Richard Benvenuto High School Poetry Competition
The 2016 winners. From left: Luke Williams (Honorable Mention), Emma Streberger (3rd Place), Charles Morris (1st Place). Not pictured: Rachel Litchman (2nd Place)
Each fall, the RCAH Center for Poetry holds the Richard Benvenuto High School Poetry Competition, with prize donated by Barry Gross in memory of his dear classmate, dear colleague, dear friend Richard Benvenuto.
E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to register your school on our mailing list. The call for entries for the 2017 competition will be mailed to high schools in mid-September. The competition is open to all students who attend a Michigan high school.
About Richard Benvenuto
Richard Ercole Benvenuto taught in the English Department at Michigan State University for 20 years. From his office in Morrill Hall he conducted grad student seminars and advised students on the best paths for their lives. He loved teaching and was a published scholar of Victorian Literature. At the time of his death, Indiana University dedicated an issue of Victorian Studies in his honor. He published two biographies, one on Emily Bronte and the other on Amy Lowell. His next book would have been on Oscar Wilde. As a young grad student he was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, which he used to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at Hollins College, Virginia. At Hollins College, he worked under William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies. Richard played music and wrote poetry throughout his life. He was married for 27 years to his wife, Joyce and has three children and four grandchildren.
Congratulations to all of our participants! The winning writers were invited to read their poems on November 16, at the Fall Writers Series reading with Chris Dombrowski.
First Place: Charles Morris
High School: Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy
Year in School: Senior
Sponsoring Teacher: Susan Wolverton
i've looked for you in
my mother's eyes and
your spot by the window but
both have been empty for so long
even the dust has gotten lonely.
on the corner of w shattuck
there is a Mexican mercado
where my mother used to buy
me dulces. i saw you
painted onto their wall.
arms full of groceries and baby
children and old dreams
tugging at the hem of your dress.
this corner of america,
with chipping paint and a sinking foundation -
the last piece of Home you had left.
your language, sharp and shifting,
always scrapes the corners of my mouth.
hangs in the back of
my throat like wind chimes; i think
it's starting to rust.
Second Place: Rachel Litchman
High School: Interlochen Arts Academy
Year In School: Senior
Sponsoring Teacher: Adam Atkinson
The acorn shells snap inside an empty mailbox, swollen
with too many maggots—
lice eggs and fire ants, moth wings
balloon into an ocean inside my stomach,
and Blue Moons droop
above a forehead brimmed with fever,
a nightmare broken from the sound of glass.
Shattering, it happens again.
The glass bottle thrown, the black rags
dripping off his body stained from sleep
under park benches, tree stumps, roof shingles
rotted by scarabs. It was autumn
and I was on my way to the train station
when the man came toward me, groping.
His fist inside my chest, his teeth
inside my tongue. He rummaged around like a mouse
in an empty room, chewed away at my own spine,
every cracked vertebrae. The leaves crumble,
the colors dim out. It's winter again
and the earth breaks on its knees
from too much silence. When the snow clears,
the body of a man with bones
juts up from the mud. The ribs cave inward, the black
dog drips again. Somewhere in my memories,
the words, Press your hands to my skin, dear, feel the heart.
Third Place: Emma Streberger
School: University Liggett School
Year in School: Senior
Sponsoring Teacher: Elizabeth Wagenshutz
I am the three-time reigning champion of the
Annual Christmas domino tournament.
The other contender, my uncle
Our audience, grandma.
But when he left, he left behind the audience wanting more, a single player without
opponent, and a dark and dusty set of dominoes in his will.
The indented ivory pieces stain my dresser as I strain to ignore his passing but
between the dots and lines I realize that box contains all his thoughts and time that
He has lost.
Not dominoes but Morse code
That overflowed with unspoken lines, trashed ideas, and rash one lines,
Sad goodbyes, and "hey you guys," a lot he thought, and
•• — •••/— —— —•—
That translates to It's ok.
These dominoes like a telegraph sending
Like I fell on the sidewalk, and goose
Bumps up my arm.
Please tell me all the things he never got to
I am the three-time reigning champion of the annual Christmas domino tournament.
The only contender
—— / •
Honorable Mention: Luke Williams
School: Detroit Catholic Central
Year in School: Senior
Sponsoring Teacher: Kevin Griffin
We stand on the beach,
Feet covered in a black dust and fresh water,
Waiting for the frigid liquid
To alter the tiny sandy landscape.
In all this motioned majesty,
It can be hard to imagine
What these waves of sun
Keep in the dark.
The black dust is a gift,
From the coal steamer Baltimore;
Swallowed up by a storm,
Taking her cook down with her.
If we stood on that hill
You'd see a discoloration in the shallows;
The JC Harisson, who dragged
Her glittering iron ore to a lackluster grave.
The paddle wheeler Harpoon
lies in the bay;
Forever staring up from the waves
At the lighthouse that couldn't save her.
What this place truly is
Is a graveyard,
A moving museum
Displaying those who couldn't tame it.