control and guard traitors and escapees.

Lives lived in the sidewalks and the alleys;

without instructions or warnings,

no matter if you are cruel or rough.

Anyone free to ignore, to pretend,

that they don’t hear the question burning:

Am I fast enough?


My poem was Inspired by America by Allen Ginsberg


by Mehmet Tufek
Robert College of Istanbul

Mr. Ginsberg, is Florida the penis of America?
Directed to Cuba, directed to Middle East,
Mr. Ginsberg, why must penis be a metaphor of offense?
Directed to you Mr. Ginsberg and me and our unaccompanied restless minds
and all those who are in need of democracy and all those
starving hysterical naked for freedom served in plastic cups
and aluminium computers - aluminium phones - 3 chord songs - and desultory tombs,

America you are more than a fat aggressive delicious hamburger!
America this is a well-thought metaphoric statement!
You have more layers than bread, lettuce and meat the upper class,
And you have more promises than mass produced paid pleasure,
America I loved the way I heard the grace of wrath crying through your sax,
America it was also my rage, love and fears screaming through your guitars,
America I perceived Kerouac pounding beats through your roads compellingly vibrant -
with the wild imprudent wonder - from burden of the centuries old fear,

America I’ve been in your borders for the first time 22 days ago,
But America it wasn’t the first time you’ve been in my borders,
America be honest with me: Were your intentions as friendly as mine?
America why were you in my confused land 50 years before I was born?
When the young students with red flags shouted at you “Go home” in ‘68,
You must have gotten very angry America, very angry,
Because you didn’t go home
And those students couldn’t go back home again,
And when I was born America you were in my television,
You were my television, my screens, my food, my books and my school,
America you were louder than me and them and those.

America are you angry at me because of this poem?
America do I need to be afraid?
America I love hamburgers.

Honorable Mention

My poem was inspired by Rage by Mary Oliver

by Cordelia Hogan
Woodberry Forest School, Virginia

You are the white light
that pierces me. 
Without warning you appear
disruptive and definite.
You devour all my other emotions
so deep into yourself
that nothing else can escape.
But you are also the darkness
bubbling within.
You mull over inside me for months,
never surfacing. 
Like a wild tiger held in a cage
if your true colors were released,

it wouldn’t end well for me. 


My poem was inspired by An Anniversary by Mary E. Coleridge

Old couple
by Sean Hong
Northern Valley Regional High School, New Jersey

It has been a decade.
Even the rivers and mountains change.
She was the beauty queen in my class.
She is now an old lady.
It has been a decade.
Nothing changed.
She was the most caring person.
And she is still with me.


My poem was inspired by Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant

The Path of the Universe
by Clay Tydings

Woodberry Forest School, Virginia


To the child of black emptiness

particles and diverse planets,

you were born of Earth,

the cool rivers and nourishing plants.

In the beginning of time,

our universe was undefined.

Planets and stars then started to form,

distorting Einstein’s space-time.

Here on earth, we sit, stargazing

at the endless Hydrogen reactions

which we see as balls of fire

spitting light rays throughout space,

never ceasing to awe the human eye.

Then there is life, a miracle.

The plants blow a breath of air into us

and we exhale carbon entering

through their bright green leaves.

Soon, we will pass away into the ground,

recycled back to other beings

as we mix with rocks and soil,

pierced by the tree which gave life to us,

a process throughout the universe

ever increasing entropy.

Existence’s cycle perfectly described

by equations and mathematics,

created by some power above.

This new realm beyond manipulation,

a world full of kings and wisdom of

Origin’s philosophy of rationality.

This beautiful apokatastasis. 

To see the complete rules for the contest, click here.
Columbia University Press