Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry

Milkweed Editions
Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry

The Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry supports outstanding poets from the upper Midwest and brings their work to a national stage. Expanding on the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, which was established in 2011, this prize awards $10,000 and publication by Milkweed Editions to a poet residing in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, or Michigan. Selected from a small number of finalists by an independent judge, the prizewinning poet will also receive a standard royalty contract, national distribution, and a comprehensive marketing and publicity campaign.

A public book launch and celebration for the winning poet will be held in Minneapolis around publication.


Submissions Open: December 1–January 15
Finalists & Winner Announced: April
Publication: January

2023 Judge:
Maggie Smith

Maggie Smith is the author of the national bestsellers Goldenrod and Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, as well as Good BonesThe Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, and Lamp of the Body. Smith’s poems and essays are widely published and anthologized, appearing in Best American Poetry, the New York TimesThe New Yorker, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, the Washington Post, the Guardian, The Nation, and elsewhere.

2022 Winner:

K. Iver, Short Film Starring My Beloved's Red Bronco

"K. Iver's Short Film Starring My Beloved's Red Bronco is a gleaming counter-narrative of gender, place, and class." —TYEHIMBA JESS, 2022 JUDGE

These poems see us through a particular kind of grief—one so relentless, it’s precious. It presses us, also, to continue advocating for a world in which queer love fantasies become reality and queer love poems “swaddle the impossible / contours of joy.”

2021 Winner:
Jennifer Huang, Return Flight

"Return Flight is an attentive but effulgent but joyously aching book.”—Jos Charles, 2021 Judge

When Return Flight asks “what name / do you crown yourself,” Jennifer Huang answers with many. Textured with mountains—a folkloric goddess-prison, Yushan, mother, men, self—and peppered with shapeshifting creatures, spirits, and gods, the landscape of Huang’s poems is at once mystical and fleshy, a “myth a mess of myself.”

Read more»

2020 Winner: 
torrin a. greathouse, Wound from the Mouth of a Wound

“[This collection] feels like we’re holding a small thunderstorm in our hands.” —AIMEE NEZHUKUMATATHIL, 2020 Judge

A versatile missive written from the intersections of gender, disability, trauma, and survival. Guided by a devastatingly precise hand, these poems challenge a canon that decides what shades of beauty deserve to live in a poem. This collection is a testament to persistence, even when the body is not allowed to thrive, teaching us that fragility is not synonymous with flaw.

Read more»

2019 Winner:
Patrick Johnson, Gatekeeper

"A book for the age of the cloud, a volume of poetry that is at once novelistic and intensely lyrical." —KHALED MATTAWA, 2019 Judge

What is the deep web? A locked door. A tool for oppression and for revolution. “An emptying drain, driven by gravity.” And in Patrick Johnson’s Gatekeeper—selected by Khaled Mattawa as the winner of the 2019 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry—it is the place where connection is darkly transfigured by distance and power.

Read more»

2018 Winner:    Claire Wahmanholm, Wilder

“Full of wonder and bewilderment, cosmic vision and earthly pain.”

Wilder maps an alien but unnervingly familiar world as it accelerates into cataclysm. Here refugees listen to relaxation tapes that create an Arcadia out of tires and bleach; here the alphabet spells out disaster and devours children. The result is a collection that both beguiles and wounds.

Read more»

2017 Winner:

Caitlin Bailey, Solve for Desire

“The work of a poet who sings, boldly, across the distances between us.” —SRIKANTH REDDY, 2017 JUDGE

Can one person be addicted to another? Can two souls be twinned? Georg Trakl was a well-known Austrian poet; Grete, his sister, was a musical prodigy but much less is known about her. Both addicted to drugs, Grete committed suicide three years after Georg’s overdose. In these imagined letters from Grete to her brother, Bailey contemplates the erasure of women’s inner lives from history.

