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Creative Minds Poetry Contest

Thank you to all who entered our Creative Minds Poetry Contest! This year, we received more than 1,300 entries. We are thrilled to announce the winners.

Ages 14 - 18:  First Place | Second Place | Third Place
Ages 13 and under:  First Place | Second Place | Third Place
About our judge

Ages 14 - 18

First Place

China Canteen
by Emily Tian

Come New Year’s, and my father becomes Jun
again, meaning soldier, meaning my grandmother’s prayer
for strength. Other days he wheels, like a muddied tire,
to Juan, to June, to John. The telephone always ringing for John.

Tonight, though, his voice hushes over the soft ablution
of a year. The soot in his hair washed by monolid god, by no god,
by the god inking thank you/thank you/thank
you on the supermarket bags growing like calla lilies.

Forget slow linting of green cards on tabletops. Forget last Sunday. Forget the
stumble-stop s and the bowed v. It all wells up inside him,
siphoned from his windpipes through the unlatched
window, where the sun waits like a flame.

Monsoon fryer: peanut oil beating itself into rain.
Wine poured in great smooth drags, and gulped down like a fish-man.
Fish and fortune taste the same in his mouth. Nian nian you yu
The light stammers so gently I could cry.

Emily Tian is a high school junior from Maryland. She has been previously recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Words Dance, The Cadaverine Magazine, and The Claremont Review, among others. She is honored to have her work featured in Imagine.

Judge’s comments: "China Canteen" is simply gorgeous. The sheer intelligence of how daily objects change as the ways with which they are interacted change startled me. Language is transformed and therein transforms how we see the world, how the speaker sees the world, and the intimacy of everything becoming one with the father is frightening and enviably beautiful. What comes before is given layers of meaning through repetition: god, forgetfulness, the action of cooking and eating. With precision and attention to sound, this poem has created a voice that is not only convincing but necessary.
 

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Second Place

Elegy with Dementia
by Aidan Forster

In the bad poem I wrote
about my great-uncle,
he could still dream

there were only 400 names
for flowers, & could listen
as I named them: split

grey hair, jumpy fourth finger,
his bright Baltimore house
& the marina holding its boats

like rotten teeth,
the slow shatter of the sea
always frightening him, how at 67

he could trace himself back
to a single breaker like a rope
pulled through a hand,

how he sat quiet in the corner
at Christmas, gave us presents
wrapped in dirty napkins,

called me by my brother’s name,
& how near the end
he got lost in Denver,

called & called
my name is George
until something caught

& he couldn’t recognize
himself in the mirror,
his face like a great beast

rising from the depths
of the marina, & me
just a boy in its wake.

Aidan Forster is a senior in the creative writing program at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. He serves as managing editor of The Blueshift Journal, and his work appears in or is forthcoming in BOATTCosmonauts AvenueIndiana ReviewPleiades, and Verse, among others. His work has been recognized by Princeton University, the Poetry Society of America, the National YoungArts Foundation, and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. His debut chapbook, Exit Pastoral, is forthcoming from YesYes Books in 2018.

Judge’s comments: "Elegy with Dementia" is a poem full of heart and witness. The tercets moves us from stability to instability as the difficulty of knowing what comes next engulfs the reader. There is a lot of care here for the great-uncle who is remembered so lovingly while memory leaves him, changes him, makes him a bit frightening to the speaker without losing an ounce of love.
 

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Third Place

how to fold dumplings for your mother
by Jacqueline He

1. spread the flour wrapper flat
Mama’s silhouette blurs at the edges—
even in photographs, she is an aproned
shape of yellow. She sifts rice
from water, slits a market crab before
its ochre claws plier shut.

2. spoon out a dollop of pork
The way she thinks is generational:
how illness seeps in up bare soles,
how jasmine soup curdles in sugared wine.
How to clatter out the stepmother tongue:
Thank you very much, Thank you very much.

3. trace water around the dough
It is perhaps the only English she knows to say,
day-in & day-out to the shuffling customers.
Mama stands for hours behind the cash register
processing jars of five-spice powder, the marbled
beef, oolong tea rattling in desiccation.

4. fold the corners into a crescent
Now in her old flak jacket, Mama stirs
grated ginger & soy sauce into minced pork.
The pot a low grumble as she kneads out
flat circles of dough, jabs meat into flour
sleeves, closing each hungry mouthful.

5. crimp the edges tightly together
Our kitchen is too small yet too large: silence
devours our New Year’s dinners & holds enough
conversation for two. Mama’s jaw slides back & forth
as she gnaws. Chopsticks puncture thin skins, pale
steam rising as her cold foot settles against mine.

Jacqueline He is a senior at the Harker School in San Jose, CA. Her work has been recognized by the National YoungArts Foundation, Bennington College, Columbia College Chicago, Princeton University, and The Adroit Journal Prizes. She has been nominated for Bettering American Poetry.

