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ODU College Poetry Prize Winners Announced

Photo of ODU student David BaahDavid Baah Photo of ODU student Michael AlessiMichael Alessi

Old Dominion University contest organizers recently announced that students David Baah and Michael Alessi were named winners of the 2013-14 ODU College Poetry Prize.

The ODU College Poetry Prize is co-sponsored by the MFA Creative writing program, the Poetry Society of Virginia and the Academy of American Poets (AAP) which manages the College Poetry Prize - one of the longest running poetry prizes offered to college students in the nation.

"Many of our best poets received a College Poetry Prize as their first literary recognition in their careers," said Luisa Igloria, director of ODU's MFA in creative writing program.

This year's ODU College Poetry Prize was judged by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, a professor of English at State University of New York-Fredonia, where she teaches creative writing and environmental literature. She is also the author of three award-winning poetry collections.

David Baah won in the undergraduate category for his poem "Good Shepherd." He is a junior from Fairfax, VA, and, as the son of a West African father and Kazakh mother, a self-described "walking jigsaw puzzle of culture."

"This poem yanked me into full attention right from the first few stanzas and the dark immediacy of the terrifying attack," Nezhukumatathil wrote, of Baah's submission. "But what I kept coming back to was all the noise, pops, and shouts so dynamically rendered--the surprise of the poem's last 'silence' was made all the more musical and horrifying. I knew it was the winner when I realized I was holding my breath the whole time I was reading it."

Nezhukumatathil awarded Alessi the graduate category award for his poem "Sow." He is an MFA fiction candidate at Old Dominion and a graduate of the University of Michigan. Alessi is the rising managing editor of ODU's Barely South Review and edits fiction for Green Briar Review.

"This poem holds a devastating and truthful heart as an offering to the world," she wrote, of Alessi's poem. "Each line is seasoned with a heavy and foreboding understanding while finally giving us the heart-wrenching nod to tenderness in the last lines. I simply couldn't get this poem out of my head."

Honorable Mention awards were also presented to Willie Wilson and Lucian Mattison in the undergraduate and graduate categories, respectively.

Of Wilson's poem "Ode to a Seible's Poem," Nezhukumatathil wrote: "This poem has all the verve and swag that I've come to expect from the object of the ode (ODU professor, and nationally recognized poet Tim Seibles), but also manages to capture a delightful grasp of unexpected metaphors: hands as a 'five-legged pocket spider...' A joy to read!"

Nezhukumatathil noted that she loved the risk at play in Mattison's poem "From the Balcony: The Birds."

"The poet demands us to pay attention to the tiny (and not-so-tiny) world of a balcony overflowing with the drama of aviary life," she wrote. "By casting a rich spell of image and music through each stanza, it's a risk that both pays off and delights."

Each of the ODU College Poetry Prize winners will be awarded a one-year membership and $50 from the Academy of American Poets as well as $50 from ODU's MFA program.

For more information about creative writing opportunities at Old Dominion, visit the MFA program website.