Georgia Poet Laureate’s Prize 2016: Meet the winner and finalists

The annual awards highlight work by teen poets

Launched in 2014 by Judson Mitcham, the state’s poet laureate, in collaboration with the Georgia Council for the Arts, the Georgia Poet Laureate’s Prize is an annual program designed to encourage works by teen writers. It is open to all students in grades 9 through 12. The winner and finalists, profiled below, visit the state capitol and the governor’s mansion. “Involvement in reading and creating poems can enrich any life,” Mitcham told us when the program was created. Read more about its inception here and meet the 2016 winners and finalists below.


Georgia Poet Laureate's Prize 2016Sherry Luo is a senior at Johns Creek High School. She is not afraid to admit that she enjoys her coffee with lots of cream and sugar and thoroughly delights in writing deep, morbid short stories. She would gladly spend the rest of her life browsing bookstores, listening to electro swing, and defending the Oxford comma.

The Hunting Trip

Practiced hands
skin a hare with all the ease
of taking off a loved sock,
pull feathers off a partridge
like how I pluck dandelion fluff.
He teaches me how to set traps and snares
for ptarmigans and squirrels and girls,
points out paws and hooves
printed in opaque ink:
the cute clefts of a doe and her fawn,
like little apostrophes, you see?
the clown feet of a nimble hare,
the tiny tines of a fox’s paw.
More than once
he has to slap my itchy hand
away from his rifle:
the stock carved out of walnut,
the sleek barrel and muzzle
reminiscent of a sword in its scabbard.
I think it is safe to say
that he has held a hunting knife
more often than a pencil,
has handled a crossbow
more often than a book,
but he’s still the smartest man I know.


Georgia Poet Laureate's Prize 2016Mina (Minjung) Yu is a sophomore at Oconee County High School who loves writing with a passion. She enjoys creating works in a variety of genres, including poetry, short stories, and novels. When she is not writing, Mina likes to read, draw, and play a wacky instrument called the bassoon.


The Philosopher

It seems that, following a chaos of sound,
Silence can return as a crack of thunder.
It was such a silence, sudden and complete,
That caused me to lift my head from my work,
And, directed by surprise, turn my gaze
To the window beside me. Outside were the bare,
Shivering branches of winter that swirled the
Pale blue sky, dying grasses pressed dry into the
Soil, and cars flashing their lights at a far-off

I walked the landscape with my eyes and at last
Came upon the source of the sudden quiet. A man
In a thick black parka sat stoutly in a riding lawnmower,
His back towards me, his face tilted towards the sky. At that moment
He was as much a part of nature as some great, dark boulder
As he motionlessly watched the clouds go by.

He had stopped to contemplate his life,
I realized with a start. All life had stilled, all sound had stopped on this
December day; only the wispy clouds were allowed to glide
Past as the man had thoughts that I would never fathom.

In my mind, I watched the words
Grass Cutter blur away to be replaced by
Human, and, even as the black parka philosopher resumed
His engine, even when that hallowed silence was at last
Broken, I felt myself grow smaller and smaller in relation to
The sky, which swelled farther and farther
From my wondering eyes.

Georgia Poet Laureate's Prize 2016Tommy Welch is a sophomore at The Galloway School. He discovered his love for poetry at a young age, reading E.E Cummings, Walt Whitman, and of course, Shel Silverstein. He is a member of the varsity cross country and track teams. He is extremely honored by this award and would like to thank all of the teachers who have mentored him.


Observer Effect

so many constellations
to decipher and
so many seas
yet to be baptized
into oceans.
is that why uranus,
in all his manic depression
and imperfect patches where
stars refused to show
fell upon gaea
her mortality
and black dirt
and eternal rain
her geography
and inconsistencies
yet to be named.
it’s a mere glimpse here,
confined in our observations
and theories, recalibrating
our optics and
finding no possible
so what are we but
some blueshift,
a perpetual
displacement of
wavelengths and
perception, leaving
just enough room for
sound and color and
starry-eyed daydreams.

Georgia Poet Laureate's Prize 2016Tre’Juan Byrd is a freshman at Marietta High School. He is enrolled in the Pre-IB program in conjunction with Advanced Drama for Performing Arts. In his spare time, he devotes himself to musical instruments, guitar and piano, collecting vinyls of multiple genres, and writing stories though a plethora of sources such as poetry, songs, and screenplays. In addition, he also studies various genes of literature along with philosophy and videography.


Recall of White Phosphorus

(Arrival: Downtown: Philips Arena)

Coruscating lights, a presentation;
a presence the audience sees as a present,
Luminous eyes, shrieks heard, the loud rumbles ,
Stussy shirts ,tapered jeans, visors, and Vans,
lined, following and waiting to pay their dues;
Equally as a hive of honey bees;
Swarming from all around, sparks fly like strikes
Burning White Phosphorus!

(Departure: reminiscing, a car ride home)

Infinity to halting, the crowd’s size
decreases, and so does their widened eyes,
Miscellaneous items are left behind,
Hollywood has left the venues last scene.
Los Angeles air, smoggy, nothing’s seen.
As of all things, nothing last forever
Napalm flames have ceased to have oxygen,
unconscious lights never awaken,
rumbles never start, and the silence stays,
A spark, then the matches flames are gone.
Forgotten legends. Red Phosphorus…

(Vincent Van Gogh & Ernest Hemingway)

Media is a Vietnamese field,
The young ancient Vango dies in it’s flames,
mind-blowing now boring, a star for years.
limelight leaves, I’m left a face in the crowd,
Paints neon chemical compounds turn weak,
To the world, will my glow still be mentioned?
Fading…white phosphorus. Extinguished…

Georgia Poet Laureate's Prize 2016Mack Hodges is a senior at Grady High School. He has played varsity ultimate, swimming and water polo for four years. He is on his school’s literary magazine staff.


Poem from three random words

Camera, opinion, bunker

Come here, no, closer
Look at these pictures
Sometimes the only way for people to remember
Is to use a camera

I don’t want your opinion
I don’t care what you think
only for you to really see
what happened to me

Not just me, all of us
but the difference was
when they hit our bunker
I escaped, but they were free

Photographs courtesy of Georgia Council for the Arts