For close to seven decades, 92Y’s Discovery Poetry Contest has recognized the exceptional work of poets who have not yet published a first book. Many of these writers—John Ashbery, Mark Strand, Lucille Clifton, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Mary Jo Bang, and Solmaz Sharif, among others—have gone on to become leading voices in their generations.
The 2020 competition received close to a thousand submissions, which were read by preliminary judges Diana Marie Delgado and Timothy Donnelly. After much deliberating, final judges Jericho Brown, Paisley Rekdal, and Wendy Xu awarded this year’s prizes to Asa Drake, Luther Hughes, Ana Portnoy Brimmer, and Daniella Toosie-Watson. The runners-up were Amrita Chakraborty, Katherine Indermaur, J. Estanislao Lopez, and Jeremy Voigt.
The four winners receive five hundred dollars, publication on The Paris Review Daily, a stay at the Ace Hotel, and a reading at 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center this fall. We’re pleased to present their work below.
Asa Drake is a Filipina American writer and public services librarian in Central Florida. She holds an M.F.A. in poetry from the New School and is the recipient of fellowships from Tin House and Idyllwild Arts. Her most recent work is published or forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Epiphany, and Tupelo Quarterly.
This Is One Way to Listen
I cut branches from the money tree. Surely
unlucky. A jackal’s head—no matter what
body we find it on—is a sign of death.
But then the good news, announcements,
store credit. And still, a jackal’s head, if I
move carelessly, will enter my kitchen.
I can’t recognize my ghosts today. This one
has an 80s windbreaker and short curls,
and my mother asks if I’m sure she’s not
a woman in white instead of a white woman.
She’s a white woman looking at my wedding
photos, I tell my mother. But what
does she feel like, my mother presses. I
don’t know every woman who made me.
Luther Hughes is from Seattle, author of the chapbook Touched, founder of Shade Literary Arts, and executive editor for The Offing. Along with Gabrielle Bates and Dujie Tahat, he cohosts the podcast The Poet Salon. He has been featured in Poetry, Forbes, and The Rumpus, among others. Luther received his M.F.A. from Washington University in Saint Louis.
It Is February
Some odd stream of oak trees
………….line the sidewalk like a phrase
that never leaves the mind—
………….“I love you” or “I have love for you.”
He kissed me this morning
………….beneath the gray quilt of late winter
like he loves me, and there’s a difference
………….in the work of nature today.
Sometimes difference is simple,
………….but today there’s a woman at the bus stop
screaming, I hate you you fucking nigger.
………….I watch as sunlight crumbles
against Lake Washington, watch a bird
………….that appears, at first, to be a raven,
but with a subtle twitch of its blouse-wing,
………….turns crow as it lands next to a puddle of trash.
Is the woman angry or frustrated?
………….There’s a freckling of pigeons,
tired of the leftover Starbucks. There’s a man
………….grabbing the ass of another looking at me
as if I were a forest to be lost in.
………….There’s always a way hunger declares itself.
Is that what it means to be Black in Seattle,
………….standing here admiring the rotting moan
of car horns as if nothing were happening?
………….The white man next to me looks at me
and shakes his head, mouth shedding a smirk.
………….A police car sirens a group of women
not to cross—loud red fowl. If wondering,
………….the woman is Black. Does that make a difference?
On my phone, I read a caption that says,
………….“Missed two but got four. Next time they won’t
be so lucky,” referencing four birds, each shot
………….in the head or the unseemly breast.
Does knowing the birds are American crows
………….make a difference? There’s smoke climbing
out the sewer. There’s a child laughing
………….or crying. In the article beneath, 14-year-old
George Stinney Jr. is killed by electric chair
………….for being accused of murdering two white girls.
His Blackness is never mentioned. This matters.
………….It matters more than the shot crows,
more than the woman who by now is so quiet,
………….a city of her own. As I get on the bus,
I wonder if she has a son. I want a son,
………….which might be weird given I am newly in love,
given that we are Black. Isn’t it irresponsible
………….to raise a child in this city of mammoth hills
and Mt. Rainier teething away at the sky?
………….I think I will die before I get the privilege.
Sometimes I slush through this city
………….and feel like I have died already.
Ana Portnoy Brimmer is a Puerto Rican poet-performer, writer, and organizer. She is an alumna of Rutgers University–Newark, where she received an M.F.A. in creative writing. Her chapbook To Love an Island was the winner of the YesYes Books 2019 Vinyl 45 Chapbook Contest; her debut full-length collection is forthcoming with YesYes Books in spring 2021. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Winter Tangerine, Gulf Coast, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatinNEXT, and Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm.
……………………..after Lark Omura
Always swim towards an oncoming wave.
Never swim against the current, let it hurl you out to sea, then wade back ashore.
The shore is lined with sargassum and sea grape, not littered.
Don’t litter the sand that straddles a leatherback’s young.
Leatherbacks leave for ocean and migrate years before returning.
Returning will die on the airport runway, buried inside your rib cage.
Your rib cage will resprout with return through graveyard soil.
Keep mice away from the soil you pile into pots of ají and white oregano.
A good pot of white rice colors your lips with oil.
Pour oil into the pot to pave it with pegao.
