June 4, 2015

Contact: Kevin Clark

Cal Poly English Major Wins Academy of American Poets Award

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly English major Marissa Ahmadkhani of Gilroy, Calif., won Cal Poly’s Academy of American Poets Contest.

Ahmadkhani took top prize for her poem “On Remembering,” which renders the aftermath of a love relationship. She will receive a $100 award from the academy.

Nationally recognized poet Patty Seyburn was this year’s contest judge. “The intimacies of human connection permeate Marissa Ahmadkhani’s work, proffering a deceptive simplicity, as her poems investigate the perils and abundance of memory,” said Seyburn. “[Just as] the natural world encodes a bounty of information in a small space, so do these poems embrace economy and trust image to convey the complexity of relationships and carry emotional weight.” 

Cal Poly English Professor Kevin Clark said, “Marissa is one of those poets who has the ability to write about extremely nuanced relationships and ideas without resorting to difficult language. She can evoke intricacy with deceptively unpretentious, quietly musical expression.”

First honorable mention was awarded to English major Maira Argenbright of Colfax, Calif., for “Tiger in the Moon,” a poem about teenagers breaking dangerously free from conventions of behavior.

Seyburn said Argenbright’s poems “celebrate what can be understood and what cannot as, deeply inhabited, they explore relationships between culture and the body, pain and ecstasy, risk and reward. They expertly attend to pacing, judiciously employing the opportunities of line and white space.”

Second honorable mention went to Isabella Lazzareschi of Healdsburg, Calif., for her poem “The Beach,” concerning the way ideas of paradise can be distorted by early confrontations with death.

“The intersection of life’s lushness and mortality contributes to the compelling nature of Isabella’s poems,” Seyburn said. “In the sisterhood of her world, gorgeous in its materiality, a piece of fruit and a photograph share the bond of representation --everything given a voice.”

Rebecca Liberatore of Paso Robles, Calif., was awarded third honorable mention for her poem “Sleet Lies on Sloan Kettering,” which evokes the way self-destructive behavior, such as addiction, seems beyond the control of certain individuals.

“Liberatore has been writing ingeniously inventive poems for a few years now,” Clark said. “Her poems are sinewy and always surprising.”

The winning poem will appear on the Cal Poly English Department website,

The contest was sponsored by the Cal Poly English Department and the Academy of American Poets. Located in New York City, the Academy of American Poets promotes poetry across the country through sponsorship of individual university contests.

— English Department:

— College of Liberal Arts:

About Patty Seyburn

Patty Seyburn grew up in Detroit and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University, an MFA in poetry from UC Irvine, and a doctorate in poetry and literature from the University of Houston. She has won the Marianne Moore Poetry Prize and the American Library Association’s Notable Book Award. Seyburn teaches at Cal State Long Beach and is co-editor of POOL: A Journal of Poetry.

About the Cal Poly English Department
The Cal Poly English Department promotes the study of literature, language and rhetoric in an effort to better understand the human condition. Undergraduate and graduate students learn to read carefully and deeply, to think critically and creatively, and to write clearly and persuasively. The department produces several publications each year that showcase student writing, including Byzantium: A Literary Annual and “Fresh Voices: Composition at Cal Poly.”


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