Winning Poems for September 2010

Judged by Ruth Ellen Kocher

First Place

Ways to Paint a Woman

by Lois P. Jones

A handful sleepcorn drifts from the mouth
stammered true out towards the snow conversations. –Paul Celan

Sometimes you cannot say
what is in the heart.

Sometimes you have to paint it yellow—
listen with the eyes: honeycomb and maize,

golden rainflowers.
Transform with your softest brush

the way Lorca’s bathing girl liquifies
into water–half a head in fire,

sun burning a trail from forehead to cheek.
Graze the mouth with mango. Make time to blend

and take away. Use the green of a blind man
when he says you’re beautiful

and means you’re timeless.
Show what the light gave her

washing warmth into a neck
until it’s dune, a cliffside

that holds a head of surf.
Paint as you would before you awaken,

when sunlight falls like milkweed
and you are an empty silo

letting her grain fill you–
buttery malt and biscuit

for the love of honey.

This poem is stunning in language, in image, in music, and in form. The title of the poem is immediately intriguing and a great risk in that the reader comes to the first line, already, with great expectation. The much over-used couplet finds a home here, creating a subtle dynamic which, paired with the sometimes other-worldly imagery, leaves the reader feeling, at the end of the poem, as if she has emerged from a spell. A sense of enchantment drives this poem quietly, with an elegance that could easily have degraded into the sentimental. To instruct is no small task. Here, the speaker directs us to "Graze the mouth with mango. Make time to blend/and take away," to "Show what the light gave her," "listen with the eyes," and in each instance, I reader must believe and trust the transformative moment to be genuine. I am caught up so much in the language that, at the close of the poem, I very much want to go back to the beginning and read it again, and I feel to achieve this sense of intrigue and immediate longing in the reader is perhaps the most most imperative task of the poet. --Ruth Ellen Kocher

Second Place

Her Quinceañera

by Lynn Doiron
Poetry Circle

That five-story billboard of Corona cerveza
on the face of eight-story hotel Festival Plaza
is cheesy to the point of charming—most days.
Tonight, it’s enchanting. Curbside, she’s disembarked
from her carriage cocoon, a long limousine,
discarded. A flutter of balloon-skirted girls,
all their dresses snowy white, circle, as if
she’s the rose queen of a singular garden.
Shoulders bare, a gown of pink burnished gold,
tiara, four inches of diamond light blooming
from rich coffee hair—she glows and seems
aware. That courtyard beyond Festival’s doors
says this night is hers, festooned in firefly
lights and white gifts for seasons
of being. Now her fingers press down
the volumes of gathers,
her attendants hush their buzz,
the youths in their white tuxedos
straighten buttoned vests and shoulders.
She is moving from sidewalk
inside, that girl that is now woman,
hands loosely quiet, open,
a bevy of wings at her back.

This poem represents a perfect marriage between the fantastic world we imagine and the concrete world in which we live. The poem accomplishes this pairing in a seemingly effortless execution of rich imagery and sparse language that demonstrates an accomplished ability to navigate the lyric narrative. What I enjoy most here is the simplicity of description. The writer takes enough small risks to elevate the language from something typical to something imbued with a sparse yet effective sense of the magical. Magic is no easy game in the lyric poem and can easily be over-done, over-emphasized, and over-wrought, but this writer handles the difficult task with great skill. The right of passage poem can also easily be typical, and yet here, we have "a bevy of wings," "a diamond light blooming," and "the rose queen of a singular garden," all images which illuminate the piece. I appreciate, as well, that the poem doesn't take itself too seriously (Festival Plaza --/is cheesy to the point of charming) which might well be the greatest triumph in a poem that invests so much in a singular, tender moment. --Ruth Ellen Kocher

Third Place


by Helmuth Filipowitsch
Wild Poetry Forum

Our long goodbye begins
in the middle of hello’s,
coffee slow mornings, roses
opening to sunshine and to rain
where an ill-conceived pathway
tracks the lawn’s undulations
and ends abruptly at
the overgrown hedge.
There, an alien world exists.

You’re familiar with other worlds,
I’m not. The clay, which constricts
our garden, the clay which chokes
the roses and the radishes;
that clay defines me all too well.

I’m not malleable, not a flimsy
umbrella in a thunderstorm,
not Superman entering
a graffiti-stained telephone booth
to be captured between
conflicted identities.

I’m the man who secretly
cries at all the right moments
while watching a ‘chic flick’,
hums along in the silence
of elevators, believes every lie
as though it’s the birth
of an alternate universe.

I’m the man at the end of
a garden pathway, looking
with longing into his neighbour’s
back yard, wondering where
you’re going and memorizing
the six tender love scenes
which will entice you
to finally turn back.

The poem "Ethics" works on various levels for me, not the least of which is the imagery which is not only rich, but varied and unexpected. That "Superman entering/a graffiti-stained telephone booth," can co-exist in a poem where we also find "clay which chokes/the roses and radishes" is no small feat. This sort of contiguous use of image and sound create a tension in the poem between the ordinary and the sublime, between pop culture and the natural world, between the voice of the speaker and the voice of the life in which the speaker lives, if we can say that a life, itself, with the menagerie of articles in that life, can have a voice. The poem also exudes a confidence that contrasts the confessed vulnerability of the speaker, creating a curious tension as assertion meets the vulnerable utterance. I have to say that I especially love the final lines of the poem, that they acknowledge the sometimes saccharin underpinning of all we call 'romantic,' utilizing the ubiquity therein to achieve a alternately authentic, fresh, and successful, romantic turn as the poem closes. --Ruth Ellen Kocher

  • 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