Announcing the 2016 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize Winner!


We are pleased to announce the winner of the 4th Annual Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize. Our final judge, Reginald Dwayne Betts selected:  Ode to the Barbershop by Malcolm Friend. See his comments below:

“In these times of turmoil – maybe I should just say in America – the experience of black folks has often been relegated to one extreme or another. But the barbershop has always been something different: motley. Political and humorous. Dangerous and attentive to our vulnerabilities. Ode to the Barbershop captures that: “Call it oxymoron where to shed means to gain.” You hear that and recognize it, remember your last cut – maybe check your line up out in the mirror and make a point to visit the shop again soon. ~ Reginald Dwayne Betts

Ode to the Barbershop

call it oxymoron      where to shed    means    to gain

dead weight      of curls

falling to floor in waves—

this be baptism    by blade   or maybe phoenix reburst

birth by burn      of razor    and astringent            where astringent means

               yeah, your ass needed a cut   and      fuck happened to your line nigga?

thrown     from seller     to customer     and

first time I sat in the chair      was summer      freshman year of college

I didn’t know      the name of the haircut      I wanted

stuttered something vague       about taking it low       and nodded

at everything Tony said       in response       hoped he wouldn’t

fuck me up       would keep me fresh    and fitted       place where fitted

just means       fitting in       means       what won’t I do       for the benefit

                       of a lineup?           means       I knew I belonged       when I said nigga

and didn’t choke       on this this mutt blood       where this mutt blood

means       one time       a barber laughed

nigga your light-skinned ass must be swimming in bitches       where nigga

means       I swallowed my tongue     in response

and the bubbling in my throat    matched the hum   of the razor


Malcolm Friend is a CantoMundo fellow originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle Washington. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University where he was the 2014 recipient of the Merrill Moore Prize for Poetry, and is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also a 2014 recipient of a Talbot International Award for writing. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including La Respuesta magazine, the Fjords Review’s Black American Edition, Alicante’s Información, Word Riot, The Acentos ReviewConnotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Pretty Owl Poetry.


Previous Winners:

2015 Winner
2014 Winner
2013 Winner