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This year LIBRETTO would be publishing the winners’ manuscript in softcopy for free download to all readers and hardcopies would be sent along with the certificate of award and participation to the authors in their respective place of resident. We received a lot number of entries for our chapbook series this year. Our juries; Francis Annagu and Chisom Okafor had to choose the winners. We have decided to give the best literary support to poets and writers who are willing to publish and see readers’ finds joy in their works. Thank you so much for sharing your fears, doubts, love and thought-provoking works. We ask you give us the best and you absolutely did. We are grateful and thankful. Hearty congratulations to the winners. We hope to see your brilliant works next year for Short Story Chapbook Prize. Thank you all round!

Francis Annagu is a native of Ninzom, from Sanga Local Government Area of Kaduna State, Nigeria. He graduate top of his class in the Department of Political Science, Kaduna State University. A creative writer & rights activist; during his third year at the university he published a poetry collection “Our Land in the Beak of Vultures (Hesterglock Press, UK)”. His poetry works have appeared in over twenty-five literary anthologies and magazines including Potomac Journal, Crannog Magazine, Dead Snakes, London Grip New Poetry and elsewhere. In 2016, he received the Poets In Nigeria Special Mention and was one time Nominated Best Of The Net by Parousia Magazine. Shortlisted for the Erbacce Poetry Prize in England, he’s regarded today as Southern Kaduna most prominent poetic voice.

Chisom Okafor lives in Lagos, Nigeria. His works appear or are forthcoming in Praira Schooner, Palette Poetry, The Indian Journal of Literature and Aesthetics, Expound Magazine, The Single Story Foundation Journal, The Rising Phoenix and elewhere. He was listed in Woke Africa’s “21 Best African Writers of the New Generation.” He was also shortlisted for the Brittle Paper Award for Poetry in 2018. He is presently on the editorial team of 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, now in its second year.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this submission. It was such an awesome moment to read and educating us with your words and it was fulfilling to be able to select the best works. I need to be really sincere as there where many excellent works submitted. The chapbook editors Francis Annagu and Chisom Okafor selected three (3) best works. According to the editors they are so pleased with the amount of submissions received, and hope next year submissions should be more impressive. Each editor shows some light review on the winners’ manuscript.


Below are the winners of The Libretto Chapbook Prize 2020 Poetry
Spells of my Name
– I.S.Jones,

1st Runner Up
20 Sonnets
– Bruce McRae,

2nd Runner Up
Telling the Bees
– Bruce Meyer,

Jury’s commentary

Hardly can a collection be said to have, embedded in it, poems that navigate language and sexuality and memory and identity and the inner workings of the mind (in such a way that they form a perfect summation of the micro histories of the heart, and one fit for a chapbook) in the way that Spells of my Name has done.

In this heart-wrenching collection, we find a poet constantly in awe of bodies and always wanting to open the body into a new language, always searching, always probing, unguent hungry, asking timely questions, like: Why do any of us return / to that which has promised to slaughter us? Here too, we find a poet constantly torn in-between two selves. But then, this apparent duality, is neither borne out of a certain confusion nor is it even a subject of total indecision on its own, but the musings of one whose path has already been laid out, but full of diversions and sharp bends, such that the need for constant self-questioning (manifesting in the way light floods a room), becomes imminent.

Experimenting with form and structure, the poet emerges with a voice that is firm, yet tempered, one akin to a lone voice in the wilderness, just that in this collection, they are not alone. There is a mother who confesses to wanting light-skinned grandchildren and a father who just came to this country and doesn’t know where grandma is buried and an interviewer who asks the question: what does grief mean to you as a [ ] black woman? and a lover, whose touch they yearn for, to feel and be filled with a bountiful harvest.

Elsewhere, they recall that home is wherever memory takes mercy on me, even as they acknowledge the fact of being born into a land of pilfered gold. They confess that my easy name gave me an easy life and my good english dazzles everywhere I go, yet where I’m from guns are more beloved +han children. The poet confronts their truth with so much gusto and stark honesty, as evidenced by the depth in empathy that the poems evoke and the numerous feelings we take home from our encounter with word after word, in line after line, in poem after poem; things that move us and break us and resurrect us.

