CUNY Undergraduate Poetry Awards


The CUNY Undergraduate Poetry, or CUP, Awards were inaugurated in celebration of both poetry month and the exceptional undergraduate poets who attend colleges in the City University system. The awards are sponsored by the president's office at BMCC and recognize student poetry in the categories of lyric poetry, dramatic monologues, and closed/traditional forms. More than 200 submissions were received from students at colleges across the CUNY system and were read blind by preliminary category judges Elizabeth Berlinger, Catherine Cammilleri, Aimee Record, and Marguerite Rivas, all of whom are poets and BMCC faculty. The final judge was award-wining poet Estha Weiner. The award ceremony will take place in the Hudson Room at BMCC on Friday April 29th from 3-5. 

Lyric Winners:

Mary Williams--Hunter College ,

Rachel  Cartee--Hunter College ,

Ricci Niles--BMCC

Closed Form Winner:

  Shara Concepcion--BMCC

Dramatic Monologue Winners:

Becky McFalls--Brooklyn ,

Jordan Elizabeth Franklin--Brooklyn

Lyric Winners:

Mary Williams--Hunter CollegeMary Williams

Jazz Icarus (Inspired by Henri Matisse's Icarus 1947)

Icarus pours the heat from his body
into the cold piano till the room is full of fire.

He surges and sips music, saying,
"Here is your heartbeat. This is how you move."

He is darker than the dawn
where he falls, scooping up songs from his stomach
till they unfreeze the frigid stars.

As gravity pulls him
down to New York City,
he says, "Come,
touch the blue-black behind the moon.
Surge music, feel what slithers
and slides inside your soul."

Come, the wax has melted,
the horns crescendo and
wingless Icarus cries,
"City skyline, take your time;
here we have come  alive."

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Rachel  Cartee--Hunter CollegeRachel Cartee

Daedelus, Grieving

There, upon the water he lies;
a cold, white fish,
more beautiful still
than any earthly creature
can boast.
By his side, feathers strewn,
dancing with the tide;
mocking me still
with their insolent show
of life.

He had yet to grow a second skin, my son;
was wrapped still
in the milky gauze
of his prime.

Too bright for this world,
I feared him to be;
pleading still, Mind your path,
even as from the window
he took flight.

And the Jealous Sun,
spying my golden bird
with a single flaming eye,
stole out from the heavens,
breathless and burning

and extinguished my poor boy's life

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 Ricci Niles--BMCCRicci Niles


Alberta Lee Heslop
Clotille Barnett DuBois
and Ursiline DuVernay
still live.

 In that haunted manse
up on that hill
with the sentinels of Linden and Live Oak presiding
over the languid geography

and witnesses to history-
the polishing silver
the fetching of water
the bringing forth the labor:

laundering on washday
on the Lord's Day,
but first light best catch you
tending field.

Their names are

Whenever I pass the Stilton Manor
I see
lagniappes and lawn parties
a jigger of bourbon
skeleton keys contrasting shotgun houses

I hear harpsichord banquets
discordant with Negro Ringshouts

Fleur-de-Lis trying to reconcile with Voudoun

Porches swathed in spectral haint blue
poised to keep the evil eye at bay
Lace doilies, decay and debris
ascots and nooses

Mozart and Congo Square

Dappled sunlight
and linens, hopeful on a line
I'm smelling a batch of SunTea
rancid with the stain of child labor

Gold Coast and Dahomey--
what do these words mean to you?

Okra and indigo-stained hands?
Red Rice & Sea Cotton?
That Gullah and Geechies are the same folks?

Of Hilton and
Dafauskie Island?
Calico dresses and one pinafore for the entire season?
Ugly brogues or bare feet in winter?

I'm thinking of one-room schoolhouses
and carrying books in a beltstrap
Running back home for supper at one in the afternoon,
provided you made it back  all,
without some infraction of
an arbitrary rule

The Great Freedom has come and gone now
but Cotton is still king
Raised crop, but no fair share

And its flower, cruel and ironic
soft, with thorns that can cut you blind

Red blood ran from red summers<
the red clay roads...

that became dead ends and wrong turns
for somebody's daddy

Dixie and downhome Blues

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Durty South

Tom Collins and
Mint Juleps

Paddle River Queens and
Mammy is still alive in the southern consciousness

Plantation manors,
rife with the undead

The Jazz and jukejoint soundclashes
Bayou russet sunsets
Spanish Moss duel French Cajun

Quadroon Balls and Mulatto debutantes
"Passing,"  spoken in hushed tones...

It is evident, here.

That Jim Crow still feasts

upon the carcass
of all
that confederate winds
did not blow away.

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Closed Form Winner:

Shara Concepcion--BMCCShara Concepcion

Contemporary Physics

Words of worlds dance from his lips,
Unstitching ties, minds come undone.
Ideas orbiting his form,
Like newborn planets 'round the sun.

Two pleats along his trousers,
His two arm cuffs pressed stiff,
The room alight with burning stars,
Truth sweeping us adrift.

Afloat, our young minds widen,
Expanding across space
While the matter of our universe
Composes his wise face.

I see a child peering through
The windows of his eyes,
Way past our blurring faces
Into deep and darkening skies.

His mouth is tight, lips sloping low,
His eyes are tired, bright- they speak,
Of theories, systems, years of light,
And hopes a wise man cannot keep.

