Georgia Poet Laureate’s Prize 2024: 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 2024 winners and finalists below, selected by state poet laureate Chelsea Rathburn.

Winner

“Pennies”
By Grayson Jones

My mom picks up pennies in the parking lot.
“Signs from the universe” she says,
And we talk about luck.
(My mom says she’s never been lucky
But I would beg to differ
Because when it comes to picking up pennies in parking lots
There’s no one luckier alive.)

Music buzzes as we watch a sunset
Sweet as cherry wine
And heavy as my eyelids
Closing like a little kid.
Will you carry me inside to bed?
Cause in my head,
I never turned eighteen.

We talk religion and just as Swiftly switch to Taylor,
And if there is a God
She made this day for us:
Paved the path with copper pieces,
Broke the Coke Icee machine,
While all the stars still point
In an arrow towards home.

I’m a big girl now.
I say no to people, even if it takes a little pushing,
And I know I’m pushing my luck
When I ask you to drive me everywhere,
But if you give me just one more year,
I’ll be a big girl,
I swear.

Grayson Jones is a senior at Thomas County Central High School and an alumna of the 60th Governor’s Honors Program in Communicative Arts. She loves Vincent van Gogh, singing in her school’s choir, and her notebook of poetry that she carries everywhere. She would like to thank her teachers and family for all of their support, her friends for reading every, first, second, third, fourth, and so on draft of her poems, the cherry Icee machine for always working, and all of the pennies she picked up which led her here.


Finalists (alphabetical by author’s last name)

“Stomping Grounds”
By Muriel Chan

I was at our old stomping grounds yesterday.
No, I never noticed the names
On the dinosaur footprints by the museum wall.
I was too busy casting a sidelong glance at you,
Just a few steps behind me.
I was too busy vaulting from footprint to footprint,
Stretching my little legs to put 1, 2, 3 steps between us.
I always won the race.

No, I never noticed the names
On the dinosaur footprints by the museum wall.
I was too busy pestering you with dumb questions
As you walked with your head bent over your phone.
I’m too old for such antics, you told me.
I spread my arms like a pterodactyl and practiced ballerina leaps.

I was at our old stomping grounds yesterday,
I looked back, expecting you to be walking there with our parents,
A disapproving scowl plastered on your face.
But you weren’t there
So you never heard me say
How much the giggling toddlers following our footsteps reminded me of us.
You never saw
How grief sent a tsunami that burst through my eyes and flooded my senses
Because I mourn for all the times we chose to walk away from each other.
Now I am smothered by all the space we fought for–
The 1000, 2000, 3000, steps between us.

I’m here at our old stomping grounds.
I notice the names
On the dinosaur footprints by the museum wall
Because I have nowhere else to look.

Muriel Chan is a freshman at McIntosh High School in Peachtree City. She is a founder of her school’s student literary society chapter and competes for her school’s speech and debate team. Her other work has been featured in her school’s literary magazine, Mischiefs. She loves everything about the art of music and plays violin in her school and community youth orchestra. She also plays piano and performs at nursing homes on weekends. When she’s not listening to Laufey’s discography on repeat, reading a murder mystery, or binging Derry Girls, you can find her on a long walk with her parents and two older sisters. She thanks her family and English teacher for their inspiration and constant support.


“Ode to Garbage Collectors”
By Samanyu Ganesh

As deft as surly lumberjacks,

the men in green raze

forests of forsaken waste

with one fell swoop of the axe.

These squires of the alleyways

and barons of the cul-de-sacs,

these curbside collectors of the prosperous and penniless

eclipse astronomers themselves, pundits of parallax

and perspective: for one man’s un-treasured trash pays

another man’s bills post-haste.

Behold the trashman’s all-embracing tax!

 

These knights in shining work vests, these disciples of routine,

these clandestine foes of rats

and raccoons, these ferrymen of mold

and odors unseen,

with hearts bloodied by invasive glass shards, dutifully keep

America’s conscience clean.

Pickup day is judgment day, after all—the bins’ contents

shall be assessed, and the collectors’ council shall convene,

desperately bargaining with Mother Earth, as diplomats

would, to ease pollution’s chokehold.

Lest we forget the mighty men in green!

 

What do I want to be when I grow up? My kindergarten teacher insists

that I abandon this child’s whim, this lousy wish:

“The garbageman’s trade lacks

prestige—you’d make a wonderful accountant.” And so I lie through my teeth, as ventriloquists

might; somehow I identify equally with the puppet’s plight.

