Columbia Granger's World of Poetry®

2020 Student Poetry Contest Winners

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Columbia University Press is pleased to announce the three winners and one honorable mention in the fourth annual Columbia Granger's World of Poetry® Student Poetry Contest.


     “Fire in Song”

by Katherine Vandermel of Bergen County Academies,
inspired by Song of Napalm by Bruce Weigl
An earlier version of this poem first appeared in Hunger Mountain

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
-- Anne Frank

Or: the white cottage next door,
the one with the boy. The blossom of
the first bomb one winter morning,
a golden veil falling
over the neighbors.

Imagine the first notes
igniting the house. His hair—
blond, ablaze—halo wringing
his neck. Napalm clinging to
his body like sweet
marmalade on bread. A boy
locked inside a star.

The melody beats relentlessly as a
secret hymn, burning in the
ribcage of his body. It takes the
throat first, then gently, the lids of
his eyes. He is no longer a boy
when the song stops playing.


     "Departure in Limbo"

by Emir Kirdan, of Robert College, Istanbul,
inspired by Departure bells / have lingered a while by Katayama Yumiko

they say, I Arrived
unremitting drizzle, my father’s bald head, instant shock
merges with harbour of gloom
my flap ears, uncontaminated hospital corridors, (probably) the divineness
hear my mother’s echoing screams and meddling prays
beams of laughter grow with musty odor
her straining pushes 2.93 kg me out
     her rush is pushing 2.93 kg me out
          her hope is pushing 2.93 kg me
out—womb ironically makes a woman
both fertile and inferior, as they believe
I just cry
the feeling of abstract light after lost months
sheer movements, initial reflections on existence
clear but transformative confusion as I recall
Late Departure
nineteen years flowing while unclean souls fluctuating
with moments of animalistic joy after moments of vivid laments
I remember my approaching flight from the city, family, and possessions
once again—tick—I am sliding, from the womb, from the city
I am afraid what he will do in my absence—tock
and her absence—tick— after three years
will he be the only one around the growing walls, or fears?
conserving the ambiguous memories, or simply holding onto them
he cries under the chandelier,
    she cries under the moist soil, and
        I cry after my arrival before my departure.


    "Clair de Lune"

By Marie Yamamoto of Northern Valley Old Tappan High School,
inspired by Piano by D.H. Lawrence

Maybe you don’t remember
those surreal summer days anymore,
but I do.
I often do-
We were so much younger back then, and yet
I can’t help but let the same dewy-eyed astonishment
    engulf me, and
reel my mind back
every time it comes on the radio.
Clair de Lune by Debussy, I mean.
You played other things
    on our music school’s shoddy Yamaha keyboard
that summer, but that was the first classical piece
that I could assign a meaning to,
    years of playing classical and
watching people play classical and I finally had
a place in my heart that bled classical
and let its notes reverberate in my veins.
    Clair de Lune means me, still in elementary school,
recumbent on the floor too entranced to move,
listening to you, not far away,
sitting at the piano and
    working away at that
    melancholy melody.
It was bliss, and sorrow,
just like the way listening to that piece makes me feel.



      "Sea glass"

by Jacklyn Vandermel of Northern Valley Demarest High School, New Jersey,
inspired by The Billowy Ocean by Nathaniel Hawthorne

In memory of brine,
I’m interrupting a busy underworld
where I’m the only one,
besides the asteroids of salt,
swimming without direction
I feel I’m blacking out
when seagulls are flying over the crests
of nearby waves, taking turns blocking the sun,
leaving me to be swallowed whole
by heavy currents.
I’m laying on the beach by the waves
now gentle, the sun gone.
My eyelashes clumped with wet sand
struggle lifting my eyelids,
afraid to see the world again.
I’m taken into arms.
I fist my hands into the ground,
crave a darling for recollection,
hitting home as my right hand
blindly curls around a rock
The rock is in my palm—
sea glass. Edges, colors,
a clearness to the shadows
in my mind. I toss it
back into the water,
taste the brine.

See the winning poems from 2017, 2018 and 2019
See contest rules here

Columbia University Press