Poetry of the Sacred2019-08-11T13:12:29-04:00

The Center for Interfaith Relations is delighted to announce

2019 Thomas Merton
Poetry of the Sacred Contest

The Center for Interfaith Relations is proud to sponsor the Thomas Merton Prize in Poetry of the Sacred, inspired by the legacy of Thomas Merton – monk, poet, hermit, activist, artist and interfaith pioneer – whose life continues to inspire millions.


Contest Details

The Center for Interfaith Relations is proud to sponsor the Thomas Merton Prize in Poetry of the Sacred, inspired by the legacy of Thomas Merton – monk, poet, hermit, activist, artist and interfaith pioneer – whose life continues to inspire millions.

For over ten years, the Poetry of the Sacred contest has received thousands of submissions touching every aspect of spiritual life. Poetry has been called ‘the language of the soul’ and this annual contest encourages poets to awaken the reader to the deep meaning and beauty of a contemplative life. Poems are evaluated based on literary excellence, authenticity and spiritual tenor.
Contest Details:
The 2019 Poetry of the Sacred Contest is will be open for submissions through 11:59 PM EST on Monday August 12, 2019. This year’s final judges, Phyllis Cole-Dai and Ruby R. Wilson, will select three honorable mentions to receive $100.00, and one winning poem to be awarded the $500.00 Merton Prize in Poetry of the Sacred. The winning poem will be published in an upcoming issue of Parabola Magazine, an internationally recognized magazine devoted to the sacred.
Submission Details:
  • Entry fee of $15.00 per one poem, non-refundable. (Some entry fee scholarships are available on a limited first come, first serve basis. Please e-mail rebecca@interfaithrelations.org for details.)
  • Online submissions only. (If you are unable to submit online, please e-mail rebecca@interfaithrelations.org or call 502.583.3100 Monday-Thursday 9am-5pm EST.)
  • Submissions should be one single piece of work.  Please do not include multiple poems in one entry.
  • Submissions should be less than 1000 words.
  • Submitted work should be unpublished. Simultaneous submissions are expected and welcome.
  • Poem must be anonymous—the author’s name or address must not appear anywhere on the attached document containing the poem
A final poems will be selected mid-September and all applicants will be notified of the winning poem and three honorable mentions via e-mail.  Announcements will also be made online and through the general Center for Interfaith Relations and Festival of Faiths email communications.
The Center for Interfaith Relations’ mission is to celebrate the diversity of faith traditions, express gratitude for our unity and strengthen the role of faith in society through common action.

Contest closes at 11:59 PM EST, Monday, August 12, 2019.

2019 Final Judges

Frederick Smock

Phyllis Cole-Dai

Phyllis Cole-Dai began writing on an old manual typewriter in childhood and never stopped. Her work explores things that tend to divide us, such as class, ethnicity, religion and gender, so that we might wrestle our way into deeper understandings of one another. She has authored or edited nine books in multiple genres as well as four music albums. With Ruby Wilson she created Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, which grew out her successful online project A Year of Being Here. Her latest book is Beneath the Same Stars, a novel of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War. She is perhaps best known for The Emptiness of Our Hands, a spiritual memoir that chronicles 47 days she and co-author James Murray practiced “being present” while living by choice on the streets of Columbus, Ohio. Originally from a farming community in Ohio, Phyllis now resides with her scientist-husband, teenage son and two cats in a cozy 120-year-old house in Brookings, South Dakota. Get a free sampler of her writing and music by joining her mailing list at phylliscoledai.com.

Frederick Smock

Ruby R. Wilson

Ruby R. Wilson is a poet and freelance writer who calls South Dakota home. She centers her work in the landscape and relationships that shape the world we all share. Her fourth published collection of poetry is the award-winning anthology, Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, co-edited with Phyllis Cole-Dai. She is also the author of Maybe the Moon is Falling, one of the winners of the 2014 South Dakota State Poetry Society annual chapbook contest. Her poetry and prose has been published in a number of collections including Crazy Woman Creek (Houghton Mifflin, 2004), Action, Influence, Voice: Contemporary South Dakota Women, New Letters, and P3 (Painters, Poets & Pavilion) invitational exhibits at the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In addition to capturing images with poetry, she is also a photographer and loves roaming the countryside with her camera. She lives with her husband and an assortment of pets in rural Brookings County, and is an archivist in the South Dakota State University Archives & Special Collections Department.

About Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk at Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky and writer. His writings include such classics as The Seven Storey Mountain, New Seeds of Contemplation, and Zen and the Birds of Appetite. Merton is the author of more than seventy books that include poetry, personal journals, collections of letters, social criticism, and writings on peace, justice, and ecumenism.

Thomas Merton was born in Prades, France. His New Zealand-born father,Owen Merton, and his American-born mother, Ruth Jenkins, were both artists.  After a rambunctious youth and adolescence, Merton converted to Roman Catholicism whilst at Columbia University and on December 10th, 1941 he entered the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order.

During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, particularly Zen Buddhism, and in promoting East-West dialogue. After several meetings with Merton during the American monk’s trip to the Far East in 1968, the Dalai Lama praised him as having a more profound understanding of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known.


Past Winning Poems

2018 Thomas Merton Prize in Poetry of the Sacred Recipient

If You Can’t Imagine Saint Annie
by Michael Mack


2018 Honorable Mentions

How to Pray
by Jessica Jacobs


St. Kateri Tekakwitha
by Hilary Scheppers


by Hilary Scheppers


2017 Thomas Merton Prize in Poetry of the Sacred Recipient

How I Learned to Pray
by Nicole Rollender


2017 Honorable Mentions

Sleepwalkers in the Garden
by Jessica Jacobs


Sacred Love
by Kathryn Ridall


The Cleverness of Seeds
by Pat Brisson


2016 Thomas Merton Prize in Poetry of the Sacred Recipient

by Elizabeth Savage & Ethel Rackin


2016 Honorable Mentions

Jack Wonders Why Friday is Called Good
by Andrea Read


Poem for the Fourth Child
by Dorinda Wegener


To Give Up the Ghost
by Michael Rather


2015 Thomas Merton Prize in Poetry of the Sacred Recipient

I Praise Unsalted Butter
by Sharron Singleton


2015 Honorable Mentions

Day Hike
by David Denny


Hopkins Room
by Elizabeth Murawkski


The Sun Visits a Farmers’ Market…
by Christina Hutchins


Contest Publisher

Parabola Logo

The Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition is a not-for-profit organization devoted to the dissemination and exploration of materials relating to the myths, symbols, rituals, and art of the world’s religious and cultural traditions. To this end, the Society is the publisher of Parabola Magazine.