Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Shawna Kay Rodenberg

Next in our series of profiles of the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award top ten, whose entry fees went to fund SI of Rittenhouse Square, PA’s Live Your Dream Award–a $1,000 award given to a single mother who has experienced hardships and wants to pursue her education, is:

Shawna Kay Rodenberg, who holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She is an English Instructor at a community college in eastern Kentucky and the founder of Slant, a monthly poetry reading series in Evansville, Indiana. Her work has appeared in New Millennium Writings, Structo, drafthorse, Free State Review, Crab Creek Review, Kudzu, and Consequence Magazine, and she is a Pushcart nominee and recipient of the Jean Ritchie Fellowship. Shawna is a registered nurse and mother of five and lives on a goat farm in southern Indiana.

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A confession: Shawna and I both went to Bennington, as did another finalist, Barrett Warner, where she and I barely overlapped, but in the way that it could be called “Facebook Friend(ly Acquaintance)s, we connected via social media and I can attest that she is one of the most earnest folks on the planet. If earnest is a word that could also encapsulate such traits as hilarious, loving, moving, and unabashed. In an attempt to sum her up, I would say she is “good people.”

Further proof of that statement-when I asked her to name one of the women she admires, Shawna wrote back: “My mother, Deborah Kay Benge, whose strength, resilience, humor, and unconditional love have blessed my life immeasurably.”

A reminder: the contest was anonymous so all of the above fabulousness that is Shawna had no ranking on her selection as finalist. That was solely determined by her poem “Little Debbie Repeats: Open Your Eyes…” which I loved for not just how it was written (the form a long, singular stanza, so hard to do well but this was the absolute right form for this poem), but also what it said, about longing, the sacrifices of being a parent. Whether an poem or persona, the character felt so real I didn’t want to know. Even in moments of quietude, the voice of the poem was propelled forward toward self-improvement in a way that seemed so truthful and genuine.

But alas! I am telling you of a poem you can’t read yet! In the event the above has made you wish to read a Shawna Kay Rodenberg original, I’ll give you a three for one deal via her appearance in drafthorse, and I encourage you to read all three. My comments are on the third poem, simply because I think it a bit of a sibling to “Little Debbie Repeats: Open Your Eyes…”

“Mercy Plea” pulled me in immediately with the personalization of the herb cabinet, who leans, exhales, the personalization continued through the door frame bracing, it is a very alive poem, a populated home, from the start. Then the daring and oh-so-right repetition of “our burden, our burden” made even more emphatic by the line break. Shawna’s narrator says mid-poem, “I don’t need to be told/how it feels to be rich,” and it’s so true, when she says “my jewel box is full” she may very well have said “my life.” There is a love omnipresent in this poem, she writes, “we make love like shaking clinking coins on the sheets.” My favorite moment, amidst the jewelry, the coins, the talk of wealth, is the “babies crowning,” (emphasis mine). This poem features such a dynamic between literal and figurative wealth, that universal struggle of sacrifices made for either, or both.

It’s a marvelous poem, as is Shawna’s finalist piece “Little Debbie Repeats: Open Your Eyes…” They both have such a truth to them, with more than a pinch of beauty.

Thanks Shawna for submitting, and congratulations on being a top ten finalist!

Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Susanna Kittredge

Susanna Kittredge’s poems have appeared in publications such as 14 Hills, The Columbia Reviewand Salamander as well as the anthologies Bay Poetics (Faux Press, 2006) and Shadowed: Unheard Voices (The Press at California State University, Fresno 2014). She has an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She lives in Boston where she is a member of The Jamaica Pond Poets and the Brighton Word Factory. By day she is a middle school teacher.


Susanna’s finalist poem “Summer Camp” in The Brittany Noakes Poetry Award competition, chosen out of over 500 poems and with proceeds benefiting a single mother who has experienced hardships and wants to go to school, was so.damn.good. It captured girlhood in just a few stanzas. “Summer Camp” was everything the club, SI of Rittenhouse Square, could imagine a poem to say about what it means to be a girl becoming a woman. It spoke to sisterhood in a way so few cannonized poems can by virtue of largely being written by people who’ve never had the luxury/agony of the experience. Susanna’s poem had that same cannonical talent, with the subject matter of a marginalized voice in literature. I loved it. Can I rave more? Actually, not quite without spoilers–

I can’t share it with you because it hasn’t been published yet, so editors, if you could get on that, it’d be great.

