2023 Award for New Poets Winner: “Twelve Thousand Pounds of Salt” by Ira Goga

We are thrilled to present the 2023 Award for New Poets first place winner, Ira Goga, selected by guest judge torrin a. greathouse!

Here’s what our judge had to say about the winning poem: “Reading ‘Twelve Thousand Pounds of Salt,’ I was immediately reminded of one of my most beloved poems, “Hymn” by Carl Phillips, because of its taut and wiry syntax, and the way that violence—whether physical, linguistic, sexual, or cultural—ghosts the periphery, haunting the poem’s edges. This is the kind of poem that lives in the reader’s body, that slowed my breath and quickened my pulse, left my body ready to take off running, though I didn’t quite know away or toward what.” Read the award-winning poem below.

Twelve Thousand Pounds of Salt

All afternoon, his passenger,

I fantasized. Summer’s lush lightning


in the distance. And the phlox, whose name 

means flame, swept the hillsides.


I think, maybe, I cannot write

about it. How long I’d gone untouched 


by danger but flirting, risk licking at my heels.

I wanted it, I’ll say now, because it is true


that I also did not, and said nothing.

What I told him, he wouldn’t believe


until he saw for himself. At the rest stop,

my clothes on the seat. You’re beautiful, 


though it was dark in his truck and my body

obscured, though he’d already touched me.


You’re sort of like the best of both I guess

because I’m a guy with a pussy. In the trailer


he carried a kind of salt, twelve thousand pounds

to be made into fertilizer. Name something heavier


and slower to burn the mouth

than shame. When I feel the most myself,


I am mostly invisible. How I’d traveled,

like water, all through the country. Slipping inside


another’s assumptions, I don’t mind.

Believe what you’d like about me.


Through meekness I lived 

to see him in such an unguarded moment. 

Ira Goga

Ira Goga graduated from Smith College with a BA in biochemistry. Their poetry has appeared in The Best New Poets 2023, DIALOGIST, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. They have received support from the Ucross Foundation and the Academy of American Poets. They are currently pursuing an MFA at UT Austin.

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