2024 Jessamy Stusberg Poetry Prize winners

Winners General

Congratulations to the winners of the 2024 Jessamy Stursberg Poetry Prize!

Junior category (grades 7-9)

Junior Winners
  • Jessica Zhao, "Our Yearly Sun Turns Around"
  • Emma Han, "River Run Dry"
  • Elizabeth Bernal, "Bottles Born to Shatter"

Senior category (grades 10-12)

Senior Winners
  • Lilah Warren, "forgive me, this is not a love poem"
  • Cheryl Chen, "Ekphrastic of Diē"
  • Zagreus Zheng, "Google searches the night after graduation"

Read the winning poems

Selected by juror Dominique Bernier-Cormier

Click to read individual poems, or find all poems at the bottom of this page.

Honorable mentions

Thanks to the generous support of the Jessamy Stursberg Endowment Fund, the League also produces an annual chapbook of the most notable submissions from the Jessamy Stursburg Poetry Prize. In addition to the winning poems, The Next Generation Volume V will include eight additional poets!

  • Vanessa Chen, "to grandma"
  • Farah Diggle, "All In My Head"
  • Suixin Gong, "Invisible Imperfections"
  • Noaah Karim, "Swaddling Cloth"
  • Tianyi Li, "rainy tapestry:
  • Lily Pahmer, "Growing Up"
  • Cynthia Xiao, "Spring"
  • Jeremy Zhang, "How to Properly Place an Orange"

forgive me, this is not a love poem

By Lilah Warren

The only beautiful thing. Your smile. Rebellion of a hairbrush left on the duvet. May God send me here when I die; your eyes. Futility of the dawn, futility of the teeth, a morning, ended, a tooth, decomposed. In another life I eat ginger candy and play the cello. In this life I see strangers kissing in their kitchen through the window.

The only beautiful thing. There is only one. The heart is a triangle, trigonometry, painfully scraping against angles. The mind is a muscle– you can peel layers away, there’s nothing at the center. Slightly to the left there is a cup of cold tea. A sage-green dress if you’re particular.

Beautiful one, I have no time to unpack you. I am grabbing fistfuls of time in my hands like sand; like water. I am a crow and the world is a grain of sand. I am a crow and you are a seed-pearl necklace. Do you remember when I believed in a garden? No, I never told you. Forgive me. Morning, ended. Not without my silent riot.

Oh, beautiful. The ink, so dark I want to taste it. Skull, a koi pond. Push me too far, they spill out onto the ground, splutter for air, die. Futility of domestication. You cannot keep a girl in a cage. Keep her in a cool, damp pool at the bottom of a cavern, a tidepool, brimming with ivy to cradle her.

There is only one beautiful thing. Oh, forgive me, love, it isn’t you.

Our Yearly Sun Turns Around

By Jessica Zhao


Due to its formatting, this poem is only available as an image.

Summer comes today, following a downpour that is cleared off the sidewalk by day-break and a meat pie that is scavenged through by lunch-break. An evil-something emerges from the sky so grandma breaks out her jaded beads and beaded jades and a hundred year old focaccia that steams up the kitchen with a culture of dead yeast, fogging up the windows. The rising smell of burnt hits the ceiling but not high enough to hit the devil in the face or the ground running so it marinates instead, in a seltzer bath of rust and erosion. There goes a saying that earth fosters a siblicide in three steps: One, Birth of honeysuckle. Two, Emergence of sprout, Three, Choking of vine on its humidity. Everything else is just Lather, Rinse, Repeat. But grandma also tells me another story in good faith: That tomorrow, sometime before noon, a warm rain will attack the neighbour’s orange cat, that by then Phaethon would have already driven the sun off course, a mosquito would have already bitten a crater size hole into the rubber tire and I would have already forgotten about my father, his two snakes lying dormant under the porch. By then, not me, not you, not even your mother before, could have predicted that Summer would have ended before the sun, an almond cracking egg yolk could make its way into a final quotidian setting.

