2013 Winners

2013 Academy of American Poets Winners

May 16, 2013

Well-known Los Angeles poet Suzanne Lummis has chosen Wine and Viticulture undergraduate Madeleine Mori (Milbrae) as winner of Cal Poly’s 2013 Academy of American Poets Contest. Mori will receive a $100 award from the Academy for her poem “Ten Cents.”

English undergraduates Cate Harkins (San Luis Obispo) and Eli Williams (Morro Bay) earned honorable mention for their poems “Dirty Laundry” and “Cut & Dry” respectively.
A poem about American folk singer Karen Dalton, Mori’s “Ten Cents” renders the hard choices an artist must make when stepping out of a conventional life to pursue her vocation.

Honorable mention Harkin’s poem “Dirty Laundry” evokes the interior life of a woman who is so broke that she only has enough money for one load of laundry. The act of mixing whites and colored fabric together may seem simple, almost ordinary, but, according to Clark, the event is rife with poignancy.

Funny and psychologically revealing, honorable mention William’s poem “Cut & Dry” details the sexual tension and resulting embarrassment a young man experiences while getting his hair cut by a vivacious, older hair stylist.


Madeleine Mori

Contest Winner

Ten Cents

            for Karen Dalton

The path down to the river

weaved with the rotting moss driveways,

the still breath in the air

of the 57’ Chevrolet

with withered thistle and rosehip

married to its chassis.

Some never left

the dry creek town, old, proud

limbs waving back and forth,

their porches leaning downhill,

rocking back and forth ceaselessly,

into the open earth.

The iron rich red of the soil

could cake bare feet like butter,

fallen tree limbs could grope,

snake holes could trip

like the telephone lines

if you didn’t know how to step.

In a bag, she brought a mason jar

of mixed wine, a loose lick of tire

swing rope she’d been working to unravel,

the graying map of Tennessee.

This time I’ll go to Nashville,

wrestle off this ten cent life.

She strained her toes under the spyglass film

of the muddied water

and thought herself one lone cattail,

a wild mess of golden seed

raging through towns,

projecting free prayers. 

But how far would her highway stretch

when a neighbor emptied water

from his buckshot brass gutters

and the bed grasses lunged

with the mounting river to coil

            and pull at her ankle?


Cate Harkins

Honorable Mention

Dirty Laundry

She threw it all in.

Mismatched socks, pilled sweaters

tangled together like new lovers,

decorative, lacy underthings slummed it

with utilitarian, full-ass underwear.

She hoped-to-God she took the lighters

out of her pockets, but couldn’t be bothered to check. 

She knocked the washing machine door closed with a hip,

paused there, leaning against the metal.

Two older men sat on an unyielding bench,

their gazes landing heavy on her neck,

tugging at her shoulders.

She hoped they were leering,

though a paternal pity cloyed the air.

Detergent in the cups, coins in the slot.

She had exact change for one wash

and one dry. Last week,

her money went into a bottle of gin.

She couldn’t remember the week before that.

Flickering neon.

She traced the outline of an exit sign with her eyes.

A machine buzzed.

It wasn’t hers, it never was.

When it was time to unload,

she pushed her hands deep into the damp fabric,

and pulled out one red flag at a time.


Eli Williams

Honorable Mention

Cut & Blow Dry

I slum into a SuperCuts on San Pablo,
and she’s there fingering last month’s People,
tonguing the Juicy Fruit in her lipsticked mouth
side to side. Slow.

First, she doesn’t see me–
button-up, blue jeans, blinking in the door
of that bang-for-your-buck salon–
but boy, do I see her.

I throat a shaky cough into my hand–
sweaty as July–
and she comes to me with lips
big and full and red

and says, “You need a haircut?”
Raspy like Jazz,
low as the cut of her
tight, black blouse.

She drives hands
through the cul-de-sac of my thinning brown hair–
fingernails popping with bright, cherry-red–
cheap drugstore polish.

My body pulses pink,
and she curls into the smile of a just-told secret.
Then she winks to the ring on my finger
and says, “What can I do for you, honey?”

I twist the gold band over clammy skin–
exposing the naked indent on my pudgy finger.
Then, jamming it deep into a tight jean pocket,
I feel it press hard against my trembling leg.


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