Contest Guidelines

Ninth Letter Ekphrastic Poetry Contest: Seriality, Sexuality, Semiotics - CLOSED

Fee: $18 for up to three poems responding to Hal Fischer’s photography (includes a one-year subscription to Ninth Letter; international entrants will receive a copy of the issue in which the winning poem appears

Prize: The winner will receive $1,000, have their work published in Ninth Letter, and give a reading at the Hal Fischer Symposium at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in November, 2021 (travel expenses covered).

Judge: Eduardo C. Corral

author photo of Eduardo C Corral

Eduardo C. Corral is the son of Mexican immigrants. He’s the author of Guillotine, published by Graywolf Press, and Slow Lightning, which won the 2011 Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition. He's the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University. He teaches in the MFA program at North Carolina State University.



All entries must respond, in some way, to the work of photographer Hal Fischer. Multiple and simultaneous submissions accepted. All work must be previously unpublished.

Submit via Submittable

Hal Fischer is a gay conceptual photographer and an alumnus of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Beginning August 2021, the Krannert Art Museum is presenting the first full retrospective of Fischer’s work, an exhibit titled Hal Fischer Photographs: Seriality, Sexuality, Semiotics.

From MoMA:

“Fischer’s 1977 series Gay Semiotics…brought these theories to bear on gay culture in San Francisco’s Castro and Haight-Ashbury districts. A “lexicon of attraction,” as the artist has called it, this work classifies styles and types while acknowledging their ambiguity. For instance, images of men with handkerchiefs in their pockets feature text that explains the possible meanings of these items according to the “hanky codes” that gay men used to convey sexual preferences, but which also points out that the men could be carrying them for blowing their noses. Other images in the series consider gay fashion, media stereotypes, and BDSM culture.”

You can browse Hal Fischer’s work on his website:

Or via his monograph, The Gay Seventies


What we’re looking for:

Ninth Letter invites the submission of original poems responding to Hal Fischer’s photographs.

If ekphrasis once designated the studious, careful description of a work of art, ekphrastic poetry has since come to embrace a diverse, wild, thrilling departure from mere description. Ekphrastic poems may still describe the artwork that inspires them, but, in addition, they can imagine what lingers beyond the lens, beyond the frame. They can give voice to silent figures and landscapes. They can include the author’s personal history, or their own interaction with the work of art. Ekphrastic poems can zoom in on shadowy corners, or zoom out to provide historical context. They can explore the artwork’s aesthetic and theoretical underpinnings. They can meditate on medium. They can remain faithful to the subjects and figures in the artwork, or they can attempt, instead, to capture its style or tone. And of course they can do so much more, can do what we haven’t even yet imagined—we always love to be surprised.

Read more about the Krannert Art Museum exhibit here:

This contest is made possible by Dr. Tim Dean and the James M. Benson Professorship, and by the Krannert Art Museum.


This project is partially supported by the Illinois Arts Council

Illinois Arts Council Logo

  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.