Luckily, Susanna has many other poems available for me to share with you. From the links she sent for me to choose from, I selected “History,” published in affiliation with “Bang Out: A Quick and Dirty Reading Series.”  This poem seemed most appropriate after I started thinking about the excised perspective of women in literature, prompted by Susanna’s Finalist poem.

But to give “History” my full and isolated attention, what I care for most in this poem is its sense of the future’s possibilities, all of them “terrifying,” as encapsulated by the brilliant imagery of the close. This poem travels high and low, to the moon, to the bus on the way there (where? It does not matter), to the bus on the way back. The trees shiver, then quake. A female infant speaks of doomsday, and is corrected. A growing feeling of great unease permeates the poem. A surrealist quality rides strong. It is a magnificent piece, one that couldn’t be more different in subject matter from “Summer Camp,” though they are both connected by Susanna’s talent.

I asked Susanna to tell me about a woman she admires, in keeping with the spirit of the competition, and in the way poetry is the smallest world, she wrote of my fourth term adviser at Bennington, Brenda Shaugnessy. I second all Susanna says below.

Susanna said, I admire the poet Brenda Shaughnessy. I don’t know her personally, but I admire her poetry. It is simultaneously heartfelt, funny, self-deprecating, empowered, vulnerable and complex. Her diction consistently surprises and delights me. Her voice is distinctly feminine without falling into self-limiting romantic tropes of what it means to be a woman or girl. To the extent that the truth allows itself to be spoken, she speaks it. These are all qualities I strive for in my own writing.

To this I would tell Susanna, your striving has given way to success!

Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Emily Rose Cole

This is the next in a series on the finalists, runner-up, and winner of the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, a fundraiser by Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square, PA  for their Live Your Dream Award, given to a single mother who has experienced hardships to help make it possible for her to attend school.

emily_rose_cole_400_200_200_c1Finalist Emily Rose Cole is a writer and lyricist from Pennsylvania. She has received awards from Jabberwock Review, Ruminate Magazine, and the Academy of American Poets, and her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, Yemassee, and Passages North, among others. She holds an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is currently a PhD student at the University of Cincinnati.

I asked Emily to name a woman she admires, in the keeping of the Live Your Dream Awards, and she had this to say, “In high school, my history teacher had us complete a research project about an American political figure from the early 20th century, and my person was Jeannette Rankin, the first female representative to Congress. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 1916, and she was a huge force for passage of the 19th Amendment. She’s been an inspiration to me ever since, and I’ve always especially loved her pacifism. She used to say, “you can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake,” and she was the only representative in either house of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan in 1941.

Emily’s finalist poem can be read online here, at the Winning Writers’ site, where it placed first in the 2014 Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest. I loved it just as much as they did over at Winning Writers, so chose it for one of ten finalists out of over 500 poems.

Allegheny County, 1888: Ava Remembers Her Canaries is a haunting poem that takes the reader to another time. My favorite passage (italics mine):

Weeks later, the chicks burst into the world
like dynamite. I offered them a flaking metal palace
washed in sunlight, volunteered for outdoor chores
to stay close…

The mine’s explosion revealed at the end of the poem makes that “like dynamite” so startling upon second read of the poem. Its inner rhyme with “sunlight” mirrors the danger of the mine paired with the beauty of the birds, the bonding between father and Ava over the canaries. When Emily further writes, “I taught them rhythm,” I am in great belief at her ability to do so.

The most emotional passages to me are those two stanzas in italics, the dream quality they take on, the surrealism…tell the truth but tell it slant, the formatting allows Emily’s Ava to speak in another tone. The dynamic between the two voices is so evocative again of her subject matter.

Reading this poem, a takeaway might be that life is fleeting and complex. Even beauty is bred and caged. But beauty is in the telling, too. Cole’s words sing just like her canaries.

It is a truly lovely poem. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Follow Emily on twitter, to keep up with even more of her successes.


Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Julia Blumenreich

Julia B4th grade teacher, Julia Blumenreich, a recipient of a Pennsylvania Arts Council grant for her poetry, has read her work in various venues including The Kelly Writers’ House; Brown University; Muse House; and The Painted Bride Art Center. Her recent work is published in The Whirlwind Review and Philadelphia Stories. She’s published two chapbooks: Meeting Tessie (Singing Horse Press) and Artificial Memory (Leave Books) and has completed a poetry manuscript called “So You Wonder.”

