By Shannon Sigafoos

For more than three decades, the Jean E. Corrie Poetry Prize has recognized Lafayette students’ talents in poetic writing. Offered to first-year students, sophomores, and juniors, and sponsored by the Department of English and the Academy of American Poets, this year the top poems were both written by first-year students. 

The annual competition was judged by Owen McLeod, associate professor of philosophy and author of the award-winning collection Dream Kitchen. McLeod chose “Psalm for Claire Fisher” by Maya Nylund ’23 as the winner and “What Do Criminals Look Like?” by Fatimata Cham ’23 as the runner-up. 

And though the on-campus tradition of holding a poetry reading and ice cream social to celebrate the winners was unable to happen this year, the students have shared their work via video so that the emotional and intellectual experience of hearing poetry can reach and move a larger audience. 

“The poem I wrote is a tribute to a girl who went to my high school but left before I ever had the chance to meet her,” explains Nylund. “She left a powerful legacy, and it is a legacy I attempt to crystallize in the wake of her tragic death, paying homage to her as an influence in the lives of those who interacted with her even peripherally or indirectly.”

Cham’s poem, meanwhile, was inspired by current events that are also controversial, and offers a relevant reflection on the way humans see and treat each other. 

“I entered the competition because of my previous writing experience, especially in poetry. In my senior year of high school, I published a short book of poetry called Perfectly Imperfect. The poems were mainly about my activism and issues that affected my community,” says Cham. “This poem was inspired by the issue of mass shootings and mass incarceration in America.”


MacKnight Black Competition in Poetry

For nearly 70 years, the H. MacKnight Black Competition—named for 1916 Lafayette graduate MacKnight Black, who was an important poet before his death in 1931—has been celebrating senior students for their contributions to poetry. 

The competition was judged this year by poet Terrance Hayes, author of four books whose work has been featured in several editions of Best American Poetry. Hayes often explores themes of popular culture, race, music, and masculinity in his work.

KeeShawn Murphy ’20 won the top prize for her poem “Firefly.” Honorable mention went to students  Mia Coutinho ’20 (for her poem “To Go Back”) and Marcy Laufer ’20 (for her poem “aloneness”). 

“I wrote ‘Firefly’ for a poetry course I took at Lafayette under the mentorship of Professor Megan Fernandes [assistant professor of English]. It’s a poem about survival and generational storytelling,” says Murphy. “Winning the MacKnight competition was a complete surprise and a great honor. It means so much to me to be acknowledged by Terrance Hayes.”

“Winning an Academy of American Poets prize or being recognized as recipient of an honorable mention means that the student  joins the ranks of writers who have found this honor to be fortifying and an early sign of exceptional promise,” says Lee Upton, Francis A. March Professor of English. “Our writing competitions celebrate vital new voices, contribute to Lafayette’s writing culture, and inspire us all.  Competitions like ours acknowledge writing as a serious and crucial endeavor, and applaud students for taking the daring step of presenting their poetry to an audience.”

Categorized in: English, Featured News, News and Features, Students

1 Comment

  1. Catherine Zam says:

    Maya’s poem touches the heart so profoundly.
    Hopefully it can spark a dialogue about depression and mental health that goes unnoticed among many young people.

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