We are delighted to present the winner of April’s Brain Mill Press Student Poetry Contest for 2017:

“self-portrait as joan of arc” by Sabine Holzman.

We received submissions from student poets of a very high caliber, from which poetry month coordinator C. Kubasta selected the winning poem, as well as a short list of finalists (see below).

We are grateful to C. Kubasta for her hard work in organizing our poetry month event, as well as to all of the contributors, contest entrants, and readers for making this such a rich and wonderful month. If, after reading Sabine Holzman’s winning poem, you’re in the mood for still more wonderful poetry, check out our editors’ choice picks for week 1 and week 2, and investigate the full list of poetry month essays and poems.

–Ruthie Knox & Mary Ann Rivers, Brain Mill Press Publishers

During the month of April, we read poems that arrived from around the country — from Texas and California and New York, from Indiana and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, from Oregon and Alabama and Connecticut. We read poems that winged their way to us from Singapore. These voices clamored: a variety of forms & images & words called out to be heard, to be read aloud, to be spoken softly and proclaimed, their peculiar musics sweet and salt on the tongue.

I’ve just come back from the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets spring conference, where poetry filled the air too, and where we were blessed to listen to Mark Doty read his poetry. Poems like “In Two Seconds” speak of the two seconds between when the police cruiser ground to a halt and Tamir Rice’s life did too. Poems like “Atlantis” where Doty weaves a symphony of memory and love: the human desire to hold on — to each other and this life, to save the things we can, to impetus to write of the things that pass from our hands, whether cities submerged or the hurt loon we hope to nurse so that it will leave us. Between poems, Doty spoke of how the poet must nurse a poem in uncertainty, giving it space to surprise both the poet and the reader.

In selecting the below poems, I choose poems that surprised me. The winning and finalist poets are willing to let poems develop, to follow where the poem wishes to go — to understand poetry as a collaboration between the poet, the moment, and the language available at that moment. Since I read Sabine Holzman’s “Self-Portrait as Joan of Arc,” those final lines ring in me, sing in me. The speaker’s question is a question that perhaps cannot be asked (except in a poem). The answer cannot be given, except in a future unwritten poem. May we all stay “hungry / & lonely & sometimes lethal” if it leads to poems like this.

— C. Kubasta, BMP Assistant Poetry Editor and Contest Judge

About C. Kubasta

C. Kubasta lives and writes in central Wisconsin. Her poetry and prose celebrates the rural: the strange and beautiful, the awkward and forgiving. Despite the lower population density, she can always find plenty to write about. She is the author of two chapbooks, A Lovely Box and &sand the book All Beautiful & UselessA second book of poetry, Of Covenants, is forthcoming in 2017. Find her at

C. Kubasta

self-portrait as joan of arc

by Sabine Holzman

i go into / the living room

not to pray not to recite scripture

but because i am thinking about dying or

possibly living like this like a thing

with teeth for a heart

joan you were 19 when you burned at stake

17 when you ended the siege of orleans

& i am just now 17, not leading armies or

fighting a war or delivering god’s word

i’ve got no armor on my breast / no angels in my ears

i don’t know holiness i don’t know how to live a legend,

die a martyr

joan i’m not a saint like you not a story like you

i’m 17 and i’m just trying to survive but i don’t

know how to survive i’m just a girl who’s hungry

& lonely & sometimes lethal, i’m no joan of arc

not something that knows how to be soft

my mother tells me i’m something violent

did your mother too, joan / did your mother too

About Sabine Holzman

About Sabine

Sabine Holzman is a poet and student from Southern California. She attends Orange County School of the Arts for creative writing. Her writing has been recognized by numerous contests, including Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Chapman’s Annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest, From the Bow Seat’s Ocean Awareness Contest, and been published in numerous small lit mags. In her free time, she enjoys linguistics, Iceland, exilliteratur, and horror movies. You can find her at

Poetry Month Contest Finalists


Valerie Wu, “This Land of Color of Mine”
Courtney Felle, “A Reckoning”
Topaz Winters, “Dream Sequence”*
Sully Pujol, “Islamophobia”**


*Topaz Winters’s poem “When My First Boyfriend Learned I Was on Anti-Psychotics, He Laughed and Told Me He Always Suspected I Was Crazier Than I Let On” was an editors’ choice pick. Read it here.

** Sully Pujol’s poem “Admission” was an editors’ choice pick. Read it here.

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