The stage lights dim but the audience’s chatter persists,

and backstage I rummage a pile of costumes,

unable to find what I’m looking for. Perhaps it has been discarded by the traditionalists.

Must the show go on? Unseen are the schools of fish

that lick clean the grimy, algae-coated shells of insouciant leatherbacks.

Who thanks the green-clad mutualists?

This poem contains special formatting. View the original format here.

Samanyu Ganesh, 16, is a sophomore at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta. Samanyu is passionate about poetry, math, physics, social science, and history. He has been fortunate enough to be honored with multiple Regional Keys and National Medals as part of the annual Scholastic Art and Writing Awards (for poetry, journalism, short stories, and critical essays) and currently serves on the editorial staff for both his school newspaper and for a student-run poetry and fiction magazine that focuses on the revision process. He recently presented at the International Conference on AI Ethics, winning the “Best Article” award. Outside of writing, Samanyu is an avid quiz bowl player and plays the cello as a proud member of the Westminster Chamber and Metropolitan Youth Symphony orchestras. He loves trying new foods and spending time with friends. Samanyu likes to swim, run, and play table tennis in his free time; his interests include Formula One Racing, indie rock music (the Strokes and Arctic Monkeys), and the frustratingly-mediocre Chicago Bulls.


“Poison Ivy”
By Quinn Kelsey

I almost stepped in poison ivy

Because you wanted to take the cut through

To the bench

In the graveyard

The same one we sat on nearly six months ago

You said “pull up your socks”

so i did & i dove right in, falling-apart-converse first

into our love.

Love is supposed to spread like wildfire,

Coursing through veins

Blood pumping and the heat between bodies,

Sparks flying.

Love isn’t supposed to stop right when it starts.

It’s not supposed to be “i love you”

Then a week later,

“what happened to our love?”

Love is supposed to be pungent, to smell of wildflowers

And honeydew melon.

I don’t even like honeydew melon,

But you smell like wild berries and lip balm.

Late night movies & italian food,

Missing an hour to kiss. Rewind, and do it all over again.

After “i love you”

Our love turned to overripe fruit,

Our love spread like poison ivy

Itchy and constant

Red rash and bubble baths to take away the pain.

Like the leaves had stroked my legs

Too softly, too closely

And they became dry weeks after your touch.

It’s been two months.

Poison ivy doesn’t last this long.

This poem contains special formatting. View the original format here.

Quinn Kelsey is a senior at Decatur High School. They have had their poetry printed in multiple publications including Poetry Nation and Live Poets of New Jersey, and have been recognized twice by the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. He is also in his third year of creative writing and has worked passionately on his school’s literary magazine each year. When they’re not busy writing, Quinn can be found listening to music, thrifting, or creating outfits, and spending quality time with friends and family. Quinn is honored to receive this award and would like to thank his family, friends, and especially his English and creative writing teacher, who kindled his love for writing these past four years. Quinn will continue to study poetry, photography, and fashion in college next year.


Learner’s Permit
By Autumn Elizabeth Martin

I despise cherry lips
And gaps between thighs.
Loathing rubbery molds I look for
plastic ones, burning my skin
in a fire of confusion and submission.

Yesterday morning I screamed at the sky.
Kicked over a trash can.
But I sucked my lips between my teeth.
And my gaps
Continued to close.

To the distorted being in the car reflection:
You haven’t met the new me yet.

In retrograde I drive,
Red light and I hear
Feminine rage is my name
From the bottom of the lip liner
on my dash. It burns like acid.

My engine rumbles.
The shiny Cross sticker on the back
of the next car placidly glares–
Good to know they’re passing by.

I am no catalyst.
New to the moon’s musings
I am yet to reject the sun
With its country shouting.

Between the strikes of lightning
of my stomach, the tick marks between
1:00 and 2:00 am, I sing
Of the bird that kept on flying away,
So unlike me.

Alan Jackson was on the radio, with all
I’lls and promised glory. When they die
hallelujah bye and bye, they’ll fly
away. I’ll stare at the pool of
my flesh, ponder what was built.
And scream at the sky.

Autumn Elizabeth Martin a senior at Carrollton High School, loves to write, paint, and spend time with her seven cats. She plans to attend Emory University in the fall and major in psychology. She would like to thank her family and her IB Literature teacher, Dr. Marsha French, for helping her gain confidence in writing! She is beyond honored and inspired by this opportunity and cannot wait to continue to write creatively and also use her voice to advocate.

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