Poetry of the Sacred2019-04-30T16:19:44-04:00

2019 Poetry of the Sacred Contest Details Coming Soon

The Center for Interfaith Relations is delighted to announce

The winning poems of the
2018 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.

2018 Thomas Merton Prize in Poetry of the Sacred Recipient

Michael Mack
If You Can’t Imagine Saint Annie


Michael Mack graduated from the Writing Program at MIT. His poems have been published in America, Journal of the American Medical Association, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Best Catholic Writing. He is best known for his lyric memoir plays — two of which won fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council: Hearing Voices, Speaking in Tongues (from which this poem is drawn) chronicles his mother’s life with schizophrenia; Conversations with My Molester. A Journey of Faith explores the spirituality of trauma. His work has been profiled in The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and NPR. Learn more about his work at www.michaelmacklive.com

2018 Honorable Mentions

Jessica Jacobs
How to Pray


Jessica Jacobs is the author of Pelvis with Distance, winner of the New Mexico Book Award and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Her second collection Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going is forthcoming from Four Way Books in March 2019. She lives in Asheville with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown, and serves as the Associate Editor of Beloit Poetry Journal. You can find more of her work at www.jessicalgjacobs.com

Hilary Scheppers

St. Kateri Tekakwitha





Hilary Scheppers is a poet and writer from Minnesota. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, where she served as the Translation Editor for Babel, and a B.A. in Feminist Theology from Loyola Marymount University. Her poetry and nonfiction appear or are forthcoming in Apofenie, The Mantle, LUMINA Online, Breadcrumbs, and 303 Magazine. Her favorite bird is either the mourning dove or the oropendola. Learn more about her at opalfiles.wordpress.com.

2018 Final Judge | Rebecca Gayle Howell

Frederick Smock

Rebecca Gayle Howell’s most recent collection is American Purgatory, selected by Don Share for Great Britain’s 2016 Sexton Prize and named a must-read poetry collection by Poetry London, The Millions, and the Courier-Journal. She is also the author of Render / An Apocalypse, which was selected by Nick Flynn for Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s 2013 First Book Prize. Render received wide critical acclaim, most notably by David L. Ulin for the Los Angeles Times who called the book “remarkable.”

Howell’s debut was as the translator of Amal al-Jubouri’s feminist verse memoir of the Iraq War, Hagar Before the Occupation / Hagar After the Occupation (Alice James Books). Hagar received the Jules Chametzky Prize in Translation, was selected by Library Journal as a Best Book of Poetry for 2011, and shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. Among Howell’s other honors are fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the Carson McCullers Center, as well as a Pushcart Prize. Native to Kentucky, Howell lives in Appalachia where she edits poetry for the Oxford American and serves as the James Still Writer-in-Residence at the Hindman Settlement School.


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.


Contest Details

The 2018 Poetry of the Sacred Contest is now closed. This year’s final judge, Rebecca Gayle Howell, selected 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 poems were published in the Winter 2018 issue of Parabola Magazine, an internationally recognized magazine devoted to the sacred.

Submitters were invited to contemplate this line from Thomas Merton’s “Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant” as the submission was composed:

“It is true that neither the ancient nor the modern sciences are complete in themselves. They do not stand alone. They call for one another. Wisdom without science is unable to penetrate the full sapiential meaning of the created and the material cosmos. Science without wisdom leaves man enslaved to a world of unrelated objects in which there is no way of discovering (or creating) order and deep significance in man’s own pointless existence.”

Submission Details:
  • Entry fee of $15.00 per one submission, 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.)
  • A submission should consist of one single poem.
  • 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

Past Winning Poems

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.

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