Winning Poems for May 2010

Judged by Fiona Sampson

First Place

Somewhere the Sun Is Shining

by R. L. Crowther
conjunction

Heat only half-warmed by the furnace coals
reluctantly slipped through the open grate
to an upper floor, sun-up hours away;
a twelve-year-old’s sense of duty only
puts off, but can’t avoid the grappling cold.
Too soon the triple-layers of sweat shirt
replace the double-layers of blanket
and, dark or not, cold as it is, he goes.
Save for the milk truck and all-night diner,
LaGrange lay in the contests of winter,
unwilling to leave the heat of the homes,
as was the boy only minutes before.
The dog up the street hears the unquiet
quiet of bicycle chain and wheel-bounce
off the frozen bricks of the road. Light shines
through the laundromat window as a sun,
sprouting bundles of newspapers outside,
culled like daily harvests of winter wheat
as if all weeks were the month of July.

Inexorably, the news is slipping East,
past Cold War Europe, into Vietnam,
into Laos, into Cambodia;
the revulsion of self-immolation
has only just invaded the front page;
no one here understands their frustrations…
yet. Inside the laundromat, the papers
are folded and wrapped while the juke box blares…
Well, everybody’s heard…about the Bird.
Ba- ba- ba- Bird, Bird, Bird…Bir- Bird’s the word…
Lady Bird leads the charge to clean up road-
side junk yards while the Great Society
staggers its way out of Washington to
waiting arms of Hoosiers everywhere.
A miniature flock of Paul Reveres
pedals off to spread the news fit to print:
(Plop)The Russians are coming, says one porch;
(Thump) God is Dead it says behind a door.

In the future, everyone will be
famous for fifteen minutes—just as long
as it takes to grab the papers and bolt
down a hot chocolate and two donuts.


This is a highly-contemporary use of blank verse (at base): the form lends it authority and “measure”. I like the way it moves between present and past tenses, so that we feel it’s being told both then and now (and indeed it is a poem about another zeit’s geist); both in the 12 year old’s bedroom and LaGrange’s bed. The result’s a sense of multiplicity and community: of things on all sides. A very fine evocation, done with the lightest of unschematic touches. --Fiona Sampson

Second Place

A Woman’s Fetish

by Lise Whidden
criticalpoet.org

I’ll only live with men who don’t know me,
men who are so confused by my language
that when I speak their facial expressions remind me
of visitors at my Grandmother’s church
when someone rose to speak in an unknown tongue.

I’ll only cook for men who kill doves
on opening day in sunflower fields,
smile in pictures with fish they’ve caught from oceans,
men who know all the words to a hymn
their mother hummed while hanging wash.

I’ll only sleep with men who whisper
short sentenced stories after lovemaking,
tales of wars, foolish summers and women who left,
men who drive Mustangs
after drinking a fifth of Wild Turkey.

I’ll only wash men’s clothes when they forget
beer bottle caps, phone numbers scrawled
on paper scraps in their pockets, undress leaving denim
turned inside out, throw change
pocketknives and bullets into a china cup on my dresser.

I’ll only listen to deep voiced men
who call me names spelled out in sugar
they spill on a kitchen countertop after opening the bag,
men who think long stemmed roses
make it all better, but don’t know geraniums will grow in any soil.


This is a delightfully unexpected poem. Though it takes the risk of being a one-idea piece, each strand of that idea is freshly realized and genuinely inventive. There’s a deft persona, but not a strenuous attenpt at “voice”. It’s a poem led by poetics – by the imperatives of form. And it’s funny because it’s inventive. A rare feat, it’s a winner because it’s so completely achieved. --Fiona Sampson

Third Place

After Baltimore

by Ron Lavalette
The Waters

(for fredda)

Sometimes there was wine at night
but there was never any money.
I don’t remember much but coffee,
hash on the roof at midnight
and one time drunk on Harry’s street
dancing in the rain. We pasted up
the underground news. They paid us
with rolling papers, incense,
sacks of welfare rice.

What became of you after that,
after Janicelli’s peyote wedding
and our own sad abortive love affair,
my sudden disappearance?

You looked well some years ago
-it was February, I think-
and you still look good to me now
occasionally
though I must admit it here:
I can’t always recall your face.


A subtle account of both a time and place and of a psyche, this poem grows and grows. The quiet, perfectly-managed diction isn’t ready-made, it’s highly-crafted even though it slips down so easily (note that “Sometimes there was… but there was never”). It gets more and more interesting – a fine crescendo – as we discover, in the first stanza, that these are people working for an underground movement; that there’s a sketched-in emotional history which would fuel a whole movie (2nd stanza) and then through the fascinating play and double-turn of the last stanza. This is a poem which tells everything (we are never fobbed off with vagueness or uncertainty), but without letting on that it’s telling… --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

Blood on Draft Files, Baltimore, 1967

by Christopher T. George
FreeWright's Peer Review

For Dave Eberhardt

The so-red-blood did its job: soldier-blood,
student-blood, verily, the blood of Jesus.

