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2024 Academy of American Poets Prize Winner and Honorable Mentions Announced

Posted by on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in spotlight.

2024 Academy of American Poets Prize Contest

Winner and Honorable Mentions

Congratulations to this year’s winner of the 2024 Academy of American Poets Prize Contest, Sydney Mayes, and to the students receiving honorable mentions for their work, Carson Colenbaugh and Ajla Dizdarevic.



Sydney Mayes, GS, MFA, for “the walker system”

Honorable Mentions:

Ajla Dizdarevic, GS, MFA for “The Ring”

Carson Colenbaugh, GS, MFA for “Proctor Creek”


Carlina Duan, author of Alien Miss (2021) and I Wore My Blackest Hair (2017)


Judge’s Remarks:

the walker system by Sydney Mayes

“the walker system” is a poem that is lush with history, life, and persona. The poem, which traces the memory/lineage of Madam CJ Walker, is rich with movement and mythological image: from “my bag o’ bones” to “the pebble webbed hair of miner’s wives,” “river scored fingertips” to “the waxwing who follows only that which sustains and gleams.” The language throughout this poem is shimmery, wild, unruly, and electric. I was mesmerized by our speaker, who commands a poetics of attention, and seeks to set the history books straight. This is a poem that revivifies the flattened pages of biography: using poetry as a portal to infuse breath, imagination, and movement back into the record.


Proctor Creek by Carson Colenbaugh

Proctor Creek is a beautiful portrait of labor and land, with an ecopoetic respect for the natural world around us. I was delighted and surprised by the poet’s sonic and imagistic commands— there is a musicality and a materiality found within this poem, from “a gruel of rebar, lumbar, aggregate,” to the cyclical leakiness between “Creeks & fields.” This poem located me so clearly within a place, and I trusted our speaker’s knowledge of the creeks, the animal instincts, the “gleaming land.” And what an entirely gorgeous line I will be thinking about for times to come:  “Each copied day / I look on our work, snaring myself…”


The Ring by Ajla Dizdarevic

I admired the way this poem locates desire within the physical intimacy of a ‘fight.’ Place is smartly reflected in form: in this poem, we linger within that compressed box of the ring, only to burst out of that last line: “But then he holds me…” The poem is ripe with surprising lyrical moments that bump up against the tactile, such as: “I am a mouse in a field set aflame,” to “…I spit out my mouthguard.” This poem left me breathless.


About the Judge:

Carline Duan (MFA ’19) Carlina Duan is the author of the poetry collections I Wore My Blackest Hair (Little A, 2017), and Alien Miss (Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2021). Carlina received her M.F.A. in Poetry from Vanderbilt University and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the University of Michigan’s Joint Program in English and Education, where she is a 2023-2024 David and Mary Hunting fellow at the Institute for Humanities, and serves as the Poetry Editor for Michigan Quarterly Review. Carlina’s recent poems appear in POETRY, Narrative Magazine,, The Kenyon Review, Poetry Daily, The Slowdown Show, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of literary awards and artist residencies from Tin House, the Academy of American Poets, the U.S. Fulbright Program, Hedgebrook, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and other places.