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Better Than Starbucks 2019 Sonnet Contest Winners & Honorable Mentions

Congratulations to the winners of our contest, Tara Campbell, Sean Corbitt, and Barbara Loots, and to the runners up!

The following are our top ten. We hope you enjoy these beautiful sonnets. - BTS Editors

First Place

Love and Multiple Sclerosis


My swabbed arm cools. My husband waits while I

uncap the syringe that keeps my sight intact.

He guides the needle more by faith than eye,

and hates the sting he cannot see. In fact,


he’s almost blind, perceiving light and shapes,

color, contour, movement. All the rest

he must divine, traversing unknown space

from needletip to skin, and do his best.


I’ve plunged the syringe myself, time and again,

but nothing is so soothing as when I

can look away. And so he takes the pain

in hand whenever I can’t bear the sight


and blindly halves it, sharing it with me

through saving needles neither of us see.

Tara Campbell ( is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction editor at Barrelhouse. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, and two collections, Circe’s Bicycle and Midnight at the Organporium. She received her MFA from American University in 2019.

Second Place



Imagine their tensed faces as they bent

to lift a heavy desk up stairs at work.

A test (how few they get) of physical strength.

Men’s faces, masking effort, twitch and jerk.

One greasy plastic corner weighs on the wall.

They huff the whole way up and never see.

The black scuff left extends, diagonal,

from floor two (sales) to marketing on three,

unbroken since they bravely took no breaks

but scratchy with the shake of great struggle.

This is the mark that all our struggling makes,

the sweetgum sticker balls of worry we juggle:

an upward slanting accident, a mess

made faint, then blank by a bleach-soaked rag’s caress.

Sean Corbitt is a poetry student in his senior year at the University of Maryland, College Park. This is his first publication.

Third Place

Playing With Fire


Crumpled headlines make the fiercest heat

for kindling.  Only half-a-dozen days

will start you on a satisfying blaze

to torch this season’s struggle and defeat.

Toss on a log.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

The structure shifts in unexpected ways.

Flame alternately surges and decays

as elements of earth and heaven meet.

Whatever burns you can incinerate:

yesterday’s trash, old stories, and the names

you loved or hated going up in smoke 

and sparks, or falling through the grate,

reduced to ash the universe reclaims.

You give the embers of your life a poke.


First published in The Lyric.

Barbara Loots writes in Kansas City, Missouri, with the assistance of Bob the Cat. Her collections are Road Trip and Windshift.



As I, surprised, surveyed my kitchen table,
I saw a thoroughfare that ants had made
and traveled in an undulating braid
of coming and going. Each as it was able

passed the news across that living cable,
about the points of toast with marmalade

I had abandoned to their swift parade.

The boulders that they pincered up held stable —

each crumb a prize to take back to the nest

where an unseen queen parturient lay.

It was for her sake that they came and went

from dark to light and back the other way.
The Iliad and Odyssey were spent
on tasks no more momentous than this quest.

Lisa Barnett’s poems have appeared in The Hudson Review, Measure Review, Poetry, Snakeskin, the anthology Sonnets: 150 Contemporary Sonnets, and elsewhere. She is a three-time Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award finalist and is the author of two chapbooks.



Today the weathervane said west

is where it’s at.  I didn’t go.

The busted lotus tree confessed

that emptiness and vertigo


are for the birds.  I mixed a batch

of raspberries and peaches where

the walnut sage had killed the grass.

It wasn’t bad.  I didn’t care


the bread had gone a little stale,

nor that the cattails hunched their backs

and purred.  What is a holy grail

without a holy catch attached?


The sky was un-intense.  Just blue.

I am so fucking over you.


First published in Measure Review.

Wendy Videlock is a self-taught poet living in Colorado. She is a two-time finalist for Colorado Poet Laureate. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry, The Hudson Review, The New York Times, Poetry Magazine, Rattle, and other literary venues.

The Haint Blue Lake


On purple mornings in my front porch chair,

I’m more contented than I’ve ever been.