The poems here are confessional, just as they’re urgent and timely, experimental and beautifully crafted, each fluid with grace, perhaps a pointer to the long and illustrious road ahead for this amazing poet.
Chisom Okafor

Powerful as Soyinka, the poet stretches us to every corner of poetry of rustic appreciation, and world views.
Francis Annagu

1st Runner Up:
Fine poetry with themes relevant to contemporary times…well chosen words, clarity, and his use of the first person wasn’t wholly curled round himself but, to invoke a sheer feeling of loose participation by the reader.
Francis Annagu

2nd Runner Up:

‘On every path that may have heart,’ writes Carlos Castenoda, ‘there I travel.’ These evergreen words kept echoing within me, as I read and re-read this brilliant collection. Through the use of strong imagery and scintillating metaphors, the poet weaves back and forth through language. The bee is both metaphorical and literal, and through the lens of this creature we see almost all facets of the writer’s reality playing out in poem after poem.

When, the bees are told about love and a lover whose head was golden as honey / in the morning light, soft-haired / with a halo shimmering / as if the dawn of a better day, the reader is blindfolded and led into the sacred inner chambers of the heart where the mind’s eye is opened and freshness of sight and meanings are established. So sure is this poet, of this love and of the lesson derived thereof, that they burst into lines that could best be described as so a rich applause of colours, thus:

There is so much to love in life,
so many secrets I have learned

by listening to dew drops
clutching fresh green stems,

and holding rays of sunlight
then turning them into words.

But then, not only do the bees become an object of obsessive love, it also becomes a site for joy ─ which in itself, is a word that bears repeating, underneath its wings or rather, in a bumblebee’s hum ─ and a site for grief. The bee is an altar for reverence, a symbol of connection with the inner self as well as a place of memories; trustworthy and faithful to the very end. They took my secrets away, sings the poet, how they understood / the frailties of their keeper.

These poems are audacious and timely, whether they speak to grief or to friendship or myths, or love. I could, as I read through this work, only think of the excruciating brilliance of the poet and their courage and wisdom. The poems here, as summarized in the very last lines are also a kind of homecoming, even as they give us assurances the kind that only a homecoming allows for.
Chisom Okafor

Juxtaposed words without literary appreciation: avoidable words.
Francis Annagu

Author’s Biography
I.S. Jones is a queer American/Nigerian poet and music journalist. She is a Graduate Fellow with The Watering Hole and holds fellowships from Callaloo, BOAAT Writer’s Retreat, and Brooklyn Poets. She is the 2018 winner of the Brittle Paper Award in Poetry. I.S. hosts a month-long workshop every April, called The Singing Bullet. She is a Book Editor with Indolent Books, Editor at Voicemail Poems, freelances for Complex, Earmilk, NBC News Think, Ambrosia for Heads and elsewhere. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Guernica, The Rumpus, The Offing, The Shade Journal, Nat. Brut, Puerto Del Sol and elsewhere. Alongside Nome Patrick Emeka, she is the co-editor of the Young African Poets Anthology. She is an MFA candidate in Poetry at UW-Madison as well as the 2019 Kemper K. Knapp University Fellowship recipient. She splits her time between Southern California and New York.

Bruce McRae, a Canadian musician currently residing on Salt Spring Island BC, is a multiple Pushcart nominee with over 1,500 poems published internationally in magazines such as Poetry, Rattle and the North American Review. His books are ‘The So-Called Sonnets (Silenced Press); ‘An Unbecoming Fit Of Frenzy; (Cawing Crow Press) and ‘Like As If” (Pski’s Porch), Hearsay (The Poet’s Haven).

Bruce Meyer is author or editor of 64 books of poetry, short fiction, flash fiction, non-fiction, and literary journalism.

On behalf of LIBRETTO editorial team we say heavy thank you to TheBagus and Syncity who made a tremendous effort in publicizing our call for submissions THE LIBRETTO CHAPBOOK PRIZE 2020 POETRY. We appreciate your zealousness towards the growth of Africa literature. We love you and say keep on enlightening the world with your beautiful words and encouragement.

Thank you.

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