Georgia Poet Laureate’s Prize 2022: Meet the winner and finalists

The annual awards highlight work by teen poets
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Georgia Poet Laureate’s Prize

Photograph by Visual Art Agency / iStock/ Getty Images Plus

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. Read more about its inception here and meet the 2022 winners and finalists below, selected by state poet laureate Chelsea Rathburn.

Winner

“The Stargazer”
By Aran Sonnad-Joshi

i.

Glow-in-the-dark stars gleam with soft green radiance,
accepting, absorbing the light of day until they shine.

On sleepless nights, I trace shapes among the plastic lights,
memorizing every star. I imagine that I am lying

in a field of grass under the hot, sticky air,
and finding constellations in the vaulted sky.

ii.

My teacher says that stars are made of flaming gas
but I prefer my grandmother’s explanation. She tells me

that stars are the souls of our ancestors so ancient
they can only watch from afar, and she holds me

with hands that are now thin and bony and
covered with papery skin but still strong.

iii.

The pavement is hard against my back and the cool air is
sharp, hostile; it whispers through the streets,

and I am exposed. I lift my hand towards the sky
trying to find the shapes but these are not my stars

and they dance just out of reach, flitting away like silvery fish
just beneath the surface of a dark river.

iv.

What happened to glow-in-the-dark stars and
constellations and dreams of warm summer nights?

When did the stars go so far away?

Aran Sonnad-Joshi Poet Laureate's PrizeAran Sonnad-Joshi is a junior at Midtown High School. Besides writing poetry and fiction, he is a Lincoln-Douglas debater and an editor for the Southerner, Midtown’s student newspaper. He is also passionate about the classics, studying Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit. He is grateful to his family and teachers for their support and is honored to receive this award.


Finalists (alphabetical by author’s last name)

“Gauche”
By Emerson Keen

The stars hung low, waterlogged and acidic,
my mouth catches on the spine of an apple.
You are always going going gone.
My love sits in shoe boxes and desk drawers, at the
bottom of jam jars,
and in the gaps of my teeth,
a cold hand hovering just above your cheek
as you fall into sleep. I am all disjointed clinking
wind chime, elbows at the dinner table, all mouth,
all teeth, and no gum.
A lacework of fingers, sweaty and consolatory
in slanted light, she doesn’t look you in the eye,
wrong place, wrong time. Snap, and you are
wading through alkaline water. Fluttering atoms
shape ribbony wrist, little girl fingers twined like hair.
What is adolescence if not this
thesis: waiting for a ride on the curb,
the sweater is wool and you are out of tune.
Your are palms up and held aloft,
in the apricity of winter.
Tell me the story of your life: the fallow fields and
muddy water and the angel you saw
at recess. The little birds your mother pointed to
against a lilting sunset, the closet monsters spotted
in the lurid night.
Your arteries are hammering at your neck when she
kisses you, all lip, all gum, no teeth.
Later, you’ll frame this moment, right time wrong
place, all that. Later, the birds will be new,
the weather will be warm, the sweater will be cotton
and you’ll kiss, all mouth, all teeth, all right.

Emerson KeenEmerson Keen is a sophomore at Decatur High School. In addition to writing poems instead of doing homework, she is fond of gardening, listening to music, and Mary Oliver. She is a district winner for Young Georgia Authors and is perpetually grateful to her past and future teachers, as well as her friends and family for their love.


“July”
By Isabel Liu

inhale.
crickets chatter and people chirp like bubbling
water of the muddy creek.
coruscating lights above give a good
time to the fish downstairs.
a beetle checks out my styrofoam cup.
you want some ice cream?
I always do.
the sun splinters and sputters out,
exits the stage.

hold.
the air is heavy with shrieks of the summer children.
my face is a sugary, sticky painting,
my tangled hair a frame.
ribbons of darkness dance and settle.
I’m thirsty, says everyone.
our legs itch, the grass is saturated with sweat and
every breath I take seems to drown me just a little.

exhale.
the firmament proclaims the last burst of
fire for the evening.
red white blue red white blue red.
the music of half-empty chip bags underfoot swells,
the yawning clouds close their curtains.
our ears ring and our shoulders ache.
a standing ovation for your performance, sir.

won’t I see you again next year?

Isabel LiuIsabel Liu is a 15-year-old student at Wheeler High School in Marietta. In addition to writing, she loves reading classic and feminist literature, playing guitar, watching film analyses, and journaling. She is excited to be attending Governor’s Honors Program for communicative arts this summer and is incredibly grateful for the endless support from her teachers, friends, and family.


“Mid-Summer Karaoke and I Want You to Look at Me”
By JeongHyeon (Erica) Yun

I hate hearing the reverb and the echo and the autotuned voice.
In my memories you’re seventeen and I’m about to be,
two of us squeezed in this little coin karaoke.
I wish I could tell you I miss even the buzzing noise.

I hate seeing the spotlight, flashed at you and only you.
In the light you’re glowing and I’m in the shadows,
I’m here staring, and you’re doing so many shows.
I wish I could tell you I’m proud of you and it be true.

I hate being the jealous, the selfish, the bitter one.
In my words I wrap the envy in a ribbon smooth and silk,
present it nice and pretty, but it only tastes like spoiled milk.
I wish I didn’t wish that you would become undone.

I wish we could go back to the summer, when we were younger.
But maybe it’s better to stay this way,
a stage apart, always a couple seats away,
a mutual guest at someone else’s party.

I wanted to look at you, but not like this,
so I’d rather not see you at all.

JeongHyeon YunJeongHyeon Yun is a junior at McIntosh High School in Peachtree City. She is grateful to receive this honor and would like to thank her loved ones for their support. Her other works have been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and in her school’s literary magazine, MisChief. Aside from writing, she enjoys watching heartbreaking period dramas, making Spotify playlists, and of course, reading a good book. She hopes to keep on writing as long as possible.


“I Had a Good Time”
By Lydia Ruth Witter

I fell in love from the driver’s side of my mother’s car,
Through the fingers that dyed your hair
And the sour smell of your clothing.

I’m seventeen years old and you’re my first love
And my fourth best friend.

I’m seventeen years old and I don’t want to kiss you.

But love tastes like Capri Suns and half-baked brownies,
Feels like humid August heat.

You set me up on a date with your coworker,
And stormed when I said
“I had a good time.”

Honey, I wanted to weep
While you drank your iced coffee
And lashed me with your eyes.

I’m seventeen years old,
And you can be jealous
But I can’t be jealous
Of the people you date.

I can’t love like that, baby,
With hands and roving eyes and spit.

I’m eighteen years old and I wish I wanted to kiss you.

You’re my first love and I’m your old friend.

I hugged you for the first time
The last day before you drove two hours
To a dorm room I’m not allowed to see.

I wish I said what I wanted to say,
Sweetie, I wish I said
“I had a good time.”

Lydia Ruth WitterLydia Ruth Witter is a senior at Decatur High School. Outside of writing, she is a tea snob, a book snob, and a fan of country music. She would like to thank the English teachers who taught her to love the subject and the history teacher who inspires her to be her loudest self. Her writing can be found on Archive of Our Own.

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