Announcement! - The 2020 Sexton Prize for Poetry Shortlist

May 25, 2020

Announcement! - The 2020 Sexton Prize for Poetry Shortlist

Shortlist Announcement!

We are so happy to announce that the following poets have made our shortlist for the 2020 Sexton Prize for Poetry. Congratulations to all!


Kathleen Balma - Undelivered Notes from Birds of Passage

Kathleen Balma is a Fulbright fellow and veteran of the US Navy. She has published widely in journals and anthologies, including Ecotone, Missouri Review, New Ohio Review, Rattle, Spillway, the Montreal International Poetry Prize Anthology, and the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor's International Poetry Prize Anthology. Her awards include a writer-in-residence fellowship from Rivendell Writers' Colony, a Tennessee Williams scholarship from Sewanee Writers' Conference, a Katherine Nason Bakeless Scholarship from Bread Loaf Environmental Writers' Conference, and a Pushcart Prize. She currently works at New Orleans Public Library.

Undelivered Notes from Birds of Passage is a wild ride steeped in myth, nostalgia, humor, and the chimerical. ''Many of the poems in this book are my attempts to answer metaphysical questions with a balance of levity and logic. Others render unusual or even outrageous situations with detached compassion, or, as one reader put it: "a calm that borders on absurdity." A common thread throughout the collection is: the wonder of travel on both real and imagined journeys, some of which are impossible. I invite you in.''


Audrey Colasanti - green

Audrey Colasanti is a former award-winning advertising copywriter turned photographer/poet. Much of Audrey’s poetry reflects on the challenges of untypical parenthood and searching for meaning in everyday encounters with nature.  She writes about everything from the sour-sweet smell of hospital rooms to wanting to eat the froth off a lilac bush. Under the recent tutelage of contemporary poet, Danez Smith, she has just completed her first manuscript, green. Prior to green, Audrey has been published by The Tiny Seed Literary Journal, The Southwest Journal, MPR (Minnesota Public Radio), Prometheus Dreaming, The Loft Literary Center and The Epilepsy Foundation Creative Arts Showcase. She was a semi-finalist for The Graywolf Press Walt Whitman Award, 2020.

What does the underbelly of difficult parenting look like? How does one find joy when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges? In Audrey Colasanti’s debut manuscript, green, we find ourselves in a household struggling with unexpected trauma that coexists with deep love.The poems in green are universal in their quest for understanding of our fears and doubts, and the gut-twisting desire to pull ourselves out of the muck.


Richard Fein -  Losing 

Richard J. Fein is Professor Emeritus of English at the State University of New York at New Paltz and the author, editor, and translator of many books, including With Everything We’ve Got: A Personal Anthology of Yiddish Poetry. Sholem Beinfeld is Professor Emeritus of History at Washington University in St. Louis, and is perhaps best known as Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Comprehensive Yiddish-English Dictionary (Arumnemik Yidish-English Verterbukh), as well as a translator of Yiddish texts and creator of new subtitles for classic Yiddish movies.

Yeats said the greatest themes of poetry are sex and death. Fein would add childhood and aging. That's all in Losing It,  the subjects sometimes interacting. The collection also includes Yiddish poetry.



Jonathan Greenhause – "Nothing in Life is Easy"

Author of Sebastian’s Relativity (Anobium, 2011) and Secret Traits of Everyday Things (Encircle Publications, 2017). His poems have appeared in The Believer, LitMag, New Ohio Review, Rattle, The Rialto, and The Poetry Society website, among others. He received first prize in Aesthetica Magazine’s 2018 Creative Writing Award in Poetry, first prize in the 2017 Ledbury Poetry Competition, and first prize in both the 2013 and 2017 Prism Review Poetry Prizes. Born and raised in New Jersey 'in a vaguely religious but culturally-rich Jewish home', he spent his college years in Oberlin, Ohio, before moving to Buenos Aires where he taught English and practiced the art of Clown Theater and then heading west to Mendoza. He returned to the Garden State, where he became a Spanish interpreter and happily resides with his wife and two sons.
Nothing in Life Is Easy is a portrait of earnest fatherhood amidst the political and societal uncertainties of early 21st-century America. The poems in this collection allude to the legacy (and continuation) of torture since September 11th, the price we’ll pay for our degradation of the environment, and the #MeToo movement. All of this is interwoven with the heavenly intimacy of cleaning crap from babies’ bottoms, of constantly being assailed by self-doubt, and of tirelessly attempting to raise our kids so they’ll possibly forgive us for our shortcomings and make the future more bearable and (perhaps) better than what we’ve given them.


