2022 St. Lawrence Book Award Winner

We are so pleased to announce that Charlie Peck has won the 2022 St. Lawrence Book Award with his poetry collection World’s Largest Ball of Paint. Congratulations, Charlie!

Charlie Peck grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and received his MFA from Purdue University. His poetry has appeared previously in Cincinnati Review, Ninth Letter, Massachusetts Review, and Best New Poets 2019, among others.

We’d like to thank everyone who participated in the 2022 St. Lawrence Book Award and send further congratulations to the finalists and semi-finalists.



Selections from

World’s Largest Ball of Paint


A Small Sweetness

I have to guess that he’s dead by now,

the man who offered twenty dollars outside

Macon to bring him to the Florida border,

but before we punched Valdosta he clipped out

clutching only a coffee tin and a pair of slippers.

In the rearview he marched lop-legged against

the rain, and that’s it. In the long alphabets

of memory there are no clean-cut ends,

just the fat bits we bite when parts truck

violently back: gasoline fumes in a toilet stall,

every hot crotch of summer ’07, the pair of red

canvas shoes I wore daily as my arm dipped

in and out of a loud oven in the brick back

of a restaurant whose name is long gone,

but the key sleeps still in my glovebox.

When I was a boy I thought my father spoke

with an accent, stumbling through those mid-day

liquor-loops. Sex with you, one woman said

to me as each foot slipped back into snow boots,

feels like charity. It is good some mornings

to feel tired, pressed between two breasts

as a small voice reads the paper, the day too cold

to consider, lazy garlic wandering the house.

It must help that at the core of hurt hides

some small sweetness, that when a chef burned

his hands working the grill, he told me to cook

him up a shot. So I wrapped the cord, sucked

the spoon, and dropped the plunger deep

into the red flowerbed spreading in his arm.

His drooped eyes were not mine so I felt no hate.

Once in high school my brother caught me

bed-bound with a girl, so she and I left, skipped

the six blocks to her house to meet the garage door

open, her father purpled and swollen,

swinging from rafters, a bloated windchime.

I think that rope must have been tight

as a belt you can’t unclasp fast enough

in a heated hotel room to pull yourself out

and be consumed by a wet, wanting mouth.

I hated animals and knew it meant I was heartless.

I was quick with a chef’s knife so people called me

romantic. But it’s not a butcher’s red pool

that guts me — it’s the sister, who headphoned

and high lay on her bed as her dad swung,

a metronome under muted floorboards.



I once attended a stand-up show in Amsterdam,

           and not speaking a word of Dutch I just laughed

     along with the crowd, letting myself get caught

up with the noise. It’s the logic of applause

            and food fights. I can’t think about the bubonic

     plague without getting anxious. When I watch


Planet Earth, I root for both prey and predator.

           The border between humor and disgust blurs

     neatly so it’s often hard to say. I was driving

home from the grocery store last week

           and saw that my neighbor had painted and hung

     a new sign on his shed: THEEVES WILL BE SHOT


and Kate asked, Who’s Theeves? In high school

           a boy did a Gallagher impression after prom,

     smashing watermelons on stage with a hammer,

his fake mustache falling off mid-swing, 

           and then two weeks later his parents received a bill

     for $30,000 to replace the pulp-smattered curtain.


Or that time in second grade after we had

           just moved when a quiet boy in my class asked

     for a ride home. My mother, new to the city,

got lost, and cross-stitched neighborhoods

           in the fading light because the boy didn’t know

     which was his, and he started crying, and my mother


started to cry too, and we drove until the boy saw

           a familiar park, and eventually we found it,

     his house, and his mother was on the lawn

with two officers, and she’s crying, too,

           and then the drive home after, my mother

     whispering Shit, Shit, Shit, and wiping her eyes.




Leaving Lafayette

And I’ll bet for a nickel that behind

  Menard’s I could still find our pond

    where the long grass is matted flat.

      How we used to go sit with fishing gear

        and cold beers those June mornings.


Over at the brewery where the car

  died, we just stayed until closing,

    eating bar pretzels and watching folks

      speed down 9th on their way home.


That studio apartment where I first lived,

  remember it? You found it charming

    how the sink and shower ran at the same

      time, even just trying to wet a toothbrush

        or rinse blood from a hangnail’s mess.


That Saturday we drove a half hour

  to Delphi just to see the robot opera,

    those costumes of aluminum foil tubing

      and spray-painted jeans, we laughed


so hard in the theatre the flashlight

  came on. That one actor knew none

    of his lines and couldn’t dance worth a damn,

      but god we loved that show. Arm in arm

        afterwards we wanted to go for a drink,


but every shop window had posters

  for the two girls who disappeared

    by the river, ten grand reward

      for finding the man responsible.   


Look, if you have to go to New Zealand,

  just go. I can stick around here a while

    longer, with the wood steps I slept on the night

      my key broke in its lock. Long painted

        brick walls we stood against in the rain


trying to get cigarettes lit. I could gather

  every last bit of it just to prove a point:

    none of this will change unless

      you stay. Just look at that truck


with antlers on the grille, the dust

  it kicks up as it spins out of the lot.

    Overhead, clouds drift and separate,

      like shelves of ice that break

        from shore to float downriver.