Judge’s comments: This poem is a language-rich instructional on how to remember and honor a family figure, here the mother, with sonically driven lines. The dense sestets move from food to lyrical descriptions of a mother beyond maternity as she is complicated by the level of attention she pays to the world around her, rendered into music and image by the poet. The folding of dumplings is more about intimacy and revelation, the truest meal being the level of detail given to everything the mother does: color, body, sensation of two worlds meeting.
 

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Ages 13 and Under

First Place

China
by Gayatri Rajan

Upon our finest plates are dime-store patterns:
electric blue pansies, tulips the color of neon store signs,
woven roses, interlocking scarlet. Decades ago,
Aunt Liu won her only legacy—at a carnival, slapping
coin after coin upon the table, until she finally
guessed well enough to win the china.
Plastic wallet empty but for luck, a subway pass

We make who we are by what we have: letters,
old photos, a polished blue trunk filled with coins.
The first night we came, the old story goes, Uncle Mao
let the flute music lead him to Chinatown. Anthems,
symbols. The next day, he took to Walmart to be someone
new: t-shirts, cargo shorts, tourist sunglasses.

Just enough English for the cashier, the trims at Super Clips,
the giant department stores. A history, a lineage, told
in halting montage, the Mandarin and the English slipping    
into each other, impossible to separate. “Yǒu liánghǎo de meal,”
Aunt Liu says, as she heaps noodles onto the china.
Have a good meal. And I know we will. Because in that moment,
we are songs coalescing, decades fusing, finally accepting
these twin cities that we wear.

Gayatri Rajan, 13, previously placed in Imagine’s poetry contest and won both first and third place in this year’s 13 and Under category. Impassioned writer by day and voracious reader by night, Gayatri adores the heart-stopping, blood-racing, spine-tingling craft of writing. Her dearest friends are characters in books—Green’s cynical Hazel, Orwell’s inquisitive Winston, and a universe of others. Her work has been recognized nationally by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. In addition to writing, she enjoys playing the violin, dancing, painting, crocheting, and computer programming.

Judge’s comments: "China" is miraculous in how it moves from narrative to lyric, revealing the interwoven worlds of Chinese and English, of languages mixing and therefore two senses of selves becoming one, by using story and internal exploration to build on this transformation. It begins with something as simple as china meaning, first, the porcelain plates originally from China to the country itself. Everything becomes expansive and we as readers are allowed entrance inside the growing understanding of human complexity to understand and be understood wherever we may be.
 

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Second Place

Ocotillo
by Andy Choi

Crimson tips forming half-moons—
closest thing we have to waves
in the desert.
When big mother takes her shower,
the waves are resurrected by
the tempest, which loosens up
its ash coat to reveal a hazy azure.
Then the waves crash, over the
white bark and the brief period
of green that occupies
the sand before it all turns to sepia.
You can see this ebb over
the creosote, the palo verde,
and then it’s gone.
One May day,
the waves stop, and for a year I wait
until the ocotillo blossoms again.

Andy Choi, 13, lives in Garden Grove, CA. He currently studies at the Orange County School of the Arts, where he participates in the International Dance conservatory. When not ardently writing, Andy enjoys reading travel writing, wheel throwing, and hiking, he finds inspiration in the simplicity of Korean poetry and the fluidity of free verse.

Judge’s comments: "Ocotillo" is furious with sound and color, the repetition of the word "wave" undulating through different uses: likeness to water, more directly the tall body of the plant leaning one way then back another way. It is a plant that the speaker of this poems sees as being changed and in its being change it changes the landscape around it until inevitably it must go away. I enjoy the slip into second person where the "you" sneaks in, inviting me to see the ocotillo that was already convincingly there, an ocean in the midst of desert, the imagination realized.
 

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Third Place

Dawn Crawl
by Gayatri Rajan

We’ve come the way the rabbits come
through brambles and raspberry bushes,
where everything is fiercely dark—a skein of black
stalks weaving above us, thistles the color of woodsmoke
under our palms. This part drops into a tunnel, a caved in road
from an age far past, holding tree roots, curled as if clinging
to the damp clay. My sister clutching me as we move, vision dotted
by berries, like gnats on a porch screen. The tiny hollow yields a needle
of light, after moments, and the gap widens, and we emerge. And there—
in the distance—the wind chimes we’ve hung on the wizened tree,
the smooth metal tolling against the ridges,
a welcome.

Gayatri Rajan (OH) won both first and third place in the 13 and Under category. Read her bio.

Judge’s comments: "Dawn Crawl" begins with a comparison, a metaphor, a sudden transformation of human to rabbit and in that swiftness the poem becomes fable. The level of sound work here is immaculate. Listen to how the hard 'k' attacks then softens to the "uh" sound: "dark—skein of black/ stalks weaving above us." This is the speaker traversing through the thickets into the levity of childhood play and as the poem widens the emergence initiates until, small as the gap of entry, "a welcome." Smart prosodic choices give a wise poem.

About our judge

Phillip B. Williams is the author of Thief in the Interior, winner of the 2017 Kate Tufts Discovery award, the 2017 Whiting Award for Poetry, and the Lambda Literary Award. His poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, and Poetry. A visiting faculty member at Bennington College, he is coeditor-in-chief of the online journal Vinyl Poetry.

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