Previous Winners

Congratulations to Maggie Graber, winner of the 2021 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging) for her collection Swan Hammer: An Instructor's Guide to Mirrors. Selected by final judge Sarah Bagby, Swan Hammer will be published 2022 by MSU Press.

Maggie Graber (she/her) is a queer poet from the Midwest. She is a Luminarts Cultural Foundation Fellow, a graduate of the MFA program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and a certified Wilderness First Responder. She’s been awarded grants and residencies from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Monson Arts, SAFTA, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and Denali National Park, and her poems have appeared in BOAAT, The Louisville Review, Southern Indiana Review, Hobart, The Adroit Journal, Cosmonaut's Avenue, and RHINO, among others. She currently serves as poetry editor for Yalobusha Review and lives in Oxford, Mississippi, where she’s a Ph.D. student at the University of Mississippi.

"Swan Hammer: An Instructor’s Guide to Mirrors exposes the collision and co-existence of popular culture, sexual identity, the natural world, virtual reality, families, and the cosmos," writes judge Sarah Bagby. "There is a sonnet in the collection, there is humor, intimacy, there are odes and elegies, a poem called Pi Day. There is fluidity in time and space and voice. There is great pleasure and pain on these pages. There are so many things I love about this collection. I love how 'I Remember Nashville, the dueling piano bar' is not an homage to music, and how in 'At the Twilight of the Big Bang' it might be time for a new origin story. I love the way the poems look on the page. I love the honesty and vulnerability of this collection."

Finalists for this tenth round are Becoming Ribbons by Amber Adams, Breath on a Coal by Anne Haven McDonnell, They're Not Lying When They Tell You You'll Dream of the Dead by Mary Ardery, and We Were Never Here by Catherine Prescott.

Congratulations to Mary Morris, winner of the 2020 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Established) for her collection Late Self-Portraits. Selected by judge Leila Chatti, Late Self-Portraits will be published in 2022 by MSU Press

"Late Self-Portraits is a riveting look into the lives—and bodies—of those suffering from illness," writes judge Leila Chatti. "The speaker shapeshifts, taking on the persona of various women throughout history—Joan of Arc, Frida Kahlo, Marie Curie—as well as famous men (Francis Bacon, Dylan Thomas, Jorge Luis Borges). These poems voyage to vibrant, distant places in time and geography, melding past and present. A son wanders the historic streets of Paris at night, and by day enters a cathedral’s contemporary glass confessional. A dying mother is a Madonna lighting a cigarette and checking Facebook. A man with HIV bench presses in a 'modern Colosseum' among men whose bodies are chiseled like stone. I am moved by the clarity of vision and the tenderness of touch in these poems. This is a speaker who looks closely and renders the seen and unseen masterfully, her gaze lingering on an image just long enough for us to see it, too. When the speaker turns her attention inward, what is revealed is a devastating portrait of illness, a body wracked by seizures. Sanctuary or battle, this body insists on being attended to—raucous with ghosts, horses, pain. These poems sizzle with energy and urgency. I could not look away."

Finalists for this ninth round are We Can't Tell if the Constellations Love Us by Jennifer Boyden, The Ice Hours by Marion Boyer, Fire Season by Jeff Knorr, and Kaan and her Sisters by Lena Tuffaha.

2020 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging)

Congratulations to Daniel Lassell, winner of the 2020 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging) for his collection Spit. Selected by judge Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Spit is due for release in July 2021 by MSU Press

“This book, to me, seems timeless and utterly present in its desire," writes judge Gabrielle Calvocoressi, "through the hard work of formal rigor and dreaming, to look deeply at the damaged and often beautiful world as a means of making something new. [It is] a book full with a seemingly tight focus that kept reminding me of all the complexities and harms and beauties of the larger world outside. A book about agrarian life that touches on faith, violence, the tick-borne illnesses that seem to be bringing so many bodies low, in this era where all of our bodies are in danger. It is a book that takes account of itself and the agrarian life is a lens but never a veil, never an idyll. Life is hard in these poems. And the body keeps persevering as it also attempts to see the possibility of another way of being."

Finalists for this eighth round are West Portal by Benjamin Gucciardi, Acoustic Shadows by Ceridwen Hall, Breath on a Coal by Anne Haven McDonnell, and We Hold These Truths by Mitchell Nobis.

silhouette of a llama with white letters spelling spit

2019 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Established)

Congratulations to Derek Sheffield, winner of the 2019 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Established) for his collection Not for Luck. Selected by judge Mark Doty, Not for Luck will be published in 2021 by MSU Press.

“In Not for Luck, Derek Sheffield achieves something of inestimable value: a trustworthy, convincing voice,” writes judge Mark Doty. “A voice, of course, is something we have, but getting it onto the page is another matter entirely. We don’t speak in the compressed mode of lyric poetry, even of a colloquial kind, and yet there’s something deeply affecting about a poetic voice that sounds effortless, and captures something essential about a speaker. It allows us, over the course of a book of poems, to feel that we’ve met someone in particular. Not for Luck introduces us to a father, a friend, a son, a man deeply embedded in family and community, which is also to say he is a citizen of time, and attentive to passages, growth and change.”