Joseph Harms - Goety

A finalist for the National Poetry Series Award for his sonnet sequence Bel (Expat Press), Joseph Harms is the author of the novels Baal and Cant (to be reprinted along with Ades and Wyrd as Evil: Novels 2007-2018) (Expat Press). His work has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Boulevard, The Alaska Quarterly Review, The North American Review, The International Poetry Review, Crazyhorse, The Opiate and Bayou Magazine. He holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers’ Program

Goety is a collection of poems with a novelistic arc that follows Illyana and Meir (aka Let), a cult of two whose actions lead to their destruction and the destruction of those around them.

Poems from Goety have appeared in the following journals: North American Review, Saint Ann’s Review, Two Thirds North, Cleaver Magazine, Midway Review, The Exterminating Angel, The Chaffey Review, Sequestrum and Adelaide Magazine.


Lyall Harris - Barrier Island 

Writer-visual artist Lyall Harris’ poetry has appeared in The Minnesota Review, The New Guard, The Raw Art Review, and The Prose Poem Project, among other publications, and her creative nonfiction has been featured in The Montréal Review. She received First Runner-up for the Doug Draime Prize for Poetry (2020), was a BANG! Selected Writer in 2016, and was awarded the Honorable Mention for the Mary Merritt Henry Prize in Poetry (2011). Her poetry has been a finalist in numerous contests, among these The Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, The Briar Cliff Review Poetry Contest, and The River Styx International Poetry Contest. Harris’ paintings have been widely exhibited and recognized with awards, including The George Hitchcock Prize from the National Academy Museum (NY), and her book art is held in over fifty Special Collection libraries, such as those at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Yale, Stanford, Smith, Berkeley, and the University of Washington. She holds an MFA in Book Art and Creative Writing from Mills College.

Women’s issues and women’s stories are central themes in Lyall's work. The book-length poem Barrier Island probes the unconscionable and taboo subject of infanticide via a mother whose maternal instincts blur with her destructive thoughts and actions. While her story is extreme, the work points to the universality of “the hidden archaeology of failure” imbedded in all motherhood. Her narrative is further evoked through an exploration of the inadequacies of “each act of writing.” In addition to parallels with the animal world, a metaphor throughout the book is the geological erosion of the North Carolina barrier islands, also the location of a sixteenth century English colony, known as “The Lost Colony,” and the Wright brothers’ first flight. The region is well known for its storms, riptide currents, and vulnerability to hurricanes.


Anders Howerton - Algorithm

Anders Howerton currently works as a software engineer. He spent most of 2019 working for the UN to build a digital tool for refugees. He lives in Oakland, California with his two cats and one human partner. He holds a master's degree in poetry from the University of East Anglia

Algorithm at times explores the liminal space between the organic and the synthetic while at other times plugging directly into the binary. Many of the individual poems adhere to a custom form, the 7X7, septets composed of 7-syllable lines. This form was inspired by the dimensions of the city of San Francisco.


Denise Miller - A Ligature For Black Bodies

Denise Miller is a professor, poet and mixed media artist whose poetry has been published the Offing, African American Review and Blackberry: A Magazine. They were named the 2015 Willow Books Emerging Poet, an AROHO Waves Discussion Fellowship awardee, a finalist for the Barbara Deming Money for Women Fund, and a Hedgebrook Fellow. Their work titled, Core, was released by Willow Books in 2015 and has since been nominated for a 2016 American Book Award and a 2016 Pushcart Prize. Miller has been named a 2016 William Randolph Hearst Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society. Their chapbook, Ligatures was published in 2016 by Rattle Press. Most recently, they have been awarded a 2020 Storyknife Residency and a 2020 Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Fellowship. Their pronouns are they/them. More of their work can be found at

A Ligature for Black Bodies attempts to re-humanize black bodies into black people by holding the power structures and people accountable who have reified a dominant and destructive discourse. The collection explores the meanings of seeing police officers killing black and brown people through their dash cams and body cams as they shoot them and everyday citizens standing witness and documentarian through their cell-phones. Ligatures highlights how these videos mirror pictures that lynching attendees took and/or sent as postcards across the country in the early to mid twentieth century. Our view of dying and dead bodies today, of African Americans made lifeless while surrounded by spectators, drives the manuscript. The found poems and persona poems read as police, prosecutor, and journalist's "confessions" to the deaths of the Black people recorded on today’s visual media. Ligatures roots these confessions in the truths of contemporary news articles, autopsy reports, court testimonies, verdicts, and sentences to illustrate how a white power structure seeks to make bodies out of black people. This conversation reveals a racially rooted power structure that creates and perpetuates racism and how black people have, much too often, had to reclaim these bodies systematically stripped of breath. The poems are evidence of Black people's continued American striving to convince that same power structure that black lives matter. The final poem, written in the voice of Sandra Bland and written to LaQuan McDonald and Tamir Rice, seeks to do just that. The poems refuse the narrative of black people as bodies only. Instead, their discourse creates a space where the poems re-member black people's dismemberment at the hands of white people through a journey of truth-telling.



Thank you for your entries. Stay tuned for the announcement of the winner, in the coming weeks.

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