Winning Poems for June 2010

Judged by Fiona Sampson

First Place

A lesson on multiplication

by Judy Kaber
The Waters

A girl in my class is obsessed
with babies. Each spare minute
she draws them, their large heads
bobble on the page, forever nodding.
No words enter their minds.
They never speak, hold hands,
or even wave. They exist mutely,
before language, all staring eyes,
wide raucous mouth. If they think
at all, it is in pictures, raw images,
bands of color with undulant threads,
circular shapes that bring comfort,
mottled air that brings hunger or grief.
They know nothing of math, less even
than the girl who draws them instead
of cobbling meaning from the story
of Tom with his two dozen eggs
and a desire to bake cakes.
No numbers appear.
Only hair. Lips.

This is a deft, never cautious, astonishing poem. It makes us think differently about girls and their daydreams, about classrooms – and above all about babies. A real feat and above all no hostages to sweetness along the way. --Fiona Sampson

Second Place (tie)

history of the kite riff

by Steve Parker

little boys under the tree in ragged shorts legs rough with stings at night the sheets
heavy almost wetted with damp walls thick as dawn hillfog stifling the sheep
cries six layers of wool blanket and the mortar falling out white and limey porridge
every morning the range coughs up a stirring mother thin as a wooden spoon
cracked down the middle from want a boy in a hammock our only toy a net
laden spinning between trees stop it he cries at night mice on your chest so tame
you can pick them up but not the rats my brother gets his thumbnail bitten off
waking to a big one you smell them under the floorboards rotting with the Warfarin
can’t drink it burns them deep but you can’t dig them out goddamn hippies dancing
up there on the hilltop drugged as rats in head-high nettles just think what they
are doing in the mist Granddad on the roof making his last kite just imagine she said
miles it went out across the valley far as aeroplanes we never knew such kite flight
as this RM Ballantyne rescued from a burnt house scorched but wild dogs the coral
the stitched sacking you know how many rats in a hay barn gather they cry now
with pitchforks the last bale lifted they start running a tine through the middle they
hiss and bite like overdone porridge bubbling its last bloody geology the woman
stands impervious to hot spitting thin and surrendered martyred, spooned out mother

Stunning, vivid, exact and taking no hostages. The only reason this didn’t win outright is that it’s easier, after all, to write a piece like this as prose poetry – and I’m not quite sure why it is in that (very specific) form. I like the detail of the Warfarin and the “damp walls think as dawn hillfog” – terrific reversal of the simile! The demotic, the refusal to lower the stakes at any point, the headlong rush into grief. Visceral and terrific. --Fiona Sampson

Second Place (tie)


by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review

Ah sun-flower! weary of time—
                     William Blake

I started to tell you about the friend
who was in trouble, how the oily rum
had stained the sheets where they slept, how

he’s in a wheelchair now, unable to care
for himself, basic things, things American
couples talk about freely. At the seminar,

finding out about the Blakes reading Paradise
Lost while naked, one bold slash after the other
of ink—I don’t know enough about Tygers

and burning or sunflowers to move on, compare
our lives to theirs. Michael, so many stories
of nothing, the days I walk without you, holding

your hand. Today, trudging through the park
with Elaine, I remembered all that heat roaring
down my neck, the kids taunting me at the bus,

my mom out, again, still—shrilly making everyone
know there was trouble in the house. There was
a smell, she said, an animal has just lumbered

through, feral, in pain, not in heat. He was leaving
behind a warning, something was about to go wrong.
Those gnats and the ones we couldn’t slap,

the no-see-em hours, those were the ones that take
us down. Later I insisted, holding your hand, “Nothing,
it’s nothing.” And you with your calm eyes watching

said “there’s a weasel on the property. Sleek
and plucky, handsome, you’ll like it, they are not as you’ve
been told.” I didn’t want to tell you about the day, to spoil

the summer sunflowers you had just planted, bring
up the wasting and night sweats that had descended
on their bed. I don’t want to admit that I want

to die first, to be the trouble and not the teller of it,
the spiller of secret ink, I simply nodded, and touched
your hand whispering: “Please be careful of it.”

This starts so well; it just gets a bit clotted with judgmental register around stanza 6 (and 5). And a little too much is meaningfully left unsaid – these sound like storybook AIDS symptoms, but the stakes are no longer as they were in the 1990s, in the West… But elegant and thoughtful and a very interesting synthesis of the two strands, none the less. --Fiona Sampson

Third Place


by David Callin
Poets' Graves

Shades of green and grey. We have one word
for both, suggesting either colour-blindness
of an unassuming nature – not the sort
that blackens skies and paints the cornfield red –
or a mild disinclination to distinguish
between two cats of a similar complexion.

Was it the world turned down a notch or two,
simmering over a moderate heat without
rightly coming to the boil, or did they view
the landscape differently, through eyes
attuned to all the subtle interplay
of glorious green and polychromatic grey?

This meditation on the Welsh word glas (or similar in another language.) manages wonderfully to be intelligent and think-ey and not to lapse into Anglo-Welsh twee. Not a Blodauwedd or bracken hillside in sight. Thank heavens! Modernises and purifies the dialect, or at least the poetry,of the tribe. --Fiona Sampson

Honorable Mention

After Running Over the Neighbor’s Dog

by Fred Longworth
Wild Poetry Forum

Honda really needs to design their windshields better.
This sedan ought to be called The Glaucoma.
And who issued passports to the streetlamps?
As for the moon, it should be brought in for questioning.
See how it gathers with the clouds above a dark alley.
This is a perfect example of a conspiracy.
My glasses look a lot like yours, except that mine
were stolen from my nose and ears, and stuffed
behind the sofa cushion.