Ekphrastic of Diē

By Cheryl Chen

It’s August and you’re searching for him one last time

while the sky’s still agape and saint-bright, your

limbs stretched heavenward where you hope to meet

the man, the father, the enigma:

a portrait painter famous among the birds and

other fly-things for being an elusive little fuck.

& yet you find him, sitting placid by his easel, a damsel-duck.

Feathers whiter and more misted than the clouds swirling around him;

face more ancient than the sky you fall into.


You’ll be naked under his hand, soft white underbelly. You know this because

of his eyes and the way they reach for you like you’re a foreign itch, pupils

hooked to hands, hands held on brush, brush blooming divots of your face you’ve

never witnessed before onto the canvas.

O the truth he makes of you. O the truth he makes of himself, as you

watch him watch you watch him

thinning into a crisp paper crane,

wings bent at an angle meant to be hung in heaven.


Paper limbs reaching for you forever ago: a tender violence,

two sides of a wound embracing each other

because they are the same skin. You want to ask him what to do

with your hands. Fold them in my lap?

Burst into plumes?


In Chinese, the word for father is diē.

You look at him, a pitch away from death. A ruffle, a shudder

& you fold your skin, two




times over and tuck yourself under his

wrinkled eyelids, his wrungout

sleeves, his silvered hair, his sagging cheeks,

his arms, his wings.


Your hands don’t matter anymore.


Because the portrait is finished.

Because all you see is the painter, cradling your face under his color

& suddenly he is your father

& suddenly he is your father

& suddenly he is your father.

River Run Dry

By Emma Han

Lovers love their beloved the way an ocean surges and churns. The way the tall waves crash against rocks, and the way the salty water returns to the ocean, drip by drip.


I am loved quietly.

I am loved in the back of my lover’s mind.

I am loved the way a broken stream trickles down the mountain, slow and sure.

I am loved in that way, because no one needs to think about small rivers. They don’t need to be taken care of. They just follow the slope of the mountain.

They are loved, of course. But not uniquely.

Ask: Do you like rivers? Well, who wouldn’t? What’s not to like? Yes, people would answer. I like rivers. They give us fresh water.

But who notices a river’s hospitality toward fish and beavers and frogs and turtles? Who thinks about the river’s charity that feeds the lakes and seas? Who takes the time to feel the smooth current, or listen to its song?

I am a river.

Because to be needed without desire is everything I’ve ever been. And to be loved for practicality rather than beauty is to not be loved at all.

I am loved, yes, but never out of fondness.

Google searches the night after graduation

By Zagreus Zheng

how to stop a panic attack / how to get out of debt / how to make money / how to die / how to fake death / how to set up a will / life insurance / insurance fraud sentence / how to make money fast / how much can i sell toyota corolla for / cheapest country to live in / cheapest english country / south africa currency / cad to africa rand / is south africa a good country to live in / is a canadian diploma good in south africa / south africa happiness index / south africa vs canada cost of living / is being gay illegal in south africa / best city to move to in south africa / housing in cape town / crime rate in cape town / south africa citizenship / cheap flights south africa / effects of grief / how to say sorry

Bottles born to shatter

By Elizabeth Bernal


Due to its formatting, this poem is only available as an image.

Hold me like the love you lost Hold me no matter the cost Hold me like the man you miss. Don’t say his name, just reminisce Dad, Oh dad Another bottle on the shelf Born to fall and shatter like the rest. Bottles and bottles of Jack we drank One more bottle, one more bottle. Till we reach farther, oh father, The bottles he drank, fell and shattered. Each bottle drank, is a bottle born to shatter How can you live when your life’s so scattered? Pieces lost. Fabric holes. Wind-blown ashes. Stories untold. Bottle by bottle Drink by drink Dad, oh dad, another bottle on the shelf Shattered. Before he could get any help.