2017 Award Winners, Finalists, & Honorable Mention


Up North Poetry Prize


"Our ghosts will smoke cigarettes together" by Bethany A. Breitland

"At its heart, “Our Ghosts will Smoke Cigarettes Together” preserves a part of existence that has passed while simultaneously reincarnating the past so pain and trauma can be transcended. I believe poetry happens at the joining or separation of the desire to preserve as well as reincarnate, which is mirrored in this poem’s two stanzas. The dropped line at the end—the final unit of breath, or exhale rather—concerns itself with fire and burning as a metaphor for the end of one era and the rebirth of another. “Our Ghosts will Smoke Cigarettes Together” is an imaginative take on what it means to exist in the Midwest: that constant desire to leave and be more than just the “flat land,” but at the same time feeling rooted and connected to the landscape—either through love or pain. By remaining in Indiana, the speaker is committing an act of retribution, destruction, and rebirth (in the ethereally common form of a ghost), and in this way the speaker provides us a full narrative with closure. It is a narrative that is beyond “the nuances of love and violence we were born into.” This poem is a reconciliation of speaker with region, and where the poem could fall victim to nihilism or despair; it takes the higher road by offering hope through a series of well-crafted images of mature intelligence and heart." — John McCarthy, 2017 Judge



"Piggsville" by Max Schleicher

“Piggsville” is the perfect portrait of a hardscrabble and roughshod place that has been forgotten by the mainstream. Through strong, original imagery, the poem illuminates the emotions, hard-hitting physical events, and ideas that bind places to people. For some, “Piggsville” is a mirror offering up a kind of communion and acknowledgment of rural experience. For others, “Piggsville” is a poem of witness and evidence." — John McCarthy, 2017 Judge

"An Inland Sea" by Elizabeth Langemak

“An Inland Sea” is a succinct meditation on what it means to be from a place, as well as raised by the nuances of a specific landscape. Whether we like it or not, all of our relationships are judged by certain impressions made upon us by that nature. “An Inland Sea” illuminates how that reality is always an internal and external struggle--a constant energy that we process. The beauty of this poem is how it leaves us to meditate in the silence of acceptance." — John McCarthy, 2017 Judge


Honorable Mention

"Eye" by Jennifer Steinorth
"Train Country" and "Western Interior" by Alec Osthoff
"Fish" by Kevin Griffin
"Bathtub for a Giant" by Patrick Swaney
"Deer Story" Elizabeth Tornes
"Tuesday, Morning" by Aaron Dargis
"Scared of the Village" by Jake Bauer
"First Contact" by Dylan Weir
"Good Decay" by Marie Sweetman



"Feudal Construction" by Rory Cox

"I appreciate the calm, imperative voice, how sure the poet sounds as he builds this world for us.  I appreciate the awareness of class, I appreciate that this writer is thinking about power and presenting certain visions of power very clearly.   He does something most fine poets do:  he knows how to exit his work of art.  He had something worth saying, and he said it was authority and clarity." — Deborah Keenan, 2017 Judge



 "Paper Hawk" by Milly Thimm

"A beautiful lyric poem.  Clear sense of portraiture, beautiful exit." — Deborah Keenan, 2017 Judge


"Sunday Mourning" by Katharine Murphy

"Excellent use of a form, and making the form work for the political purpose this poet has for this poem." — Deborah Keenan, 2017 Judge



"Dollhouse" by Sophie Paquette

"I appreciate the sharp writing, the stylish syntax and diction, and the feeling most important to me as a reader:  I am in the hands of someone who knows how to shape a story, and is telling a story worth telling.  She works with precision, her sentences are strong and varied, and I like and respond to the big canvas she is creating on.  This writer does her work. The pacing works for the content she wants to explore." — Deborah Keenan, 2017 Judge



"Higher Than The Stars" by Maria Cheriyan

"This writer owns her spiritual convictions, and insists that the reader see the world her way as the story unfolds.  I appreciate the heart of this story, and the patience of the writer as she created it." — Deborah Keenan, 2017 Judge