Nationally published poet and translator Mira Rosenthal has chosen English Major Rebecca Liberatore as winner of Cal Poly’s 2016 Academy of American Poets Contest for her poem “Night Roulette.”

Rosenthal, who will begin teaching creative writing at Cal Poly this coming Fall, was deeply impressed by the winning poem, which describes the precarious life of a disillusioned young man living in a town on the edge of economic ruin.

“With exquisite layering,” Rosenthal said, “Rebecca Liberatore's atmospheric poem ‘Night Roulette’ investigates the restlessness of youth in a wholly original voice.”

Contest director Kevin Clark agreed. “It's as if Rebecca finds new forms of speech,” he said. “Her language begins with everyday English and then, in an unpredictable—even sinewy—manner, seems to recombine words and syntax.”

“The result is a poem that remains accessible while opening new paths of insight. She’s kind of an original. She alters what we think of typical poetic expression.”

In addition, English undergraduate Sam Shrader earned honorable mention for his poem “Drowning,” which evokes the unfulfilled inner life of a man whose one great love died years ago.

“Sam Shrader shows a strong metrical ear,” said Rosenthal. His work “conveys an emotional intelligence and sensitivity to the dynamics between people.”

Echoing the judge’s assessment, Clark contends that Shrader is a contemporary poet who is interested in employing traditional poetic form to leverage his imagination.

“Sam carefully uses structural devices as well as a non-rhyming musicality to render different states of mind,” Clark stated. “You can guess that he loves Keats, maybe the greatest Romantic poet. Sam’s a throwback in form and a contemporary in vernacular.”

Contest judge Mira Rosenthal was raised in Northern California, and currently directs the creative writing program at the University of South Alabama. She is the author of the prize-winning collection “The Local World.” Among her awards are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN American Center, and the MacDowell Colony. Her translation from the Polish of Tomasz Różycki’s “Colonies” won the Northern California Book Award and was shortlisted for several other prizes, including the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize. Her poems, translations and essays have been published in many literary journals and anthologies, including “Ploughshares,” “APR,” “Harvard Review,” “PN Review” and “A Public Space.”

“We are exceptionally fortunate to have such an important, emerging figure in American poetry for our judge this year,” said Clark. “Even better, generations of future poets at Cal Poly will benefit from her teaching know-how and poetic expertise.”

The Academy of American Poets contest is sponsored by the Cal Poly English Department and the Academy of American Poets, which is a longstanding advocate for the art of poetry and is located in New York City.

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