Read more»

Complete Guidelines
  • Poets may submit one complete, book-length collection, defined as a manuscript of forty-eight or more pages. The submitted manuscript must be previously unpublished, though individual poems included may have been previously published in periodicals, chapbooks or anthologies. This is not exclusively a first book contest; poets may be at any stage in their career.
  • The poet must currently reside in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, or Michigan.
  • Only online submissions via Submittable will be considered. There is no entry fee.
  • Simultaneous submissions are allowed, but poets must notify Milkweed Editions immediately by withdrawing their manuscript via Submittable if it is accepted for publication elsewhere.
  • Multiple submissions are not allowed. Poets may only submit one manuscript to the contest and, further, if you have previously submitted a manuscript to Milkweed Editions and it is still under consideration, you must withdraw it via Submittable before submitting to the contest.
  • We aim to ensure an ethical contest. Poets should refrain from entering the contest if their relationship to the judge in a given year constitutes a conflict of interest. Milkweed Editions reserves the right to disqualify any entries deemed to jeopardize the integrity of the contest. Similarly, poets published by Milkweed Editions within the preceding two years are not eligible to enter. Submissions will not be accepted from employees of Ballard Spahr, The Minneapolis Foundation, Milkweed Editions, or their families or relations.
  • MANUSCRIPT FORMATTING: Submissions will be reviewed anonymously. No identifying information may appear on the pages of the manuscript. If the author's name appears within the body of the text, please omit it, black it out, or use a pseudonym (this may be changed and an acknowledgments page can be added if the manuscript is selected for publication). Please include a title page (with the author's name omitted) and a table of contents. Pages must be numbered. Please do not include an acknowledgments page in the manuscript (you will be prompted to submit this information separately via Submittable). No manuscript revisions can be considered during the course of the contest, but the winning poet will have an opportunity to make revisions prior to publication.
  • Incomplete submissions cannot be guaranteed consideration for the prize. Milkweed Editions reserves the right to disqualify any entries deemed to jeopardize the integrity of the contest.





Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco, selected by Tyehimba Jess for the 2022 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry, is an aching tribute to the power and precarity of queer love.

Jennifer Huang

Selected by Jos Charles as the winner of the 2021 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry, Return Flight is a lush reckoning: with inheritance, with body, with trauma, with desire—and with the many tendons in between.

torrin a. greathouse

Concrete and evocative, Wound from the Mouth of a Wound is a testament to persistence, even when the body is not allowed to thrive.

Gatekeeper: Poems book cover
Patrick Johnson

Spooky and spare, Gatekeeper is a striking debut collection and a suspenseful odyssey for these troubled times.

Claire Wahmanholm

Claire Wahmanholm maps an alien but unnervingly familiar world as it accelerates into cataclysm.

Caitlin Bailey

Inspired by the mysterious and intense relationship of the Trakl siblings, Solve for Desire is a keening exploration of desire between brother and sister, poet and subject, the living and the dead.

Chris Santiago

Tula: a ruined Toltec capital; a Russian city known for its accordions; Tagalog for “poem.” Inspired by the experiences of the second-generation immigrant who does not fully acquire the language of his parents, the winner of the 2016...

Beautiful Zero
Jennifer Willoughby

Incantatory, intimate, and incendiary, the winner of the 2015 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry is filled with explosive wit and humor. Yet even at their most surreal—whether taking as their subject a Kaiser Permanente hospital, Shark Week...

You Must Remember This
Michael Bazzett

A woozy logic dominates these poems: a heart can become a buzzing hive of bees, a rooster can trigger a series of bombs, a young man can embrace a city bus as his spirit animal. The winner of the 2014 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry is a...


This prize is made possible by the Ballard Spahr Foundation, which was established by the national law firm of Ballard Spahr, LLP, and is a donor-advised fund of The Minneapolis Foundation.

“Ballard Spahr is proud to continue the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry. Recognizing the unifying power of language while also celebrating the unique voice of the Midwest is a fitting way to commemorate Lindquist’s merger with Ballard Spahr.”
—Pete Michaud, Managing Partner, Minneapolis