Columbia Granger's World of Poetry

2018 Student Poetry Contest Winners

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Columbia University Press is pleased to announce the three winners of the second annual Columbia Granger's World of Poetry Student Poetry Contest.

The contest had a great response with over 90 entries from across the US and as far away as Turkey, with very high-quality submissions.

Today we present the final Honorable Mention poem.


“Where Ludlow Meets Delancey”

by Nina Curran of the Marymount School of New York,
Inspired by “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

The Lower East Side is the red-brick heaven of New York City ghosts.
It’s Loisaida to street signs and to immigrants.
It’s cold brew coffee days and Lime-A-Rita nights.
It’s peeling murals painted with hatred and with dreams.

The Lower East Side is love:
Love of the city, love of the dark;
Love of alcohol, drugs, and art.
But the Lower East Side has no love for me.

Hello? Can you see me?
It’s not easy looking for love on a crowded F train.
Or at least it’s not easy for me.

How do I look? Are my skinny jeans and pin-straight hairs enough?
How about now? Are my high-heeled boots and low-cut tops enough?
No one told me they weren’t,
So why do my skirts keep getting shorter?

I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m only seventeen.
Am I an adult in your narrowed, bloodshot eyes?
When I’m with you, I feel fully grown.
But I’m scared of the future; I’m only seventeen.
Already I’m trampled by your night-out crowd,
All in black, mourning my dying innocence.
Have pity on me, I’m only seventeen.

Lower East Side, accept my affections and send them racing back.
Light my eyes with the flickering signs of tattoo parlors.
Warm me up with cheap cocktails and dying cigarette butts.
Take me down below Houston Street; I want to get lost in your alphabet soup.
I want to hear deadbeat prophets speak in your creaky cafes.
I want to tread on the memories of your dirty, beaten sidewalks.
I want to breathe your air of cool despondency.
I want to be one with your madness.



by Mehmet Tufek of Robert College of Istanbul
Inspired by “Kiss Me, Then Give Birth to Me” by Cemal Sureya

Give birth to me
Out of a breezy tower in south,
Out of cold beers and cold rocks on a shore,
Out of loud ferries and loud buses,
Out of crowded cafes,

Give birth to me
Out of the behind of a mosque where we kissed,
Out of a dark film theater,
Out of a desolated coffeehouse,
Out of the poetry corner of a bookstore,

Give birth to me
Out of Istanbul under rain,
Out of my words - my words are what is unsaid,
Out of restless nights in the gray metropolis where the stars are out of sight,
Out of nauseous mornings when coffee is opium – stepped aside,

Give birth to me
Out of the lost causes of this world,
Out of all sweat and struggles,
Out of all fists and kisses,

Give birth to me
Out of endless talks and endless people,
Out of you and me,

I will wait the upcoming spring rise and sink
And there will be soft summer evenings restless before you.


“From the Streets of Chiraq”

by Simon Taylor of the Woodberry Forest School
Inspired by “From a War Station” by Ewart Alan Mackintosh

In Chiraq there are no lights.                           
Screams and sorrow
echo from moms
through the city.
The city is filled with gunfire and sirens,
filling the air with powder
that consumes my nose as I walk to work.

My friends die in the night;
I meet new ones every day.
My best friend is 6 feet under;
his girl is now my girl.

Life out here is tough, but it won’t change.
My first job, flipping brown sugar—
stand on the corner selling drugs.
Not knowing if I am going to die
is what keeps me from sleeping

But I am out here for many,
my mom and brother.
Getting out here is the only reason I am here.

One day standing on the corner,
all of a sudden shots ring from a car rolling slow.
Duck and then pull out my stick,
hit two guys in the shoulder.
Running home, dipping into every alley,
dodging from every siren, I hear.
Panting I get home,
hug my mom
kiss my brother.
Once my brother is asleep
I tell my mom what happened.
She cries into my arms and tells me to

And now I only know the Streets.
Walking down the street,
gunshots ring.
My body hits the pavement.


    “This Bitter Land”

by Henry Ceffalio of Xavier High School
inspired by “Sonnet 97” by William Shakespeare

Even the best of days in these parts are bitter
On the day we all sing Noel
Some will witness palm trees
Some will hail white snow
Everyone will see beauty
Yet in this land,
Nobody will see a thing
For the sun has been aloof since we ate in November

The best of days in these parts are bitter
On the day He rose
Some will witness the first bud of April
Some will hail the sprouting leaves of the trees
Everyone will see beauty
Yet in this land,
Nobody will see a thing
For the sky is dumping sleet on us since we loved in February

Alas, I shall not acquiesce to this torment any further!
California, New York
The shade under the trees gives me a respite
From the movies, from the buildings
From the briskly moving trains and cars
I can see on Christmas
I can see on Easter
I can see that I wish I was in the bitter land

The convoluted streets of New York
Shall give way to the one lane-bridge in Seward
The tumultuous industry in Los Angeles
Shall give way to the fish in Tustumena

Yes, I can see on my holidays
The turbulence of everyday city life
But when I close my eyes
I’m on a one-way flight to Anchorage
Observing the passive beauty of this bitter land


    “A Letter for a Dead Citizen”

by Spence Whitman of the Woodberry Forest school
inspired by “For a Dead Citizen” by Allen Tate
Dear Friend,

How are you doing?
Is your family well?
I watched our favorite movie again last night,
the one with the two dogs.
I still laugh every time I watch it.
We stayed up all night watching those movies
instead of studying for our math tests.
Speaking of math,
school has been boring without you.
Who am I supposed to goof off with?
We had a school assembly about you.
The principal showed pictures
of your game winning soccer goal
and your incredible paintings.
It stung like a stab wound.
Some people started to cry,
but I didn’t have any tears left.
People decorated your locker a week ago.
Lots of them took pictures next to it,
and posted the pictures on social media
with the hashtag #ripjason.
Now people just brush past it carelessly.
I should have offered you a ride home.
I knew you weren’t sober.
I can’t help but feel like it was my fault.
I haven’t forgotten you,
and I never will.
Your Friend


    “Stuck in Cement”

by Jianni Woodson-Brooks of the Woodberry Forest School
inspired by “Northboun’” by Lucy Ariel Williams Holloway

You not fit to be nowhere else.
Here in the city is where you should be.
You can work the corner or steal cars.
You belong right here.
Ain't no life for you outside the city.

You talking about going to be a doctor,
You! Going off to college.
See, our kind don’t need to go to college.
Your parents can’t pay for no tuition no way
You belong right here, with us.

You not fit to be nowhere else.
Fast life is the way it should be.
We can hit a lick.
And after we can go smoke a jay.
Boy you is here to stay.

Now, you want to go off and play ball.
Boy, you know you can’t ball.
Sitting out there, at a white coaches beckon call.
Why you going to go put in all that effort?
Stay here boy, you not even tall.

Boy you ain't fit to be nowhere else
Cause round here our kind don’t make it out.
So stop all the trying to be something.
You can make your way here.
Cause struggling ain't new to us round here.

See last year's winning poems here
See contest rules here
Columbia University Press