Skip to main content

2023 Vázquez-Valarezo Poetry Award winners announced

Carly Davis's poem "Seattle Song" won the 24th annual Vázquez-Valarezo Poetry Award at Augustana. Davis is a senior from Milton, Wis., majoring in English, art and creative writing.

Of the winning poem, the judges noted how the piece explores the condition of being "a foreigner / in a troubled place." Using the second person, the poetic voice describes the human misery that "you" witness when moving through a contemporary urban space. The reader observes figures who suffer from drug addiction and who are unhoused, even as the poetic voice problematizes the foreigner’s voyeurism, the simultaneous instincts to stare and to look away. The poem's final stanza repeats the word "comfort" to describe the preferable sensation of remaining ignorant of the "the lives of the tired." The poet’s placement of pauses and verse breaks further contributes to the impact of the poem’s most heart-rending images.

Davis was also awarded second place for her poem "Untitled Girlfriend Poem" and third place for her poem "the trans machine."

Of "Untitled Girlfriend Poem," the judges noted that the piece depicts how an interracial couple grapples with blackness and violence in the contemporary United States. The poetic voice is a "bleeding-heart white girlfriend" trying to express her own fears without patronizing or assuming full knowledge of the black male experience. The titular girlfriend witnesses how her partner, a "skinny black guy," endures discrimination that is both mundane and existential, from the generational trauma suffered by the boyfriend and his father who both face the specter of police violence, to microaggressions in the bathroom of a bar. The poem opens and closes with the repeated images of the girlfriend’s knuckles – metonymy of tension held in the body – and the driver’s seat of a car – a place of safety for the white poetic voice, a place of vulnerability for those targeted by police. 

Of "the trans machine," the judges recognized the poem's brief and figurative nature, and that its exploration of themes relating to social justice is open to interpretation. The title and subsequent images of harm may allude to current systems and movements that impact the rights and visibility of the trans community, the trans-national experiences of refugees aboard a train, labor conditions in certain mechanical sectors, or some other reading that escapes the judges entirely. What is clear are the structural and poetic devices – punchy verses of just four syllables, assonant rhyme, anaphora, personification, parallelism – that give the poem its musicality and that highlight the central juxtaposition of a machine that injures some and "treasures" others.

The judges were Megan Havard Rockwell, associate professor of Spanish at Augustana College, and Sonia Zarco-Real, assistant professor of Spanish at West Virginia University.

The award is sponsored by Dr. Jeanneth Vázquez, professor of Spanish. Winners receive a small monetary award and a certificate of recognition. The award is named in honor of two educators, the late Honorato Vazquez and the late Angelica Valarezo, writers who worked in the field of education in Ecuador for 35 years. In addition to recognizing excellence, the award is designed to encourage student poets to submit their work for consideration.


If you have news, send it to! We love hearing about the achievements of our alumni, students and faculty.