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 All work must be previously unpublished.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.



Ninth Letter's 2021 Literary Awards - Submissions Open March 6-April 30


Ninth Letter is pleased to announce our fifth annual Literary Awards competition! We'll be accepting entries from March 6, 2021 to April 30, 2021 for our Literary Awards in three categories: Fiction, Poetry, and Creative Nonfiction. The winner selected in each category will receive a $1000 prize and publication in our Fall/Winter 2020-21 issue (vol. 18, no. 2).

The fee for entering each of the three categories will be $18, and all entrants will receive a one-year subscription to Ninth Letter. Your entry fee will cover one submission in one category; you are welcome to send multiple submissions in multiple categories provided a fee is paid for each entry. Electronic submissions may pay by credit card through our secure payment system; submissions sent by USPS should send payment by check or money order made to Ninth Letter.

Please read the following guidelines before submitting your work. Submissions may be made electronically at

Submissions sent via email will not be considered.


Fiction and Creative Nonfiction submissions should be a maximum of 8,000 words.


Poetry submissions should include 3-5 poems, no more than 10 pages total in the submission.

All entries should include a cover letter with author's name, contact information and title(s) of work submitted. You may include this cover letter information in the “comments” section of the submission form, or you may include it as the first page of your submission document. Neither the author's name nor any identifying information should appear on the manuscript itself beyond the cover letter.

Works submitted to the contest may be simultaneously submitted elsewhere; please indicate on your cover letter if this is the case, and please remove the submission from consideration immediately upon acceptance elsewhere.




Current and former employees of Ninth Letter, current and former students and faculty of the creative writing program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and current and former students of our guests judges are not eligible to enter these contests.


This project is partially supported by the Illinois Arts Council

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