2013-14 Student Poetry Prize Winner: Melissa Mogollon

The English department is delighted to announce that Melissa Mogollon is the winner of this year’s Student Poetry Prize for her poem Salon.” David Meni is the winner of this year’s Academy of American Poets Prize for his set of poems titled “Intermezzo.”
There was a robust set of entries for both prizes this year, and the judges–Profs. David McAleavey, Fred Pollack, Jennifer Chang, and Jessica Garratt–had a very hard, rich task to perform.
Below we are very happy to publish Melissa’s poem, as well as a brief narrative of its emergence in an Intermediate Poetry course taught by Prof. McAleavey.
The woman cutting my hair asks where I’m from.
She asks if the rain feels different there. Chunks of
hair fall on the floor. She tells me the rain is naked
here. Back home there is wet clay. Rain seeps through
roof cracks. Chunks of wet hair. Where am I from?
Rain feels different here. Chunks of wet clay. Woman
cuts hair. Bloated rain drops at home. She swivels
my chair towards her. The rain falls lightly here.
I’m from wet clay.  She’s from poor roofs. Charged
raindrops. Hair falls. She puts down her scissors.
Chair swivels. Asks where I’m from. Asks if it’s too short.
Hair falls. Rain falls. Asks if my roof lets the rain in here.
She tells me she’s done. Charges me. We both walk to
our new homes. With solid roofs. Through naked rain.
About the poem:
This poem was written in Professor MacAleavey’s Intermediate poetry class in Spring of 2014. We were reading Joshua Beckman’s work and I wrote Salon as a reaction to Beckman’s [The dead girl by the beautiful Bartlett]. I was scared of the poem at first because of its repetitive style. I was a very structured poet who loved stanzas and ends-stopped lines. Reading Beckman and being prompted by Professor MacAleavey to explore this modern chopped form of a sonnet ultimately led me to write this piece. I wasn’t confident in its abilities at first and wouldn’t have followed through with the editing without the encouragement of my peers during workshop.
I was lucky enough that this mysterious little woman washing my hair during a haircut last summer realized I was Latina and decided to pursue her interrogation of my heritage through rain. The events and conversations taking place in the poem are a dramatized slowed-down replica of our 30-second interaction. I chose to have her character cutting my hair in the poem vs. washing it to play off the notion of things “falling.” Modeled after Beckman, the words I chose to repeat were: rain, hair, chunks, fall and wet clay.

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