He's falling and he's flying.
From reality, his soul departs-
The passion of his inner-child
Burns rings around our beating hearts.

I watch him now, a world away.
I wonder if he knows
How his spirit, gone awry,
Betrays his calculated prose.

His star, I see, is dimming-dull,
The last embers of dying thought
In all that, through him, we've been taught
At last, the torch is passed.

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Dramatic Monologue Winners:

Becky McFalls--BrooklynBecky McFalls


When I get outta here I'ma get me a car, yeah, a nice car a car with a radio (and air-conditioning) hell yeah! (and one where the seats heat up 'cause rich people don't get cold asses) yeah yeah! See? Now you're getting it. You're learnin' what to do. I been in here before I been in lots a times an' every time they pick me up bring me here pump me full of meds and put me back out on the streets again. Why? I dunno why they say I'm actin' crazy all I know's is I'm supposed to get out Friday that's what they're tellin' me an' I hope it's true. How'm I gonna celebrate? Hell, I dunno fruit punch maybe? I dunno I'll figure somethin' out. You gonna use that sugar packet? Thanks. My mom used to work here. Doctor? No she cleaned. She'd come knockin' on my door pushin' a broom around, Good morning William, you didn't leave a mess for your mother to clean up did you? No ma'am I say an' then roll on over back to sleep. Not that I coulda made much a mess anyway don't own nothin' here nobody does all the real mess is inside our heads an' we sure as shit don't own those. They let us keep our shoes say it's empowering but then they take the laces. They don't gotta worry 'bout us breakin' this place we're eighteen floors up, by the time we even made it to the bottom they'd have that whole lobby blocked off. You ever notice that the suicide attempts I mean the real bad ones the ones that don't bring themselves in--that they're never wearin' any shoes? So how're they supposed to get empowered here? No no no my mom doesn't work here anymore. Why? I dunno one day she just disappeared. I dunno one day she was here the next, gone. I went lookin' for her went back home to Virginia to the place I grew up and nothin no house no yard no car no nothin'. I called my sister haven't seen her in years since we was kids she lives in Maryland now she don't know where she went. Called my brother too but he musta moved his line's disconnected. Me an' him we used to smoke him an' his girlfriend they grew it in his apartment. I haven't seen him in oh seven years? I dunno I dunno where she went. She just disappeared. My mom used to have a Hyundai I'd sneak the keys and drive it around I drove that car all over when I was eighteen nineteen twenty oh lots a times I took that ol' car lots a times. You comfortable? No I don't mean here I mean with yourself. Some of us in here are crazier than others but you gotta figure out how to be comfortable with yourself you gotta figure what you gotta do to live 'cause you in the driver's seat and that world outside ain't gonna stop for you that world outside don't give a shit. You gonna eat your muffin? No you're fine god bless you. I saw her once. My mother. Yeah I was standin' on the corner one day an' she drove by in a Pontiac. Hell yeah I'm sure it was her looked just like her an' I wasn't drunk either just had a little wine. Yeah yeah just like that. (William, the nurse says your mother never worked here) What you think this is funny? You think this is funny lady? Face the facts! I've still got my shoes.

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Jordan Elizabeth Franklin--Brooklyn Jordan Franklin

Viola Lesson

Once upon a time,
my arms and hands were my instruments
and not my tools
but before that
I played the viola-
a shiny one too
all polished and light
as it bridged the gap
between my hands and my chin.

Up bow on the Can Can
down bow on the Moonlight Sonata
with a whole note on G
back straight, feet apart
it all became my religion
as I practiced for hours
to the smell of mom's salmon
and from the sounds I could tease
from the taut strands-
All this as I stood cramped
in the makeshift conservatory
of my kitchen.

You see
I felt complete
like the wood melted into me
as the sun does with the bridge
at dusk.
It was beautiful really
when the practices became routine
and time became solitary notes in unison
with the darkening streets.
Each Monday and Wednesday
steady I was, heaving the little viola
in its case on my two dollar
public bus rides to school
fumbling and huffing at each push
forced upon me moving to accommodate
the curious passerby unhesitant
to ask what it was that weighed down
that case.

And then it Happened
my little viola left with the semester
all polished and shiny as it had come
while all the Hail Mary's
I hurled in crescendos under streetlights
Could not return it to me.
That semester
my vitals fell faster than Wall Street
and harder than Sodom
leaving me with only a
cardboard cut out of myself
to contrast against the unreal.
I found a substitute though
Not in wood
Not in music
but in my own arms
the scores written in mud upon my sneakers
like graffiti and I played a concert
meant only for the hopeless and the unreal
for days until somehow
the marks and dips in the scores
on my soles had migrated
to the familiar territories of my arms
and like the Jews cast out of Egypt
they settled in this uncharted land deep
the lacerations taking shapes
in my cold, young concrete.

I started to write my scores
with the same blade that pierced
Christ's side
the bars and notes crisscrossing
at the bass clef
to invoke all the ugliness that separated
my life from the music I loved
so Beethoven himself could hear all
the madness that time could not heal.

I played my arms
tuning them to the key
of hopelessness stretching
their strings to a monstrous length
and I played-
I played until the concertos
Were carved deep into my flesh
Again and again and again
until I became inseparable
from my own misery.

Once upon a time,
my arms and hands were my instruments
and not my tools
but before that
I played the viola.
I still have the scars from the lessons
I've killed in me

Now I must ask,

When did I become an Instrument?
When did I become an instrument?

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