It’s finally here – our 2023 Spring Contest issue! Thanks to our readers from George Mason University’s MFA and BFA programs in Creative Writing, our intrepid genre editors, and, of course, our incredible contest judges, we are now ready to introduce to you the winners and runners-up from our Spring Contest. In these pages you will meet a parrot named Pretty Bitch, tour the halls of a children’s hospital in tandem with the deep sea, and explore the fragmenting of a pastoral landscape.
Below, you can find the comments from our contest judges: Jamil Jan Kochai, Lacy Crawford, and Tyler Mills. We hope that you are as captivated by these pieces as we are.
– Sophia Ross, Managing Editor
Judge: Jamil Jan Kochai
Winner: Parrot by Maeve Barry
Eerie, disturbing, hilarious, and deeply affecting, “Parrot” is so wonderfully weird and captivating, I found myself enthralled by this tale of a secluded former muse and her depressing parrot. What begins as a seemingly comical tale of a bad pet eventually turns into a surreal rumination on time, seclusion, motherhood, and loss.
Runner Up: Solve by Jeremy Griffin
“Solve” is structurally experimental, philosophically complex, and packed to the brim with complicated, flawed, and deeply honest characters. The narrative eye is infinitely wise and everything it sees seemed true.
Judge: Lacy Crawford
Winner: All the Dust Falling by Abigail Ham
A gorgeous piece. I thought at first that the metaphor between trauma response and oceanic layers was overdetermined but this is offset by the beauty of the writing and the tremendous subtlety of lines such as this: Those whales have seen the morning sun on the surface of the water. This is beautifully done, unsentimental, allowing work in juxtaposition and in rich, short scenes.
Runner Up: Plague of Flies by Julie Marie Wade
Propulsive, contained, clear movement from start to finish, packs a wallop. Excellent handling of imagery and emotion with complex psychological turns between events and reactions. Killer ending.
Judge: Tyler Mills
Winner: Pastoral Fragment by Rachel Rothenberg
“Pastoral Fragment” viscerally examines the violence that marks a pastoral landscape through the metaphor of the severed cow, “vertebrae notched clean beneath the heart / half abandoned hillside.” Here, where there are “chemtrails” and an “acid lake,” exactly where does the blame lie for this act? I loved how the poem handles this exploration. The poem’s speaker ruminates on this question through language that is jam-packed with rhythmic, pulsing musicality and imagery: “what crack in faith will cut us all into cross / sections—the coins of marrow and bone.” As I read the poem, I kept marveling at how this place itself becomes fragmentary, how the poem’s stepped lines enact this cutting and invite us to think about what stories and fractured stories lie in pastoral spaces today. In “Pastoral Fragment,” the fragmentary becomes a remnant, part reckoning, part recollection: “the half that demands we know it lived.”
Runner Up: clove hitch by p. hodges adams
“clove hitch” cascades through sound and image into an exploration of gender and sex, of memory and the body. The language is mythic and grounded, exploding with imagery and the ways syntax can carry it and make it lift off the page: “i mean two bodies and the knot they make (sailors whistling / and singing) (salt water) (sunrise over sea foam) but / i never stopped thinking. until i stopped thinking.” As I read “clove hitch,” I was both carried through each moment by the imagery and also surprised at every turn—”o! red wine and stewed tomatoes, o! / red okra less slimy than the green”—and I admired how the blend of sense and that which is at the edge of sense, the dreamlike, creates the poem’s swirling and moving logic.