All ghosts are laid, an earthly store’s laid in.

Regrets that once were agony to bear,

Dwindle to an egret in the air.

No private nightmare pulls a heartstring thin.

At ease in more than my capacious skin,

I tend a sunrise born in age, with care


And calm. Time mends, if only through the ruse

Of dimming what it never wholly clears.

Still, bless its pro tem remedy for pain

And praise its needle, though it’s brought a bruise

While blurring hurt from all those unmourned years

Of want, till now I want them back again.

Frank Osen lives in Pasadena, California, and works at the Huntington Library. He won the 2017 X.J. Kennedy Parody Award and the Best American Poetry series poem award. His collection, Virtue, Big as Sin, was awarded the Able Muse prize.

A Kind of Love


     Perhaps surveillance is a kind of love.

               —Jehanne Dubrow, Dots & Dashes


The doorbell cameras that record the thief

or vandal; database-matched DNA

that brings numbed kin (years later) some relief

by nabbing murderers who’d got away;

implanted chips for tracking down lost pets;

x-rays and sensors able to discover

guns and grenades in bags, or cigarettes

on airplanes; spycams to observe one’s lover—

how monitored we are!  Each move we make

online leaves footprints that will never fade,

so even when we’re dead, we cannot shake

invisible snooping.  We’ll live on, displayed

like butterflies.  And maybe that alone

can slake our thirst for being seen and known.

Susan McLean is professor emerita of English at Southwest Minnesota State University. Her poetry books include The Best Disguise, The Whetstone Misses the Knife, Selected Epigrams (of Martial), and one chapbook, Holding Patterns.



It’s easy to forget they’d fought a war:

his father drowned, half-brother bayoneted;

her kilted sibling captured at Dunkirk,

locked up for five long years. But yes they met


in uniform, lost half their friends, before

the normal world re-started when they wed:

mortgage; children; grinding office work —

all I suppose they wanted when they set


out as a couple. We must have been a shock:

busting their rulebook; scornful of sacrifice;

mocking their past and their belief in ‘progress’;


too young, too smashed, too angry to unlock

their silence, or to understand the price

they’d paid for what they’d still call happiness.

First published in Dream Catcher.

Tom Vaughan is a currently London-based poet who has spent much of his life abroad. He is the author of two poetry pamphlets published by HappenStance and of a novel about post-colonial Africa.



I lingered long upon a Primrose Path

And dallied there as if there were no doom.

I mounted spiral stairs. An upper room

Awaited me as if there were no wrath.


The naked angel on the green bird bath

Held not a flaming sword. There was no tomb.

The thousand flowers that bless us as they bloom—

I smell them still. They bloomed on my behalf.


I see the tangerines upon their tree.

I hear the waters searching for the bay.

And was this paradise made just for me?

And did the sun for me send forth his ray?

I haven’t walked that path in thirty years.

Dead roses, now. Sharp thorns. A thousand fears.

Jeffrey Gordon is an English teacher born at the tail end of the sixties and living in Lyman, South Carolina. He grew up in Sarasota, Florida, and actually lived in a house on Primrose Path (hence this sonnet!).



Meddlesome Sun, does every morning need

This glaring spectacle of light and flame?

Lingering, lurking, jealousy and greed

light our bed and illuminate your shame.

You may be a star, the eye of heaven,

an almighty source of beauty and strength,

but your golden touch, unholy leaven,

is a cancer stealing our youth at length.

Please won’t you give me this moment to share

With the love of my life before I go?

You can watch her all day for all I care.

I promise you no one will ever know.

Just for a minute, look the other way,

And then go on with the rest of your day.


First published in poeticdiversity.

Frank Mundo is the author of The Brubury Tales, a modern version of The Canterbury Tales set in Los Angeles, and the poetry chapbook Touched By an Anglo from Kattywompus Press.

Many thanks to the editors who graciously accepted the tough job of reading and evaluating over 500 sonnets.

It was a challenging, as well as rewarding, process.

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