Finalists for this seventh round are A Case for Solace by Liz Ahl, Inventory of the Winter Palace by Chris Forhan, In Our Beautiful Bones by Zilka Joseph, and Some Girls by Alison Luterman.

2019 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging)

Congratulations to Noah Davis, winner of the 2019 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging) for his collection Of This River. Selected by judge George Ella Lyon, Of This River will be published in August 2020 by MSU Press.

“Both mythic and rooted, the poems in Of This River  arrive full of bear and deer, blood and muck," writes judge George Ella Lyon. "Their beauty is taut, tough, unsparing, like the lives of the people who inhabit this Pennsylvania land. Short-Haired Girl dives, hits her head on a rock, drowns. Lovers are sliced by a train. Meanwhile, life goes relentlessly on: coyote speaks about love for his brother, snapping turtle tells of his loneliness, grandma fries up snapping turtle meat for her grandkids standing by the stove. Of This River testifies to the way all life, for good or ill, is interwoven. We need this visionary voice.”

Finalists for this sixth round are 89% by Sarah Cooper, The Pirate Anne Bonny Consults the GPS by Dorsey Craft, Nothing is Always Moving by Nicole Robinson, and What You Call Falling by Yeskah Rosenfeld.

2018 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry (Established)

Congratulations to Brad Johnson, winner of the 2018 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize for Poetry (Established), for his collection, Smuggling Elephants Through Airport Security. Selected by judge Carolyn Forché, Smuggling Elephants Through Airport Security was published by MSU Press in 2020.

Smuggling Elephants Through Airport Security is a kaleidoscopic tour of the American moment,” writes judge Carolyn Forché, “as conducted by a poet unafraid of the vertiginous highs and lows of a culture that sends into collision its smart cars, hurricanes, emojis, pop heroes, meth houses, TV pundits, rock stars and refugees. This moment, he writes, is the rising tropical storm surge of American’s second antebellum. The secret to the title is revealed by an incident in an airport having to do with a belt buckle shaped like a revolver, and its genius is its argument regarding the thingness of things. The tutelary spirit of this work could easily have been John Ashbery. I have not encountered many poets as brave as Johnson, as willing to go anywhere and see what happens, all the while imagining that even here, even now, it is possible to find one’s way.”

2018 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry (Emerging)

Congratulations to Kristin Brace, winner of the 2018 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry (Emerging), for her collection, Toward the Wild Abundance. Selected by judge Sarah Bagby, Toward the Wild Abundance was published by MSU Press in 2019.

"Toward the Wild Abundance," writes judge Sarah Bagby, "conjures emotions initiated by the frailty and wonder of our lives. The multifaceted nature of this work demands that it be read for voice and validation. A second reading reveals a deeper commentary on the nature and value of art and the artist. These kaleidoscopic poems also shine brilliance on themes of memory and the passage of time. They fluidly transport us from past to present and into the imagination to pose questions about how our experiences inform identity and meaning. Go to your chosen place and bask in this (or any) day’s dose of her words."

2017 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry (Established)

Congratulations to Gary Fincke, winner of the 2017 Wheelbarrow Prize for Poetry (Established) for his collection, The Infinity Room. Selected by judge George Ellenbogen, The Infinity Room was released by MSU Press in February 2019.

"The poet holds our hand, separating us from where we were in a way," writes judge George Ellenbogen, "leading us down the mine shaft of his vision, one in which we see perfectly, even as far as those remote layers of meaning. All this is done so richly, convincingly, that we forget our starting points, where we came from, with no especial desire to return to the usual, but instead maintain a driving curiosity to stay with the revelation in these poems, to explore further, because we realize that this poet’s mission touches us in ways we cannot ignore."

2017 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry (Emerging)

Congratulations to William Orem, winner of the 2017 Wheelbarrow Prize for Poetry for his collection, Our Purpose in Speaking. Selected by judge Thomas Lynch, Our Purpose in Speaking was published by MSU Press in August 2018.

"What distinguishes this evocatively titled collection is the comingling of religious literacy, spiritual fluency and a comfortable apostasy," says judge Thomas Lynch, "the result, possibly, of an ambivalent relationship with the dead father (always a stand in for the gods) that haunts a fair few of these poems, and the learnedness, intelligence and scholarship that undergirds these astonishing poems."

2016 Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Poetry (Established)

Congratulations to Cortney Davis, winner of the 2016 Wheelbarrow Prize for Poetry for her collection, Taking Care of Time. Selected by judge Naomi Shihab Nye, Taking Care of Time was published by MSU Press in March 2018.

"Davis' skills as a nurse practitioner and her unflinching to-the-bone gifts as a writer mix eloquently to create a manuscript that will grip and compel readers," writes Naomi Shihab Nye. "A great book, not to be missed. It was an honor to select Taking Care of Time for the first Wheelbarrow Books prize."