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  • Young Poets Introduction
  • Editor at Large 2018 Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers

The Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers, now in its fifteenth year, recognizes an outstanding single poem by a high school junior or senior. This award is made possible by the generosity of Ms. Grodd, and we at the Kenyon Review are grateful for her gift. This year, we saw a particularly ambitious and varied group of entries, with nearly one thousand students submitting their original poetry for consideration. We were heartened to spend time with the exceptional work of young writers from around the country and the world; selecting just one winner and two finalists was, as always, tough. Our deep gratitude to the students who shared their writing with us this year.

This year's winning poem, Audrey Kim's "What I Left Behind," uses exacting imagery and an associative structure to dramatize a young person's complex grappling with identity, lineage, and desire. This poem adopts a fitting blurriness when it comes to time; the opening tells us that it's summer, and a knock on the door brings with it a memory, but the specific sequence of scenarios eludes us. This slipperiness underscores how the speaker's upbringing is always with her even as she leaves home, her mother offering "money and medicine" for her travels. When the mother shouts "you can't be one of them," we hear the intimation of homophobia and an enduring rift that divides generations. This rift is then deftly reflected in the palette of images that compose the poem, from the stark and potent observation that "we walk into the future barefoot, / and forget to turn on the lights" to the description of sunflowers that "turn away / from their own shadow." For its command of taut and evocative language, "What I Left Behind" takes home our first prize.

In addition to the winning poem, we are thrilled to present two very strong pieces that distinguished themselves as finalists. "Extraterrestre," by Emily Perez, deconstructs the concept of the "alien" in order to [End Page 5] explore what it means to hold a Latinx immigrant identity in a hostile cultural climate. When this poem's speaker says "I pledged with the wrong hand to a flag that / Wasn't mine," we get an immediate image of a lone person in the obligatory national posture of deference who, rather than positioning the right hand over the heart, positions the left hand where the heart is not. This poem also yokes together questions of immigrant identity and body image issues, interrogating the way in which white American culture valorizes thinness; the speaker, told to fit in, transitions from a breakfast of rice and beans to a breakfast of cereal to "nothing at all." It's a smart and forceful work.

Finally, Jenny Li's innovative "Chapter Seven Quiz: Coming of Age in Female Skin" is notable for its use of form to underscore and complicate its thematic concerns. Right from the wry and terrifying initial direction ("Once you finish the quiz, you may leave / your body"), this poem invites the reader to think in leaps and connections, many of which are both revelatory and deeply uncomfortable. The poem takes its formal cues from a multiple choice test, using the constraint to intersperse stories from myth, fantasy, and history. The answer bank at the bottom reveals not only the identities of the poem's four protagonists, but also draws connections between these four female figures and other iconic women in power and in pain. Much of this poem's ultimate impact comes from how, in each question, the line marked "d." offers insight and information about the poem's speaker; the poet's choice to move, in these moments, from the third person into the first person is spot-on.

Congratulations to the winner and finalists, and many thanks to each of the young poets who sent in work and who continue to keep poetry alive in schools and communities. [End Page 6]



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