2017 Award for New Poets: Souvenir by Todd Smith

We are so pleased to share with you the winning poem of the 2017 Award for New Poets—”Souvenir,” selected by guest judge Tyehimba Jess, explores with trembling sincerity the fragility of family, and love, and self. Todd Smith has won the $2000 prize and the esteem of our poets’ community.



– for Elliot

Past midnight our firstborn drops
the brittle cluster of oil noodles,
carried home in a violet backpack
from his high school trip to Beijing
with a skewer of fried scorpions
and this Chairman Mao snow globe,
into a saucepan barely wide enough
to hold it. Hot water bites his fingers
and he flinches, swears, and laughs.

The noodles boil, trying to untangle
from within. Years ago, when he
was a little girl, we watched a robin
pluck dry fronds of pampas grass
from the ditches, shuttle them back
to an elbow under the rain gutter
and trick each into its place, one
after another, with a reptilian logic
that requires nothing more. Soon

we are awake, on the overnight bus
between she-was and he-will-be,
holding both in arm’s reach. Soon
the robin, meticulous and gone.
Soon the fabricated snow. Soon
our selves, impossible, this life
and the few things in it the heart
keeps, and winds, and unwinds,
and will not hesitate to wind again.



Todd Smith

Todd Smith’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, River Styx, The Yale Review, Crazyhorse, North American Review, The Massachusetts Review, and other literary journals, as well as in Verse Daily.  Born and raised in rural Illinois, he studied poetry and music at the University of Virginia and received his MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.  An actuary by profession, he lives in West Des Moines, Iowa with his partner, poet Heather Derr-Smith, their three almost-grown children, and more cats and dogs than are allowed by local statute.

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