Previous Winners

2024 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging)

Congratulations to Allisa Cherry, whose manuscript An Exodus of Sparks was selected by final judge Roque Raquel Salas Rivera as winner of the 2024 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize. Cherry will receive a $1,000 cash prize and An Exodus of Sparks will be published by MSU Press in 2025.

Allisa Cherry was raised in a rural community in the irradiated high desert along the eastern border of Arizona. She has long since relocated to the Pacific Northwest where she completed her MFA in poetry at Pacific University. Allisa works in workforce development teaching classes designed for immigrants and refugees transitioning to a life in the United States and is an associate poetry editor for West Trade Review. Her writing has appeared in over 40 literary journals including TriQuarterly, Penn Review, The Journal, The Baltimore Review, Rust + Moth, High Desert Journal, EcoTheo, and The Account.  

“An Exodus of Sparks centers on a people, not as an abstract landmass, but as lives and the loss on which they have been built,” writes final judge Salas Rivera. “They pass through these poems, die, resurrect, share cruelty, and partition love. They inhabit a world where new growth is quickly crushed beneath a boot heel. The collection remains attentive to shimmer while delivering an unflinching indictment of an existence where ‘the praise of labor/ is always answered with more labor.’ It is an undeniable force, a book of disillusionment with inherited faith, and an homage to constitutive grief. While reading An Exodus of Sparks, I felt myself drawn into a wholly unfamiliar world, one I will never become part of, and yet I came to feel as if these were my brothers, mothers, and neighbors. It struck me that this was what the best poetry does. Rather than speak to strangers in their language, it guides us through its own. It does not cater to an imagined other, nor assume a common understanding. It creates a parallel space populated by ghosts and the lives they haunt, so they may converse or argue on equal footing.”

Finalists for the 2024 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize are The Book of Knots by Pervin Saket, Caught in the Principal’s Lens by Roxanne Cardona, Dear Mrs. River-Dragon: Poems from Flint, Michigan by Vivian Kao, For as Long as We Can by K.T. Landon, This Carnivore God by Jennifer Bullis, Vigil by Mary Ardery, and Wonderwork by Sandra Fees.

2023 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Established)

Congratulations to Robert Gibb, whose manuscript Pittsburghese was selected by final judge Tyehimba Jess as the winner of the 2023 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize. Pittsburghese was published in 2024 by MSU Press.

"Pittsburghese is the language spoken in the pages of this poet's singular concoction," writes final judge Tyehimba Jess, "a mix of keen musicality and uncommon sagacity that wound itself purposely and sinuously through my imagination like the twisty hills and bridges of its hometown. In the tradition of learning the sacred, secret loves of a burnished and bellowed metropolis, this poet's voice masterfully testifies to neighborhoods and lives doused in enough heat to melt, but then forged in enough wry and heartbusted love to craft the wiry steel of these poems."

Finalists for the 2023 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize are In My Mind There Is a Room by James K. Zimmerman, Kindling by Christine Rhein, Lucyland: A Visitor's Guide by Nancy Gomez, Murmurations by Michael Sharp, Preparing Not to Drown by SM Stubbs, The Right Blue Dream Home by Claire McQuerry, Tangled by Vow and Beseech by Jill McCabe Johnson, They're Not Lying When They Tell You You'll Dream of the Dead by Mary Ardery, and The Vanishing by Moira Magneson.  

Book cover with photo of rusty smokestacks with trees in background. Text reads Pittburghese, Poems by Robert Gibb

2022 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging)

Congratulations to Julia McConnell, whose manuscript Landlocked was selected by final judge Thomas Lynch as the winner of the 2022 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging). Landlocked was published in 2023 by MSU Press.

"The poet’s sense of place as central to both personal and public narrative strikes powerful chords with this reader," writes final judge Thomas Lynch, "as do the diction, images, management of whitespace and formal choices made in creating and assembling this powerful collection. Thank you for the opportunity to read this work in words and to welcome its maker into the standing army of essential if neglected poets.  "

Finalists for this twelfth round are En Caul by Rebekah Hewitt, The Fight by Jennifer MantheyThe Ground Never Lets Go by Liz Marlow, and They're Not Lying When They Tell You You'll Dream of the Dead by Mary Ardery.

2021 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Established)

Congratulations to Marion Starling Boyerwhose manuscript Ice Hours was selected by final judge Carol V. Davis as the winner of the 2021 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Established). Ice Hours was published in 2023 by MSU Press.

"Marion Boyer’s Ice Hours is mesmerizing and haunting," writes final judge Carol V. Davis. "At its core is the question, what motivates people to want to be a part of something whose success seems impossible? This is acknowledged even in the recruitment of crew, offering, 'Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful.' The book follows the Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914, whose goal was to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. Poems explore the flora and fauna, crew and families, the challenges, failures and triumphs. It traces this journey from Antarctica where, 'Pink-golden mists of pollen wafted across/ deep valleys' to a winter freeze that sends, 'Violent wind, black waves roiling.' Boyer’s precise language dazzles in portraits of historical figures, letters to a fiancé back in England, and descriptions of brutal weather, the sea, boats, animals, and people. There may be no answer to the central question of Ice Hours, but the reader is riveted by the vision and obsession that sparked this historic expedition."

Finalists for this eleventh round are Boneyard Heresies by Tina Schumann, Kindling by Christine Rhein, Lastness by Jed Myers, and Man-Moth & the Gospel of Possibility by Donald Levering.

2021 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging)

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 was published in July 2022 by MSU Press.

"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.

2020 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Established)

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 was published in February 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 was published 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 was 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 was 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 published 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."