“When we think of poetry, we think of the soul of humankind,” said world-renowned poet Nikki Giovanni. “Today, we have lifted that to the heavens.”

Giovanni, University Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech, uttered those words at a recent celebration of the winners of the 2016 Steger Poetry Prize.

Now in its 11th year, the annual poetry celebration is held every April, which is National Poetry Month. Giovanni established the poetry competition for Virginia Tech undergraduates and named it for its first benefactor, Charles W. Steger, the university’s president at the time. Steger, now president emeritus, participates in the event every year.

This year’s competition garnered more than a hundred entries. Ten student finalists read their entries at the event, alternating with poems chosen and read by Department of English faculty members.

The first-place winner – and recipient of a $1,100 prize – was Michaela Goldammer of Blacksburg, a sophomore double majoring in electrical engineering in the College of Engineering and creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Goldammer, who received an honorable mention in last year’s competition, won for her poem, “To Earhart.”

In addition to her monetary award, Goldammer received a piece of handcrafted art by local jeweler Faith Capone. The artwork – a sterling-silver cylinder with an inset magnifying glass – was chosen to symbolize the power of poetry in enlarging our understanding of the world.

The second-place, $500 prize was awarded to Caroline Sutphin of Pulaski, Virginia, for her poem, “At a White Kitchen Table.” Sutphin is a sophomore double majoring in literature and language and creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Aimee Hahn of Chesterfield, Virginia, a senior majoring in English in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, won the third-place, $300 prize for her poem, “New Mercies.”

In addition to the winners, seven students received honorable mentions:

  • Amanda Nicole Bouvette of Christiansburg, Virginia, a junior double majoring in professional and technical writing and creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “Portage Lake”;
  • Shelby Dodd of Stafford, Virginia, a junior majoring in psychology in the College of Science, for “The Anatomy of Melancholy”;
  • Daron Hennessey of Alpharetta, Georgia, a senior double majoring in creative writing and multimedia journalism in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “I Saw a Dead Hand in Budapest”;
  • Layne Mandros of Bristow, Virginia, a sophomore majoring in creative writing and literature and language in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and in psychology in the College of Science, for “Temple”;
  • Rachel Molloy of Queensbury, New York, a sophomore majoring in biological systems engineering in the College of Engineering, for “Tomorrow There Will Be Bones Here”;
  • Nneoma Nwankwo of Lagos, Nigeria, a senior double majoring in political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and public and urban affairs in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and a twice previous top-10 finalist, for “Different Ends”; and
  • Roxanne Smith of Hamilton, Virginia, a freshman majoring in food science and technology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, for “Tokyo.”

The competition is administered by Giovanni; co-directed by Aileen Murphy, a senior instructor, and Joe Scallorns, an advanced instructor, both in the Department of English; and judged by a committee of faculty members, including Giovanni, Gena Chandler, Virginia Fowler, Thomas Gardner, Ennis McCrery, Katrina Powell, Lucinda Roy, Matthew Vollmer, and Gyorgyi Voros.

The co-directors gave special thanks to Giovanni, for her “boundless enthusiasm and continuous inspiration”; Dennis and Donna Treacy for their endowment of the poetry competition; Steger for his continued sponsorship, support, and dedication; Steven Critchfield for his tireless efforts in supporting the prize; Thomas Tillar for making the ceremony space available; and numerous other benefactors.