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English Grad Student Wins Cal Poly’s Academy of American Poets Prize

Cal Poly Master in English student Marissa Ahmadkhani won the university’s Academy of American Poets (AAP) contest for her poem “Only Half,” which investigates her Iranian heritage expressed metaphorically through the complexity of pomegranates.

Marissa Ahmadkhani AAP Winner

"This poem was a meditation on heritage," Ahmadkhani said. "Specifically on being an individual, and particularly a woman of mixed heritage in the United States."

“Through precise description and gentle repetition, Marissa Ahmadkhani has made a deeply moving poem of origins,” said Maggie Anderson, nationally recognized poet and judge of this year’s contest. “The delicate fruit of the pomegranate (apple of many seeds) is a brilliantly realized metaphor for the poet’s half-heritage.”

Cal Poly English Professor Mira Rosenthal added, “In Marissa’s finely tuned short poems, I hear the sorrow of strained relationship, but always tempered by the individual’s belief in connection, as much with others as with the self.”

First honorable mention went to English major Morgan Condict, of Paso Robles, for “The Shimmer of the Turning Rabbit,” a poem that renders our own mortality through the metaphor of a rabbit turning on a spit over an open flame. Second honorable mention went to English major Jacob Lopez, of Huntington Beach, for his poem “Light on Breathing,” depicting the experience of exploring underwater reefs.

The Cal Poly English Department and AAP sponsored the contest. AAP was founded in 1934 to support American poets at all stages of their careers and to foster the appreciation of contemporary poetry. The University and College Poetry Prize program began with 10 schools in 1955 and now sponsors more than 200 annual poetry prizes at U.S. colleges and universities.

Ahmadkhani is one of the nearly 10,000 prize-winning student poets since the program’s inception. She will receive a $100 award from AAP.

"Winning this award was an honor," said Ahmadkhani. "This poem is particularly dear to me, so it was wonderful to get positive feedback on it."

Contest entries were judged by Anderson, a nationally renowned poet and author of four books of poetry, including “Windfall: New and Selected Poems,” “A Space Filled with Moving,” and “Cold Comfort.” Her awards include two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, fellowships from the Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania Councils on the Arts, and the Ohioana Library Award for contributions to the literary arts in Ohio. The founding director of the Wick Poetry Center and of the Wick Poetry Series of the Kent State University Press, Anderson is professor emeritas of English at Kent State University.

The winning poem appears on the Cal Poly English Department's website

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