A woman she admires most is Jocelyn Hillman who for ten years has worked as part of a team to create and sustain The Community Partnership School in North Philadelphia, a K – 5,  private school.  At CPS, children apply from the surrounding neighborhoods, and if accepted, the tuition is kept very low, reflecting what the families can afford financially.  The class size is much lower than encountered in a public school and all operating costs come from donations raised by the staff and board, of which Jocelyn is the current President.

A woman I admire most is Julia Blumenreich, for her beautiful poetry. The poem she entered The Brittany Noakes Poetry Award with, “Watchic Pond, Maine” was a sensory experience of childhood loss pervading adult memory. I just loved it. At one point, Julia describes the scent of those brittle rubber bands and it made the poem for me. I can’t share the poem with you here, as it hasn’t been published yet, but publishers, if you want to change that after reading the below linked amazing poem from Philadelphia Stories, reach out!

Speaking of that amazing poem from Philadelphia Stories, I share with you by hyperlink: “At Your Tribute: A Black T-Shirt, White Letters: ‘Not Dead Yet‘”

I’ll give you a moment to read.

The refrain “Not dead yet,” in relation to the violets, as informed by the title…goodness. The flowers’ perseverance. The perseverance of memory, again, such a theme in Julia’s writing. The syntax of the opening stanza is astounding. I could study it. Taking it one, two clauses further than expected, then stopping with that sudden period, only to add more. It’s a relentless opening, as is the experience of loss. And Julia’s poetry is so sensory, rich as the 1920s.

It’s a gorgeous poem, just like Julia and her spirit. I’m so glad she entered, and congrats to her on her well-deserved finalist status!

Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Irène Mathieu


Irène Mathieu is a pediatrician and writer based in Philadelphia. She is the 2016 winner of the Bob Kaufman Poetry Prize and the author two poetry collections, the galaxy of origins (dancing girl press, 2014) and orogeny (Trembling Pillow Press, forthcoming). She has been a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Callaloo fellow, and a Fulbright scholar. Her poetry, prose, and photography also can be found in The Caribbean Writer, Muzzle Magazine, Callaloo Journal, Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere.

Irène Mathieu is also more than her bio, and wrote this post’s stunning, stunning poem, one of ten finalists for the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, chosen by myself out of over 500 poems submitted. The entry fees to the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award go toward a Live Your Dream Award, issued by Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square to a single mother who has experienced hardships and wants to go back to school.

theory of multiple theories


I’ve written multiple theories about love.


I’ve watched a robin hop desperately around its mate splayed like a broken fan.

I’ve seen cancer swell under a baby girl’s jaw, and I’ve seen her parents.

I’ve refused goodbyes and have swallowed whole sentences that snagged in my gut, rotted, soaked into my belly until it burned.


misunderstood or perfectly understood I never could say for sure, but I’ve been called a rare bird by a boy and

I’ve seen myself in dreams as a Quetzalcoatl crashing to earth and wondered,

do I have feathers or do I breathe fire?


in the mirror I am supreme witch-goddess of the in-between world where each of us

places the fetal dream of ourselves, a sea of curled and floating ideas

filled with un-words.

in the eyes of the sky I am a drop of sweat.

in the mirror of the past I am a wandering frog, uncommitted to the river or the bank.

years from now I will learn silence.


I’ve drowned stars in a glass of rum

shoved sand under the nail of my thumb

sucked a cigar until it knotted my

stomach into rubber.

it’s what we place between ourselves and everything else that burrows in, bruises.


in the eyes of the earth I am a jar on a pottery wheel, spinning glistening clay guesswork of supreme hands.

I smell like underground.

years from now I will be filled with water.


When I read the opening of this poem, I was instantly engaged. When I read the close, I had to go back to the start. I was so impressed by the pottery imagery, then the mortality, and how the theme of death pervades the poem from start to finish. Because of course, that’s love’s counterpart–loss. Present too in the poem is this theme of struggling to communicate, to truly express one’s self in relation to others and the world. In this deeply personal poem, Irène expresses so much that is universal, one of the marks of an accomplished poem in my eyes.

Congrats to her for her finalist status. To read more of Irène’s work, order her book  the galaxy of origins!

And if you’re wondering what woman she admires, Irène had this to say: “I really admire Nawal El Saadawi, an 84-year-old Egyptian psychiatrist, writer, feminist, and activist. She has never shied away from confronting injustice with powerful words, a quality I aspire to emulate as a physician-writer myself.

Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Faith S. Holsaert

Faith SHFaith S. Holsaert is one of the eight finalists for the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award. Her entry fee, and that of the over 140 other folks who submitted over 500 poems total, went toward funding a Live Your Dream Award, a grant given by Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square, PA to a single mother who has experienced hardships and wants to pursue her education.

When I asked Faith about a woman who inspired her, she gave an answer that touched me greatly.

“A woman I admire is my adult daughter who is ‘near homeless’ in San Francisco. She has made a full life for herself despite the inner and outer pain which she confronts daily.”  

Many past winners of the Live Your Dream Award from Soroptimist chapters around the world have battled homelessness. It is an issue close to Soroptimists’ hearts.

Faith submitted a poem that has not yet appeared in print or online, and as a result I cannot share here. But please rest assured it is amazing. The poem is called “Diaspora;” allow me to wax poetic about it for a bit, akin to when someone describes a movie you haven’t yet seen, but will.

“Diaspora” was a singular poem among the over 500 poems I read in the span of a few weeks. It opened from a place of negation, describing what wasn’t to the narrator so masterfully I was immediately engaged. The poem is expansive as the journey the characters take. It mixes high and low vernacular. When it is published, I will link to it, and urge you to follow the berries within the poem.

Now that I’ve indulged in spoilers (at least it wasn’t Game of Thrones), I want to turn to a poem I can share with you: “The Ponies.”

The Ponies” reminds me of something I wrote to Faith in an email about why her poem “Diaspora” was chosen…that she made the process of writing a poem seem so simplistic it was a bit like watching an ice skater. The ice skater makes a triple axle look effortless, and when I try and get my feet on the ice, my rear has immediately joined them. “The Ponies” seems simple, but the first lines alone,

“The ponies show up for the picket line
on the snakey company road,”

are masterful in their sound (those punctuating Ps!), the narrative evolution through its linebreak, the evocative “snakey,” the absent pony handlers and the mystery it creates!

I’d take you through to the close, raving at every syllable, but there is such pleasure in simply reading and seeing Faith’s poem here, not stopping to analyze it but just enjoy it for the pure pleasure of poetry.

I encourage you to read “The Ponies” and revel in her imagery. She is a master. And one I’ll keep you updated on!

Faith S. Holsaert has published fiction in journals since the 1980s and has begun to also publish poetry. She co-edited Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC (University of Illinois). She received her mfa from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers. After many years in West Virginia, she lives in Durham, NC with her partner Vicki Smith, with whom she shares ten grandchildren.

Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Runner-up: Christopher Citro

Christopher Citro is runner-up of the first Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, whose entry fees benefitted the Live Your Dream Award, which is given to a single mother who has experienced hardships and wants to go back to school. His poem selected for this honor, “Our Beautiful Life When it’s Filled with Shrieks,”originally appeared in Rattle, Issue 50.

I’m going to pause there a minute and give you time to read his poem.



Isn’t it just amazing? I read it to my boyfriend at 2 AM, waking him up to hear my croaky, judging over 500 poems so therefore sleep-deprived voice try and convey the magic I felt when reading it on the page. My boyfriend became a convert to the Citro Church of poetry too, even at that late hour.

Judge J.C. Todd shared these words with me about Christopher’s poem:

“Alive with vernacular rhythms and wit, ‘Our Beautiful Life When It’s Filled With Shrieks‘ meanders through complications of a global eat-and- be-eaten marketplace and fables of its past. What’s the still point on which it balances through slippery turns of thought? A notion of love that nourishes two, instead of sacrificing an I for you.”

I asked Christopher about a woman he admired, and he responded with,

“I admire the poet Emily Dickinson. In one of her letters she wrote: ‘I think the bluebirds do their work exactly like me.’ And in another: ‘Mines in the same Ground meet by tunneling.’ In looking up that last quotation, I discovered I’d always misremembered it as, ‘Minds in the same ground meet by tunneling.’ She probably wrote that, too.”

Christopher won a year’s subscription to Bone Bouquet,  which I highly recommend all subscribe to!

Christopher Citro 3.JPGChristopher Citro is the author of The Maintenance of the Shimmy-Shammy (Steel Toe Books, 2015). He won the 2015 Poetry Competition at Columbia Journal, and his recent and upcoming publications include poetry in Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, Best New Poets 2014, Sycamore Review, The Journal, Sixth Finch, Columbia Poetry Review, Rattle, Mid-American Review, and Poetry Northwest, and creative nonfiction in Boulevard and Colorado Review. He received his MFA from Indiana University and lives in Syracuse, NY.