Don’t throw away pegao, the scraping hides resistance.
Cats will hide hours before a hurricane.
The eye of a hurricane opens the eyes of a people.
The eyes of a people can grow clouded with Saharan dust.
Saharan dust crosses the Atlantic, storms through windows of foreclosed homes.
To occupy a foreclosed building is to step on a police anthill.
The police will tear gas you because you fight for education.
The police will tear gas you because you fight.
The police will tear gas you.
Tear gas washes off with vegetable oil, water and Palmolive.
Watch water at your ankles, it could be raining upriver.
El Río Guanajibo, el Río Mameyes will bathe you when your pipes and faucet parch.
When you’re parched for day’s end, have a Medalla.
A Medalla won’t raise your salary or free Puerto Rico, but tonight, it’ll do.
Tonight, listen for the strange music of sirens and chicharras.
Tonight, imagine sirens lure to shipwreck away from your archipelago.
Tonight, let news of your archipelago watch itself.
Instead, watch for Dominicana and the Virgin Islands watching you, just as eager for your hand.
Tonight, when the power goes out, give your neighbor a hand—connect them to your generator.
Tonight, connect last year’s Christmas lights and count all the burnt-out bulbs.
Tonight, from New Jersey, count the days till you come back home.
……………………..inspirado por Lark Omura
Siempre nada hacia la ola venidera.
Nunca nades contra la corriente, deja que te arroje hacia la mar, luego nada de vuelta a la orilla.
La orilla está forrada de sargazo y uva de playa, no sucia.
No ensucies la arena que acuna la cría de un tinglar.
Los tinglares se van al océano y migran por años antes de regresar.
Regresar morirá en la pista de aterrizaje, enterrado entre tus costillas.
Tus costillas retoñarán el regreso por tierra de cementerio.
Espanta a ratones de la tierra que amontonas en tiestos de ají y orégano blanco.
Una buena olla de arroz blanco te pinta los labios de aceite.
Échale aceite a la olla para empedrarla con pegao.
No botes el pegao, el raspado esconde la resistencia.
Los gatos se esconden horas antes de un huracán.
El ojo de un huracán abre los ojos de un pueblo.
Los ojos de un pueblo se pueden nublar con polvos del Sahara.
Los polvos del Sahara cruzan el Atlántico, estallan por ventanas de casas embargadas.
Ocupar un edificio embargado es pisar un hormiguero de policías.
La policía te echará gases lacrimógenos si luchas por la educación.
La policía te echará gases lacrimógenos si luchas.
La policía te echará gases lacrimógenos.
Los gases lacrimógenos se lavan con aceite vegetal, agua y Palmolive.
Vela el agua a tus tobillos, puede estar lloviendo río arriba.
El Río Guanajibo, el Río Mameyes te bañarán cuando tengan sed las tuberías y el grifo.
Cuando tengas sed por el fin de hoy, date una Medalla.
Una Medalla no aumentará tu sueldo ni liberará a Puerto Rico, pero por esta noche, bastará.
Esta noche, escucha la música extraña de las sirenas y chicharras.
Esta noche, imagina que sirenas seducen al naufragio lejos de tu archipiélago.
Esta noche, deja que las noticias de tu archipiélago se miren a sí mismas.
En vez, mira hacia Dominicana y las Islas Vírgenes mirándote a ti, igual de anhelantes por tu mano.
Esta noche, cuando se vaya la luz, échale la mano a tu vecinx—conéctale a tu planta eléctrica.
Esta noche, conecta las luces de Navidad del año pasado y cuenta las bombillas fundidas.
Esta noche, desde New Jersey, cuenta los días hasta regresar a la isla.
Daniella Toosie-Watson is a poet, visual artist, and educator from New York. She has received fellowships and awards from the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, the InsideOut Detroit Literary Arts Project, The Watering Hole, and the University of Michigan Hopwood Program. Her poetry has appeared in Callaloo, Virginia Quarterly Review, SLICE, and The BreakBeat Poets Volume 4: LatiNext. Daniella received her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers’ Program.
A Series of Small Miracles
after Ross Gay after Gwendolyn Brooks
I stepped outside & the chill
kissed my forehead but only after I gave permission
& afterwards I was still okay with the touch
& when I returned to my apartment, I was okay
with the leaving. But we aren’t there yet.
My neighbor walked by with her dog,
stopped to let me pet her & thanked me
for doing so. & listen, now I will tell you:
today, my room is warm.
I sit on my bed. I lift my shorts.
I notice the crease between
my thigh & lower belly,
trace my finger between that small valley
& I say it is good. I notice my thigh, its generosity,
squeeze the fat of it. Slap it one time for good
measure. Listen: in this poem, there are no men.
I give to myself & give again.
I cup my small breast
& I’m thankful— there is no one here
to tell her that she does not have enough to give.
I play a record & my mind is clear to hear it.
Today, I lie in bed all afternoon
& it is my choice.
I breathe in & the breathing is simple. I breathe out—
a mango grove fills my room. I crawl into a cradle of branches.
I rest my head on a bunch of mangos. Yesterday, I heard
someone call out Sorrow & I did not turn my head.