Graphic promoting 2017 Lake Effect poetry contest

'Lake Effect' selects best high school poems

A national poetry contest sponsored by our B.F.A. in creative writing program drew nearly 2,000 entries.

Students from Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin earned the top three prizes in the 2017 Lake Effect National High School Poetry Contest. In total, the contest received nearly 2,000 entries.

Sponsored by the B.F.A. in creative writing degree program at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, one of the premier programs of its kind, the contest was open to poets in grades 9 through 12. Students had the option of entering one or two typed poems of up to 30 lines, on any topic and in any form.

George Looney, distinguished professor of English and creative writing, served as the final judge for the competition. The entries were also judged by other creative writing faculty members.

“We were impressed with the quality of the students’ work,” said Tom Noyes, chair of the B.F.A. program and coordinator of this year’s competition. “I was also inspired by the number of submissions. The level of participation speaks not only to the students’ enthusiasm for literary art, but also to their teachers’ commitment and passion.”

Out of all the entries, Penn State Behrend creative writing faculty members selected 20 finalists and three winners. The finalists and winners will receive copies of the latest issue of Lake Effect, an international journal of the literary arts that is edited by faculty and students at Penn State Behrend. In addition, the 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-place winners will receive cash prizes.

This year’s top winners include:

  • 1st place ($300): Qingying (Susan) Li from Deerfield Academy (MA) for her poem "November"
  • 2nd place ($200): Alan Tu from Pittsford Sutherland High School (NY) for his poem "Self-Portrait in a Concave Mirror"
  • 3rd place ($100): Hannah G. Bentley from Homestead High School (WI) for her poem "five reasons why I could never be an astronaut"

The contest was made possible by grants from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and Penn State University Barnes and Noble Bookstores. A full listing of all the finalists can be found here.

The B.F.A. program at Penn State Behrend uses an immersive, experience-based curriculum in which professors work closely with students in small classes. Coursework is devoted to canonical literature, 20th- and 21st-century literature, critical theory, craft classes and seminars for reading and discussing student writing.

"November," by Qingying (Susan) Li, from Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts

& then, as if by magic,

                          the late light sweeps up the last stragglers
loitering outside of the Motel 6, stalking shadows half-crescent,

                          beating geese songs into the gravel, teething
on the ruins of this summer. Mother says this is just

                          the way of the world: how every tick of the clock
presses another bruise under the great white eye

                          of the moon. She tells me it is always dawn somewhere,
but it is hard to believe in anything beyond the tight mean pulse

                          of these hours. And down here there is no exit sign,
not a soul on interstate 95 for so many decades, nothing left to happen— 

                          mother shivering in the stillness, praying
to steal away from these bodies for one night, as if

                          forgiveness could make gravity unhinge all around us;
summer sucking its lungs in, moaning for any small mercy;

                          the dim flickering lamp between us a lighthouse
shining on the ragged edges of the world.

                          Meanwhile the geese are still singing their hymns, still
splitting open on the knife-points of their own limbs.

                          We know their need. Our throats furl their geometry
into hunger, circle in orbit around the matted

                          underbelly of the night. But in the morning
we will tiptoe out of our bodies- still enough

                          we can forget to be alive.
We will flay the room raw, bone white.

                          We will surrender
nothing to the imagination.