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           

Jenn Givhan, a National Endowment for the Arts and PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellow, is a Mexican-American writer and activist from the Southwestern desert. She is the author of four full-length poetry collections: Landscape with Headless Mama (2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize), Protection Spell (2016 Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series edited by Billy Collins), Girl with Death Mask (2017 Blue Light Books Prize chosen by Ross Gay), and Rosa's Einstein (Camino Del Sol Poetry Series, forthcoming 2019). Her two novels, Trinity Sight and Jubilee, are forthcoming from Blackstone Press. Her honors include the Frost Place Latinx Scholarship, a National Latinx Writers’ Conference Scholarship, the Lascaux Review Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal’s Greg Grummer Poetry Prize chosen by Monica Youn, the Pinch Poetry Prize chosen by Ada Limón, and ten Pushcart nominations. Her work has appeared in Best of the Net, Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Ploughshares, POETRY, TriQuarterly, Boston Review, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Witness, Southern Humanities Review, Missouri Review, and The Kenyon Review, among many others. Givhan holds a Master’s degree in English from California State University Fullerton and an MFA from Warren Wilson College, and she can be found discussing feminist motherhood at as well as Facebook & Twitter @JennGivhan.