Contest Issue Reflection & Farewell from your Editor-in-Chief: It’s Been a Beautiful Journey

Dearest Poets, Dearest Tinderboxers,

It’s been my true joy to serve as a reader, then Poetry Editor, and finally Editor-in-Chief of this beautiful poetry journal, founded by Molly Sutton Kiefer and Brett Elizabeth Jenkins, who took me under their silvery poets’ wings and taught me all they knew (which was a bunch!) about curating a kickass online journal of incisive, experimental, powerhouse poems. Since 2015, I’ve been seeking out the smartest, sassiest, most brazenly wonderful poems I could get my hands on, and it’s been one of the great honors of my life to share the exciting, honest, griefstruck, joyful poems I’ve found with you loves of the poetry community.

This December contest issue is no exception. The poems comprised here are the finalists and winners of nearly five hundred submissions, and they rose to the top as they sank their teeth into our hearts, kicked us in our guts, and wouldn’t let us go.

This issue also marks my last with Tinderbox Poetry Journal. This has always been a labor of great love, and I have decided I need to take time to serve my own poetic Muse, and nurture myself and my family. In a social and political climate of upheaval and fear, every speaking out/speaking up for each other and ourselves is resistance, is love, is a gift. And I will continue to do so as an editor with our sister press Tinderbox Editions, as a poet and writer (my debut novel is forthcoming in the fall of 2019, so watch out!), and as a Latinx mamawoman who will never, ever, ever give up on my dreams or let the light extinguish on our hope for a better, empowered future for all of us—particularly those who have lived too long in the margins and shadows, barely surviving. It is our time to thrive, to shine, to glow a bright light on the dark places.

Thank you for sharing in my journey as editor of this beautiful journal. I am leaving it to capable, empathetic, intelligent hands! New Editor-in-Chief Hannah E. Dow will no doubt introduce herself to you in 2019 issues and beyond. And our Poetry Editors Majda Gama and Levi Todd will continue the good, necessary work of singing the praises and shining lights on marginalized poets, especially those of color and our fam in the LGBTQ+ communities. I am confident that the goals we’ve striven for as a team, as a beautiful familia, will carry on into the coming years as Tinderbox continues growing and transforming to serve the needs of our diverse and wonderful communities. Tinderbox will be paying contributors in 2019, which I couldn’t be more excited about! Keep watching for the good stuff to come.

Of the contest winners:

We’re thrilled to share judge Zeina Hashem Beck’s choices this year for our contest winners!

Of the poems, she writes:

Winner: “Yemen Is”

Threa Almontaser’s poem for Yemen is not just beautiful and heartbreaking in its strong voice and imagery—it is also necessary. Almontaser describes the warn-torn Yemen of today and vividly summons the Yemen of her childhood, the country of “heavy mocha,” family, fresh bread, and “something growing.” Her line “I sit on our front porch, safe from seeing” reads like an invitation for us to ask ourselves, “What have we been safe from seeing?”

Runner-up: “At Home, in the Empire”

The voice, language, setting, and pace of Raena Shirali’s “At Home, in the Empire” take you in immediately. The poem flows from detail to detail, country to country, question to question. I felt I was sitting with the two immigrant women at the bar, smoking, laughing, fearing, wondering, defying. I was in the presence of their beauty, their strength, and the threats against their bodies. The persona asks “Who sees us,” and the poet makes sure the reader does.

We are also thrilled to share the winner of our Editors’ Prize, Ajanae Dawkins, whose extraordinary poem “On Classrooms and Ghosts” knocked us out completely.

Congratulations to all three poets!

And thank you, Tinderboxers, for your support.

All the poetry love and light, now and always,

Jenn Givhan <3 

Jennifer Givhan was a 2010 Pen Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellow, as well as a 2011 St. Lawrence Book Award finalist and a 2012 Vernice Quebodeaux Pathways Prize finalist for her poetry collection Red Sun Mother. She was also an Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize finalist for her poetry collection Karaoke Night at the Asylum. She is an MFA candidate at Warren Wilson College, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over fifty journals and anthologies, including Best New Poets 2013, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, Rattle, cream city review and The Los Angeles Review. She teaches composition at Western New Mexico University.