Winning Poems for February 2011

Judged by Kwame Dawes

First Place


by Lois P. Jones

You shall leave everything you love most:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile shoots first. — Dante Alighieri

Memory impales like an old cut of wood.
It leaves me in this field — a scarecrow

with the sky for a head gathering clouds
for a lost country. Stripped down to nothing

but this owl on my outstretched arm.
I think of how your mother draws you out

of the Packard for the view. Somewhere
on your journey from Alexandria to Genoa.

At the top of a hill you look down
into yourself. Florence unfolds in front of you

in a river of green silk. Vineyards and olive groves,
red roofs aflame in the August heat,

the Palazzo del Bargello and its prison of ghosts.
And you weep with visions of a man in red robes

and eyes so full of rain. Years later at the tip
of a question it comes back –

the country you could not save,
the poems you wrote to douse the blaze for a land

that forgot its noblest son, the fever before your collapse.
I say that exile is a kind of death where loss is found

in every beautiful thing – a postcard, a sunset, a sonnet,
the way light kindles a wooden floor, jasmine

and rose water, moonlight on the tongue. The truth is
nothing ever leaves you and hell is an illusion

of landscape. Take these wounds worn in wood. The heart
hollowed in dust. I’ll bring what’s left, to burn.

Here is an elegant meditation on exile marked by statements that suggest wisdom—something felt deeply and understood even if only via the imagination. One actually believes that “the truth is/ nothing ever leaves you”, and because we do, we are willing to take the leap and believe also that “hell is an illusion/ of landscape”. The recurring wood image does not always hold up: how does an “old cut of wood” impale different from a new cut of wood, for instance? But that is a small thing, almost completely redeemed by the line “Take these wounds worn in wood”. Poets must pay careful attention to the tiniest things like prepositions and articles. Sometimes the care shows up beautifully here, sometimes it does not. Nonetheless, this is fine poetry when it is in full song: “I say that exile is a kind of death where loss is found//in every beautiful thing—a postcard, a sunset, a sonnet,…” beautiful stuff. --Kwame Dawes

Second Place

Green Holly Man New Year, 2011

by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review

When I wake I feel guilty; it’s been a year since
I met you last, but something draws me to the forest
where you have summoned me in the past.

Since your wrists were cut, I sip you secretly
like wine. The barbed edges of your touch still hold me
captive as birds peck and flock to red winter

berries. Snowy wind rattles my windows and I know
you are chiding me to walk with you on this first day.
I gather greens and abandoned birds nests and form

my life into a wreath. Later, when I weave blue jay
feathers and attach acorns I remember how your eyes
change as you become what I want but can never have.

I fear this is the year you will leave me completely, the year
when I leave the mewling of you down by the shore,
and ice covers the lake. I’ll not watch for you again.

Later, when I undress in the mossy dark, I notice my legs
have scratches like train tracks. I know then, you are gone.
The ice on the lake is frozen enough to walk on.

Your hands will not touch my shoulders like a rough
shawl. When I walk the lake alone this winter, fish
and turtles rearrange themselves in the silence underneath.

It is easy to dispense with the simplest flaw of the poem—an over abundance of “I’s”—easily mended with deft syntax and constant vigilance. Beyond this minor flaw, this is a splendid poem—haunting in its evocation of loss and obsession, and unsettling in its treatment of guilt. But its grace lies in the language: “your hands will not touch my shoulders like a rough/ shawl…”—that is fine work and we see much of this throughout. Importantly, not everything makes sense, and even the causal assertions, like the suggestion that the presence of scratches are clear evidence that the “Green Holly Man” is gone, seem believable because the persona has been well established as capable of such leaps. As much as most of the poem happens above the ice, the final image speaks to the kind of necessary rearranging that is taking place below the surface of thought, feeling and action. In other words, the poem ends with a fine metaphor that is both visually affecting and insightful. Nice work. --Kwame Dawes

Third Place

the necromancer

by Milner Place

he promenades the hours
of night

all animals around
grunts scuttlings
curses outside a closing bar
woosh of wings
squeak of bat
spit and screech
of lusting cat

he weaves
the secrets of the dark

a swift horse
mounts to ride
through fields that spring
invested in
and dew
has roosted
on the grass

conjures a sun

gallops beneath
the lime of new-born leaves
to a sea that argues
with a brittle shore

where ships
are busy and the whales
through their vents
outrageous songs

to his loom
he starts



and yet again

“Roosted” has to be the wrong verb for what dew does on grass, but this turns out to be one small hiccup in a fine balancing act of rhythm playfulness, rhyme and the necessary weightiness of fable. The leaps are appropriately surreal, and the poet somehow manages to keep us enthralled by the idea of some kind of nocturnal creature—easily an artist—who finds the subjects for his weaving in the happenings of the night. There is, though, very little at stake, no apparent risk for the necromancer, which deprives the poem of urgency, but what it loses there, it makes up for in craft—the managing of rhythm and the use of repetition. It is musical in as much as poetry does achieve music, and the management of the elements that create this music is nothing to sniff at. --Kwame Dawes

Honorable Mention

House of Ash

by Mignon Ledgard

                              “Y ha seguido, días y días,
                              loca, frenética.
                              en el enorme tren vacío,”
                                        –Dámaso Alonso

I walk into a poem that happens in a house
where a woman paces from room to room to room

She holds her head
she holds a candle and a pen
to sign her name and sign her name and
sign her name in the cold dark.

     The noise of silence
     the crowding absence
     the flickering madness.

I hear the deafened noise of Lima
on this yellow Sunday
without electricity: no sound of static
                    no piano
                    no jazz beat.

Trees serenade: their usual murmur
through Sunday-slow traffic
without the clack of castanets.

Lost to sea are the castanets
and all the books
which lightened voyages to unknown places.

Unknown places and faces without features
perceived by the ear
behind the eye that fills in the empty spaces.
My mind wanders.

My skin receives the light
and responds through its multiple eyes;
sometimes it cries
yet almost never yells.
Then it is the nose that hears.

The nose guides the wound towards
the alcohol
the gauze
the unguent.
Something inside listens.

Something inside follows and follows instructions
from ancient blueprints
to apply gentian violet
on the open skin. I unfold.

Then fold the spine to kiss his hand,
   take his feet
     one at a time,
separate each toe to clean his wound
which is my wound
which is the wound of the woman in the house.

The woman who is alone
          alone the house and the woman
                              alone he and she

—ashes turn in the mausoleum.

This is a poem that manages to hold me all the way through. Its pleasures are not a few and they have to do with the wonderful repetition, and grand imaginative leaps that are quite satisfying. The thing is that sometimes one is drawn to a poem for what is even if much of what is there does not need to be there. Here is a poem that could use a blue pencil. What would go would be the things that show the poet working too hard to be clever and to make mystery of something that in its poetic core is mysterious enough without any help. For instance, one need not overstate the “unknownness” of the places—a voyage somewhere is enough, known or unknown. In the same vein are the too clever constructions, “the noise of silence” and the “crowding absence”—which are essentially clichés and unnecessary. And the final line of the poem, decent enough (even if improbable) on its own, is something of overkill after a poem of such force and after the quite lovely title. There are also small moments of carelessness like “the deafened noise of Lima”, which, I suspect, should read, “the deafening noise of Lima”. None of this obscures the narrative of lonesomeness, aloneness, and something teetering on madness, and this is captured, not so much in the telling, but in the way thought works—the repetition: “The woman who is alone/ alone the house and the woman/ alone he and she…” --Kwame Dawes

  • 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