In reality, you poured duck-blood on the files
in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

(enough for the powers to take notice and act).

An event from another era, a generation ago,
a crime for which you served 2 years in jail;

Phil Berrigan, a Josephite priest doing God’s work,
received six years in jail for his misdemeanor

(the powers had seen, and they had reacted).

I recall how in a poem you roasted quail on a jail
radiator; now, you work with inmates downtown.

Would I have had the courage to get blood on my hands?
At Christmas, we get together with you and Cathy, enjoy

salmon, a bloodless fish. You are aged sixty-nine.
(In the year of your crime, 9,353 GI’s died).


This fierce and fiercely-good poem is very nearly a winner. It limits itself, strangely, by being so very much a “this really happened” poem. Even if it didn’t… though I fear it did. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

Blues and green

by Elodie Pritchartt
The Town

The wind blew through yesterday.
Rain beat the petals off
the flowers on the catalpa tree,
pasted them to the pavement like reminders
that nothing lasts forever.

It scrubbed the troubled air pure clean.
All it left was the scar from
the car that slammed into that tree on
New Year’s Eve.

Wind again today and rain.
The tin roof beats a bittersweet tattoo.
Still life through blue bottles
on the sill. Be still. Listen. The rain
sounds like a hush overhead.
Hear it? That’s fate passing by,
for now.


What sounds a little banal to begin with – it’s very hard to achieve this kind of representation of a near-meditative state – grows in dignity and complexity (and you can hear it in the grammatical forms) in the final stanza. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

Dust Sparkles in the Night

by Julie Corbett
The Write Idea

We are walking before the witching hour and can feel
lights in houses warning us against the dark. But slowly
the buildings nod off, street lights and car headlights
become our only guardians. Then our eyes accommodate
to Erebos’s darkness and we start to search for constellations.
It is mid August and we are heading out of town towards the estuary.
Our intention to lay down and look upwards to the northeast and
capture in our memories shooting stars of the Perseid Meteor Shower.

The city at our back gives out growls of late night traffic and
sometimes the howl of a siren. We walk along the main road
instead of the pedestrian pathway for what we know to be false
security. Taxi cabs and lorries pass by us, not one taking any
interest in our journey. In the moonlight, cranes and gantries on the
docks and ferry port form silent battlements along the edges
of the water. We reach the jetty and point out the land marks
illuminated or looming along the bank or across the River Humber.

I am surprised that the smell of the open sea is so salty-strong and
the movement of the swell has that shape of waves falling
onto a beach. We unpack our mats and covers and lay down. Clouds
and the light from the moon obscure parts of the sky. It is a
magnificent display and for the first half hour we compete to spot the
meteorites, straining our necks until we learn to stay focused on just
one sector. Our talk is earnest and light with those words of love
that wordsmiths and artists do ache well to overhear.


A strong serious poem, with a sophisticated approach and diction (vocabulary!), only faintly betrayed by its arrival point. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

Godiva’s Horse

by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review

My God, he was a devil of a man to make
my lady weep into my head before she rode

with the heaviness of a sparrow, broken
winged, broken-hearted, her eyes furtively

cast down murmuring stories to me as
she passed through the shuttered town.

Only I know her secret. I am a horse,
no opinion, they gelded me for less, neither

“Nay” or “Yea” to tax. There is not a man alive
who knows that before her regal ride,

there were tears. Ghosts become alive
when they are haunted by bickering.

She straddles me, her waves of tears, her diaphanous
white shift, the seeping blue shells that she sets

on the garden stones to tempt glass-eyed birds
to mate. She is planting a poison garden, sowing

wolfsbane and nightshade to settle to the mulch.
I am nothing to her but a strong neck, a strong back.

She is not the first woman to weep, not
the first woman to carry the ocean inside her.


I love the confidence of this opening, of the idiomatic diction. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

Harley’s Calf

by William Dixon
Tin Roof Alley Poets

You see, I was just busy, not belated.
The day was packed with this and full with that,
Like calming little Amy Johnson’s worries
By climbing up a tree to get her cat.

No sooner down than Jess comes riding up
To ask if I could come and help him break
Some wild range mustangs needed for the roundup.
I didn’t reckon how long that would take.

About the time we smoothed those mustangs’ wrinkles,
Comes Harley Hapgood looking for his calf.
I’m thinking, “No,” but Harley’s a fine fella
Who’s always good for sharing beers and laughs.

So, Mutt, my dog, and me, we take the rim side,
While Harley rode the foothills trail. My hound
Caught wind of Harley’s calf before I saw it,
And took off baying. That calf heard the sound.

Stampeded by his fear of tooth and claw,
Wild-eyed, he headed straight for Tom Fool’s Leap
Where Sweet Sue Barclay likes to hang her wash out.
(Just why’s another story that will keep.)

Well, Mutt and I, on Chuckles, (that’s my horse,)
We ran that half-crazed calf down fast enough.
I got in range and tossed my rope and snagged it.
About that time is when things got real rough.

