The 2023 Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Awards
Poetry, a medium that transcends mere facts, has the power to immerse us in profound experiences. The Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Awards, an annual celebration of poetic excellence, invites poets from around the world to embark on this enriching journey. We are pleased to announce the winners of our 2023 Poetry Contest. These poets have skillfully woven words to craft verses that not only resonate with the essence of peace but also inspire us to reflect upon the beauty of the human spirit.
First Place, Adult Category:
- Yael Hacohen for “Amos 3:5”
Honorable Mention, Adult Category:
- Matt Hohner for “Sowing Begins in Eleven Regions of Ukraine”
First Place, Ages 13-18 Category:
- Sophia Hall for “THE FLAG SPEAKS”
First Place, Ages 12 and Under Category:
- Helene Yang for “Hunger and Hope”
Honorable Mention, Ages 12 and Under Category:
- Elaina Wang for “Weight of Words”
Congratulations to all of our winners! We want to extend our gratitude to all the poets who participated in the 2023 Poetry Contest—your creativity and dedication to promoting peace through poetry are truly inspiring. We are also deeply appreciative of our Poetry Contest Selection Committee, led skillfully and with passion and care, by the NAPF Board Member Perie Longo, and consisting of Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Christine Kravetz, David Starkey, and Chryss Yost, as well as our staff Carol Warner and Sandy Jones, without whom the contest would not be possible. The winning poems can be found below.
First Place – Adult Category
By Yael Hacohen
Of course, it wasn’t the landmine’s fault. The young couple parked
their car on the hem of the road. It was a wheat field. No, it was
barley. Wild and green stems swayed like birds in summer.
The oak promised some shade. She grabbed the picnic basket
from the car’s trunk. There was an afternoon breeze, and the air
smelled of gravel. His handgun rested in the glove compartment.
It was quiet. They ducked under and through the wire-braided fence.
The yellow signs hung like lanterns. They spread the blanket, and
brought out the avocadoes, olive-oil, black bread, pieces of cheese.
He was humming to himself an army chant from his nights
in the paratroopers, and she tucked a lose strand of her curls behind
her ear. When he stood, she caught a glint of something but didn’t
know if it was sunlight. The cicadas didn’t stop their clicking.
Not even the moment the white blast filled the sky.
The sound was metal itself fulfilling its position.
A plume of earth flowered open like a chute. It’s possible
that he was so close to its break, he became the sound,
and she watched him become it. It’s possible some migrant birds
ruptured the sky, briefly, before returning to their perch.
Honorable Mention – Adult Category
Sowing Begins in Eleven Regions of Ukraine1
By Matt Hohner
Farmers are busy clearing Russian mines
and bodies, towing abandoned tanks to town
behind their tractors, while late winter’s mass
graves in village after village yield a harvest
of sorrow, such ruined promise, bone after bone,
where the roots of a people grow under shadows
of smoldering high rises hollowed like ribcages,
black smears on sidewalk pavement and bridges
where humans exploded into echoes, into sighs
the future will hear in the quiet countryside,
birds flitting between silos and cemeteries,
families out for a stroll in the capital, lovers
leaning into each other’s breath beneath open
windows, everywhere the odor of fresh paint
and concrete curing in the sun, coffee and tea
and wine in cafés, each spoken word composing
a new chapter in a story someone once tried to erase.
1Title taken from a Tweet by The Kyiv Independent, March 25, 2022
First Place – Age 13-18 Category
THE FLAG SPEAKS
By Sophie Hall
I am red white and bruised blue from the beating of batons
against Black bodies. I am starred with bullet holes, spangled
with broken glass and tear gas, white milk and white tears
forming rivers, flowing from city streets into sewers. Betsy Ross
embroidered me with the fear that you call freedom, my stripes
like fields of farmland, Emmet tilled that soil with his own blood,
red pin-pricked on cotton that is picked, plucked, then woven
into cloth that forms me, flimsy unless puppeteered by politicians,
flow in a sky shrouded in smoke. My white lines like the string wrapped
around wrists and wringed around necks. I bear witness
to that lynching, that school shooting, that border crossing turned burial—
but I bear no responsibility. I wave welcomes to tourists
and wave away weary travelers just as easily, I wave good riddance
with glee. Though I have no voice, many speak for me, through me,
use me to put more profit in their pockets.
Fight over me, fight wars for me, kneel protests
on sore knees, forge crowns of grabbed glory. I am just
another form of currency. They praise me, promising false
liberty, so much for land of the free, oh say can’t you see
me plastered on stolen indigenous land like an eviction notice.
There is no end to what can be colonized, even on the pock
marked moon I fly. I am the armor wrapped
around soldiers shoulders, I am the sign
that sparks surrender. America, you hold me
like a lover, yet wield me like a weapon.
I am the anthem, the sound of shots fired,
the ghosts of the Bison stampede, glass breaking,
and here I emerge, above rockets
and ruckus and riots, my gleaming whiteness
becomes my innocence.
they can be together in perfect harmony that creates a space for everyone
First Place – Age 12 and Under Category
Hunger and Hope
By Helene Yang
All families have their own unique problems
Our family’s main trouble is starvation
A lot of times when there is not enough food to go around
My parents will give up their shares
So me and my siblings
Even if it means
They have to go days surviving on leaves
And drops of rainwater
And I can’t help feel like
It’s all my fault
It’s all because of me
Even with a few extra grains of rice
It’s not enough to fill our tummies
But every night
I sit up watching the stars
And draw very special pictures
In my very special notebook
That my papa bought for me
Back when we still had some extra money
I draw beautiful pictures of forests
People laughing and dancing
Just like our village was before everything was engulfed in sorrow
But my drawings have sparked a tiny little flame of hope
That the light will overcome the darkness
And that happiness and tranquility will roam our lands once more
Honorable Mention – Age 12 and Under Category
Weight of Words
By Elaina Wang
What is war?
Two men want something
Yet the two men don’t get it
The men make friends enemies to each other
The men make enemies friends to each other
The men kill families and murder cities
Until crimson is their favorite color–
The men crush their hearts till there’s nothing left to tell
The men fall, fall so deep into hell
they don’t even realize till they’re half
And when they meet again?
They scream and cry and stab and shoot
Until they were
the weight of words
they weren’t saying