Issue 53. 2 is here!

Dear readers,

Welcome! Our team is thrilled to share our Spring 2024 Contest issue with you. This is my third year as a member of phoebe — I first joined as a fiction reader, then as Managing Editor, and most recently, had the honor of serving as Editor-in-Chief. I have been proud of every issue, and this edition is no exception. In these pages, you will encounter a survivor who finds refuge with wolves, a haunting meditation on American empathy, and a trio of hands that experience all of life at once. Also in this issue: a love letter (of sorts) to Robert De Niro, a turbulent family vacation, and a 2000s teenage romance over AIM.

One of the special things about phoebe is that the staff changes every year, and thus, the journal changes every year. This has been an exceptional year, and I have been so grateful to work with this hard-working, creative, and thoughtful staff. As we say goodbye to our most recent graduates (including myself), we welcome a new staff who are leading the way for our first-ever summer issue. I think of them whenever I look at Katy Stewart’s evocative, enveloping cover — the journal is in very good hands.

A special thank you to our readers from George Mason University’s MFA and BFA programs in Creative Writing, our genre editors, and, of course, our contest judges. Below, you can read commentary from our judges: Nick White, Erika Howsare, and Jenny Molberg. 

Again, thank you for reading phoebe, whether this is your first issue, or you’ve been here since the 70s. We hope you’ll be here for the next one. I certainly will.

— Sophia Ross, Editor-in-Chief


Judge: Nick White

Winner: Idaho Wolves by Kath Richards

Told with an immediacy that is, at times, as uncomfortable as it is beautiful, this story follows a narrator trying to survive the winter cold with the help of a she-wolf and her cubs. 

Runner Up: Wolfpacking by Nolan Capps

A young man tries to find meaning in the violence and chaos of serving as an infantryman in the Marines. A haunting meditation on loneliness and addiction.


Judge: Erika Howsare

Winner: The Lyric Ear by Megan J. Arlett

“The Lyric Ear” attends to the (sur)realism of war, biological frailty, and memory, by means of a fragmented form that reproduces, on the page, the tension of straining to hear. I love the spare lyricism of this essay and the way it maps the synaesthesia of real life—the way world events rain into our personal lives and our bodies, already marked by the inheritances we didn’t choose and the ones that nurture us most. 

Runner Up: Half-lives of empathy by Somi Jun

“Half-Lives of Empathy” is exceptionally clear-eyed, and relentless, in its interrogations of both culture and the self. Profound losses, in this piece, become occasions for a startling series of questions about not only the processing of grief, but its unexpected utility within an individualist culture.


Judge: Jenny Molberg

Winner: self-portrait with three hands by p. hodges adams

“Self-Portrait with Three Hands” strikes me as a keenly honest poem about the self’s fluidity within all its capabilities: violence, sexuality, grace, silence, tenderness, language, and creativity. I especially admire this poem’s self-awareness—one assertion “leaves no room for precision,” so the poet thinks and rethinks the poem as a made thing. The hands create and destroy, contending with time, gender, and survival. I think about the manual labor of poetry and the metaphorical hands of a lineage that shapes a poetic voice. The hands’ actions generate knowledge; they capture the odd contradictions of selfhood. I cannot stop thinking about this strange, musical, abundant, and contemplative poem.

Runner Up: I’m glad my grandma died before she could see me get fat by Bleah Patterson

Brimming with images I can taste: “heavy cream,” “marmalade,” “two pounds of sausage,” “red beans and rice,” “kolaches with cheese” and “banana pudding,” this poem confronts a complicated relationship between hunger and consumption. At once relatable and startling, this poet’s language is rich with music and sensory engagement as they challenge a layered, learned discord between self-denial and self-love. The speaker is taught disordered eating at an early age, grappling with a simultaneous inherited love of food. This is an important poem about damaging cultural mores and the difficult struggle of loving one’s own body.

Comments are closed.