The calf, he scooted round Sue’s swivel clothes pole,
And caught Sue off her guard The clothes pole swung
With Sweet Sue hanging on for dear life, soaring
Above the gulch below her. There she hung.

As fast as thinking, but not really thinking,
I lept from Chuckles, grabbed the rim side pole
And swinging hard swung Sweet Sue back to rim side
Then swung some more until I could let go

And land on solid ground right there beside her.
You’d think she’d sigh and say, “My hero!” No…
Instead she growled and slapped me silly, cussing
At calves and cowboys. All this goes to show

Why I let slip that that day was your birthday,
And why I went and spent an hour or more
Just sitting on a barstool quaffing rootbeer
While pondering life’s mysteries, before

It struck me that I ought to call and wish you
A “Happy Birthday!” but you weren’t awake.
To make it up, I thought I’d send this picture
As proof that I ain’t lying. What a break

That right there at that moment was a fella
Who knew it was a shot he had to take.
The name of that photographer don’t matter,
But just in case you’re wondering, it’s just Jake.


A jolly appropriation of western songs and ballad form – its turn to sadness perhaps not dark enough and its diction a tiny bit cosy. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

My next film…

by John Glennon
Poets' Graves

will have a bearded left wing protagonist
raging on behalf of the proletariat.

He’ll share a flat with a metaphor for the 21st century malaise

and when they talk

they will talk in the forgotten syntax of washing powder ads
from the 50’s and construct sentences from toilet graffiti
remembered from youth.

Their flat will be infested with insects and disgruntled
middle management,
grumbling about the lack of vertical opportunities
and the implementation of a new computer system.

Filing cabinets will contain stolen secrets of unknown cultures,
manilla folders will hold evidence of unsolved murder cases
stretching back a hundred years where the suspects all look
uncannily the same.

The theory of a time travelling murderer is considered
but never openly discussed.

The fridge contains nothing but under developed
ideas and stale rhetoric.

This is a flat with no doors.


This is a deft and well-organised poem – my only reservation that it’s a format familiar from other poets. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

Scalpel

by Richard Moorhead
Wild Poetry Forum

Like wire but stronger, glass – a sheet thereof
thin as grief, pushed beneath a fingernail,
or in the coppery swamp of bloody tongue.
Might snip away the flap of skin that tenses

to the jaw. How easily it glides like lies
through the merely meat of me. Apart from
doctors, who is more superior?
I wonder.
After the first shock of pain (I cannot ever

capture how everything just stops), the rooted
socket like some just wrenched tooth glows
if I worry it with broken bone. The blunt end
of a finger satisfies, the sharp end’s splinters

heat me up. Everyone, unless you fight back,
may be how I heed advice. They say they have
the sharpness of diamonds, but I will not be
satisfied with simply being told.


Very interesting ideas and images, just marred by occasional archaism (“thereof”) and clotted syntax. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

Today I Was Her Dad Though Tonight She Asks Me Where The Man Is Who Raked Leaves

by Billy Howell-Sinnard
The Writer's Block

She got out of bed today.
I asked her to help me
in the yard, surprised
that she said yes.
She raked ulu leaves
into a pile of crumbling
softball mitts.
After five minutes, she tired,
sat in the lawn chair
examining her fingernails
as if other worlds
brood at the gnawed edges,
which she does when she’s not
rubbing her bed for hours
like the Eskimos do
when they rub clockwise
one stone against another
waiting for a vision.
Home Boy jumped on her lap,
coaxed her red-blotched,
dried, and flaking hand
from out of its sleeve
to scratch behind his ear.
She was no longer Rosie
or Sarah, or unable to answer,
or the forty year old
daughter with no name.
She thanked me
for helping her in the yard.


A good, clean delivery of a straightforward, well-balanced poem, almost religious in its clarity. This material could so easily have been saccharine in less-experienced hands. --Fiona Sampson

Highly Commended

What This Poem Will Do

by Mignon Ariel King
The Waters

This poem was written for you, but it is
not yours. This poem has a brain,
so it left you. This poem has quite
a memory, and it will never, ever
forget why it left. This is a poem
that will change, crawl down into
your collar, slither down your chest,
flatten its way under your waistband,
and wait. Some day, while you are
making love to someone–the type
who easily forgets–you will feel
this poem like a vice, have to take it
like a man. This poem will then
politely remind you it is no longer
for you at all, as it was never yours.
This poem will not be mis-taken.
Where will you be when you know it?


Wry and deft, this poem is all in the pacing, as it pivots on enjambments and qualifying clauses. --Fiona Sampson


  • August 2018 Winners

    • First Place

      The World Is Moist in the Morning
      by Terry Ofner
      The Waters

      Second Place

      My Epitaph
      by Guy Kettelhack
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      I kissed a tree
      by Alison Armstrong-Webber
      The Waters

  • July 2018 Winners

    • First Place

      The First Time I Drank With My Father
      by Ken Ashworth
      The Waters

      Second Place

      My Bicycle
      by Andrew Dufresne
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      J. Alfred Prufrock Searches for Mrs. Right
      by Laurie Byro
      Babilu