The sidewalk is far too narrow. Check out that ant.
It has one row of legs over the curb
and the other three grazing the pyracanthas.
Mojo had no choice but asphalt.
Besides, Mr. Rayburn always parks his giant pickup
right where the roadway curves. It’s him
that should pay for the funeral.
People say that mutts like to lie around and sleep,
but I’m convinced that some dogs need to take Ritalin.

The law declares that when they’re outside,
they’re supposed to be leashed or yarded.
My neighbor should be charged with a misdemeanor,
and Mojo cited for jaywalking.
I’m told he wasn’t neutered. Thank me for all
the stray pups that won’t need to be euthanized.
Too fast? You say I was driving too fast?
You’re the one who’s always late, always making

This is witty and well-considered – the poet really goes into all the possibilities within the riff, opening out the idea like an unpacked tent. I especially like the ease of diction – “Check out that ant”. Nothing strained or studious. And then a real bit of emotional reportage at the end. Yes: that’s so like a real relationship! --Fiona Sampson

Honorable Mention


by Carmela Cohen

for Mister Prime Minister and Eternal Love

                                                      wide awake word


the bed headed            world. talks to
the butterflies to. the flight of polished

off stairs. to the left, beware. to the right yes take care. so
scared so dared tracking dust’s railroad rust over bamboo
bottled flutes. so snared
sacking loco e motion’s

gut of self consciousness. cobra,
the great hypnotic work: devotion.         wide



of something other than troubled gum                   wind startled stunts.
say something like chunt not cholent                  shunt

not shan’t. nest test       rest redolent
not frozen             noses.                    a dozen


                                                                          why lie

awake, word, hording boardwalks and bean stalks. what have you heard?

                                                                           the scarecrow’d snowflake

                                                         the skein

of transfixed tambourines?
blue spotted moon belt of


                                                         for love?  inadequate terms for remorse for

                        buried alive. wide a                wake word.

                                                                       out from the avalanche birds. shall
                                                                       your tongue with my lips. this once.

This is rhythmic, poised and frankly beautiful. They only reason I didn’t place it (higher) is that I’m not completely convinced it gathers to a completed meaning. Which is kind of the point, but it’s still important to make the poem convincing – even through cheating with palimpsest/frames etc. --Fiona Sampson

Honorable Mention


by Brian Lowry

He taught me to spell grasshopper,
“g-r-a-double s-hippitty hop, flippitty flop,
don’t stop ‘til you get to the top-e-r, grasshopper.

And Constantinople was, “Catcha-key, catcha-kye,
catcha-constantinye, catch an ople, catch a poeple,
catch a Constantinople.”

In his time there were no cell phones,
no digital technologies, no personal
computers. Blackberries, he walked miles for,

picked and ate with the pleasure
of childhood. His countenance was
an oil-filled lantern.

This morning’s mizzle, the predawn
darkness, the animals’ slow stirring
when I fed, brought his light to my head.

And the cricketsong, which had gone
unnoticed, underscored the rhythm
of heaven and earth as one.

Charming and well-chosen instances. And I like the gathering rhyme towards the last couplet. Just a tiny bit conservative, in both diction (“Blackberries, he walked miles for”) and message. --Fiona Sampson

Honorable Mention

St. Hilda Home

by Julie Corbett
The Write Idea

Sunday and another visit; Daffodils
the first cut from our garden. A car
journey and we travel across the city,
not away from the suburbs. Duty
calling from my father’s past. We
arrive two hours after lunch. Time
to take afternoon tea. I sit in the quiet
lounge waiting to hear if I am known
or recalled. Grandmother formed
memories too fragile in her later years
only the past thoughts of the strong arms
of lovers and the names of her children
keep her graceful hands and eyes from
falling closed and still in the day now.

Quiet, intelligent, thoughtful. Don’t like the use of passive tense in lines 8/9 – if you could change to the more straightforward “whether she knows or recalls me” it would release the poem up a level, make it lose its slight mannered-ness. --Fiona Sampson

Honorable Mention

yeah man snap snap like that

by William Dixon Smith
Tin Roof Alley Poets

so like theres this dude
and like you know hes rude
like it was freaking me out like
   snap  snap
like that

so like I totally fronted his play
got in his grill you know
like in a back in my day way
   snap  snap
like that

so like he folded in the face of my fury
like totally backed down apologized
it was so freaking street you know
   snap  snap
like that

what oh my eye
like you know
when you get in someones face
   snap  snap
like that
            crackle and pop
sure gonna follow

yeah man snap snap like that

I admire the lift and rhythmic lightness of this one. The sting in the tail is quickly delivered… --Fiona Sampson

  • May 2019 Winners

    • First Place

      I think of the colour purple
      by Alison Armstrong-Webber
      The Waters

      Second Place

      Swimming in Twilight
      by Peter Halpin
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      In another country with strangers
      by Greta Bolger
      The Waters

  • April 2019 Winners

    • First Place

      Furiously Overcome by Stars
      by Guy Kettelhack
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Second Place

      Ides of March
      by Rachel Green
      The Write Idea

      Third Place

      Natural History
      by Antonia Clark
      The Waters