Launched in 2014 by former Georgia poet laureate Judson Mitcham, 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. Read more about its inception here and meet the 2019 winners and finalists below, selected by state poet laureate Chelsea Rathburn.
“until i am”
By Marylou Sutherland
as fragments of glass are pushed apart, gingerly &
solemnly to prevent the breaking of skin
i am reminded of that witch of a girl
aged 9: inky-fisted stringy-rooted model
uninformed that i was still missing
parts; in the early stages of assembly
when i could only look at one thing at
a time, so of course i thought that
i was ready, like how i’m always certain
that the moon is full for nights before
it is; until it is.
junior year i learned about all of the
nerves & openings &
layered organs & reasons
why i bleed
& now i can label every pulse in me
& every fault. i am not an animal
because and only because i
know what i am, which is
what that witch of a child
hadn’t realized yet, like
a light-toed fox that treads the forest
floor & eats & watches & hunts for
no one’s sake & doesn’t
worry to blink or breathe b/c it
already does or
call itself a fox b/c it
already is one.
Marylou Sutherland is a senior at Hillgrove High School. She is a poet who is working on her ability to slow down, trust her words, and stop expecting a final draft from a first draft. She is so thankful to receive this award, and wouldn’t have even applied if it hadn’t been for the people in her life who continue to love and strengthen her. If you have ever received a tentative, “Would you read this?” from her, know that you are trusted and cherished by her beyond words.
By Rohini Bose
Look at all these pretty horses!
Let’s make them run.
Let’s breed them so their legs are built like stone
And their bones are laced with ivory
So their hide is fresh and if it’s skinned
They’ll keep running with their veins filling and their muscles twitching
Until they run beyond the horizon and into the core of the earth.
Let’s make them run
So that they cry when they try to scream
So that their eyes which were once soft with empathy
Are now drained and hollowed and emptied
The hair once freely flowing from the crests on their backs
Torn from their skulls with patches of broken skin left in its place
In a creature once struck with wildness and savage beauty
Until there is nothing left but mangled fragments of consciousness
Which now know nothing better than
Let’s make them run
So that they are numb and raw
So that the only thing they feel besides the stinging of the whips on their flanks is frigid apathy.
These are well-oiled machines of bitter steel
Beasts of burden who were not made to think or to feel or to want or to love
And the only radiance about them is the sheen of sweat that glistens in the sun
As the blood drips slowly between their unblinking eyes, deep and dark and red
Like the blood of the sky as it sets upon another day
Rohini Bose is a senior at Lambert High School. Her favorite pastimes include playing the piano, writing, and creating stories out of anything on hand—whether it be etching onto the bark of trees, creating short films, or drawing maps on the margins of napkins.
By Aanika Eragam
Before she left, Mother packed her promises in a coconut,
told me not to break it till she was gone. So when she was,
I cracked the hickory shell open, held its splintered pieces in my hands.
But I never found the awaited meat, ebony and cream, glistening, glimmering— no,
only decaying flesh, charcoal and burnt, like her promises,
which I’ve begun stashing in the coffee jar she kept in the kitchen.
It’s growing rather fast, my collection, of all the things she’s broken with
each missed birthday, missed phone call, missed graduation,
you see, my mother was always clumsy.
But she comes back like a tidal wave each time I want to forget her,
shadow dancing in the fog of cigarette puffs, broken glass,
abandoned car lots. She is there— lingering, loitering,
behind every street sign, every lamppost, every crumbling home.
And it would be so easy if I could hate her so much
it didn’t hurt each time I heard her name or
love her so much it didn’t matter— but it does.
I am in limbo, and I cannot walk this tightrope
knowing she will not be there to catch me if I fall.
And I know she cannot be caged, cannot be anchored to this family
that is not a family anymore, just withering remains, decaying so slowly
people think it’s just the flush of the season. I want to ask her if
she remembers who I am, the soft syllables of my name,
the color of my skin, my hair. I want to ask her because I know each
valley of her body, more than I know the air I breathe.
And some days, I hide under her covers and inhale her memory,
pale and haunting, minty, she smells like fresh rain
and inebriated smog. I miss her like the Sun misses
the Moon each night, the sand the sea. I miss her but
I don’t want her back. I have no more pieces left
for her to break.
Aanika Eragam is a freshman at Milton High School. She has been an avid writer and reader all her life. When she’s not writing, you can find her appreciating various genres of music, movies, and books (she especially loves all things Harry Potter). She is honored to receive this recognition and would like to thank her family, friends, and teachers for their support.
“love letter to the girl I will be”
By Jenna Keeler
cast over cast over cast over
bone. like math class: power is
just more of the same thing.
just more of yourself against
yourself. There was so much I
wanted to tell you in my graveyard
gymnasium – behind the ribcage
bleachers, and my stuttering hands,
and my school uniform with all its
torn-off buttons. words that leave
troughs in my throat like riverbed-
sorry to be cliché, but here’s my
second clasp, a bone-white kind
of grip, like hands into bleach into
seashell-plastic. take me to the
ocean and teach me how to step
quietly enough not to wake the kraken;
the sand is unsteady and shifting
and I want it blown to glass, a
porthole reef, to look between my
toes and see molten core.
if you look at the horizon, you can
see the world’s teeth. I hold hands
with people who bear loose fingers:
like cast over bone, we are holding
just tight enough to heal ourselves.
Jenna Keeler is a senior at Cass High School who has participated in communicative and visual arts through the Georgia Honors Program, her school newspaper, and her school art club. Writing poetry is her favorite form of expression. She plans to major in game development and design at Georgia State University.
By Sarah Lao
& through every room,
a sterile hymn hooking
on the sutured
wings of a moth.
Like a slow whir to
cognition. We stand
prehistoric, the licking
scattered on the
edge of empire.
The light bulb cracks
into new yolk, & we
swallow time like
the gulping of the
morning’s market fish.
Patch this grief
O staggered lung,
entropy will always
hand me the pill, &
I’ll find myself hiding
under the sunken
basilica, the infinite
spreading raw in the
doorway. At the other
end, a shut eye
witnessing the dark
Sarah Lao is a sophomore at the Westminster Schools. When she is not writing, she enjoys studying for quiz bowl, playing piano, and editing for Evolutions, her school’s literary magazine. She takes her coffee with milk and sugar and would gladly spend the rest of her days leafing through a bookstore.