2014 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize

We are pleased to announce the winner of the 2nd Annual Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize, Joshua Bennett, selected by final judge Nikki Giovanni.

Nikki’s Comments:

“I was asked to distinguish and I tried to.  All were wonderful.  In Defense of Henry Box Brown is story well worth the re-telling…and with such sympathy. I almost think Lucille could or would have written this poem..”


In Defense of Henry Box Brown

Not every trauma has a price

point. You & I are special

that way. No doubt, there is good

money to be made in the rehearsal

of a father’s rage, an empty crate, whatever

instrument ushered us into lives of impure repetition.

Years on end, you replayed your infamous escape

for hundreds of tearful devoted, sold out

shows an ocean away from the place that made you

possible, made you parcel, uncommon

contraband carried over amber ululations of grain

& grass & filthy hands: white, black, unwitting

all the same. If they had only known the weight

of what passed before them. The wait you waded through.

27 hours spent inside a 3×2 jail of splinter & rust. I too

have signed over the rights to all my best wounds.

I know the stage is a leviathan with no proper name

to curtail its breadth. I know that most respectable folks

enjoy a dark body best when it comes with a good cry

thrown in. I know all the code words, Henry.

Why you nicknamed the violence.

Why all your nightmares end in vermilion.


Joshua Bennett is a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the English Department at Princeton University, a graduate of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop and member of the NYC-based performance collective, The Strivers Row. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Anti-, Callaloo, The Collagist, Drunken Boat, Prairie Schooner and elsewhere. He is also the founding editor of Kinfolks Quarterly.