Winning Poems for March 2011

Judged by Kwame Dawes

First Place

Best after frost

by Mandy Pannett
The Write Idea

Mysterious how the medlar ripens,
softens, rots like Camembert – inexorable
in its breakdown, this progress into mould.

A smutty fruit: Shakespearian – seaside picture-
postcard rude, designed to raise a belly
laugh with hints of bums and holes.

Blettir- the word for overripe, for this slimy,
slurpy process – such an aromatic term, so
French this feel of rainfall in Montmartre.

Rain and footfall; blood-red light: A tale where rain
was far-off drumming; louder, thundering, tumbril
wheels; a ripe and rotten group …

or not of blood but garnet-red: a medlar jelly
sweet for Spring’s return. So suck this flesh and luscious
rot: Best after frost, they say.

This is such a wonderfully sensual poem whose tension lies in the pleasure of trying to describe something so physical with word. Just look at the shape of that first stanza—in terms of its syntax, it engages us immediately as if we are in mid-conversation, and then the the construction of the final phrase: “this progress into mould” is rich with contradiction for the progress is towards rot and decay, towards death. The poet happily employs assonance and alliteration through, and yet these do not draw undue attention to themselves. Then the vocabulary—punch, seemingly crude words that puzzle and surprise for their strangeness or marked normalness: “Blettir”, “tumbril” and “bums and holes”. I suppose what most appeals to me about the poem is its sentiment—the idea that we must enjoy this decay even as we observe its inevitability. What a full and fit word “suck” is in the last couple: “so suck this flesh and luscious/ rot: best after frost, they say.” A pleasure to read. --Kwame Dawes

Second Place

Two Doves

by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review

I would have made a bad mother, you said. Shuttered
milk eyes, the way I search for white deer

where there are none. I saw one once, a freak
of nature, a ghost or a symbol of some other god,

one I was sure to be jealous of. You said so many things,
I could not love. We had two wash basins side by side,

“renew thyself”, you said. And the thought of cleansing
my body so close to yours, within minutes of that pass;

all I could think was the sponging off, the tinkling of water
against skin like wind chimes, never to be put into a breath

or a thought. The roof, at this time, housed a family of doves
and they taunted me, cooing and brooding overhead, scratching

and clawing on the roof. What did they want, I wondered?
If they wanted peace; I wanted them to be different

like the white deer. I wanted them to raise their family
and shove off, leave us to our business. I think I wanted

to be an inky bat, waiting to creep the bedcovers, waiting
to steal your breath. Poised as I was to write it all down, leave

my own bloody mark. I wanted to suckle your blood, snatch flies
from the air. All women want to eat their babies, I told you.

You will say I have imagined this when our affection
is pure. I think that my journal is not free enough to talk.

Maybe the sponge and water know the truth of it.
When I put my nose to the crumbs of skin, when I bring

the fountain of you out to the garden, the worms,
the ready earth, are thirsty for what we have.

Here is a poem that will reward constant reading. The psychological complexity is not forced and is no trite thing here. There are lines resonant with insight and feeling that stay with us, force us to review them again and again to find whatever we can find in them: “Maybe the sponge and water know the truth of it”. The bathing image, the sensuality of it, the idea of bodies so close together, representing the very distance that seems necessary despite the hunger in this speaker to want to be closer, closer than could be healthy: “I think that my journal is not free enough to talk.” The poem, however, decides to be free enough to talk the unspeakable, almost animal impulses of love and attended fears of decay and death, and this poem achieves so much. At times the syntax loses its naturalness, but this is a small, easily remedied glitch in an otherwise compelling poem. --Kwame Dawes

Third Place

Middle-Aged Man Photographed In Zion

by Bernard Henrie
The Writer's Block

Owls stare from dark eye sockets.
Each cheek in the museum photographs
dry as Gaza.

I see my own face
in the black and white portraits.
The autistic gaze of a dog leaning his nose
from an automobile window.

That was the year Ambassador Bolton
suggested Israel attack Iran, Fatah rockets
drifted over Jerusalem and water turned bitter
in Ramallah.

The gallery shuts down. The night watchman
passes with his flashlight from window to window.

I sit for coffee, the pages of the Jerusalem Post
ruffle in the salt laden breeze from Galilee.
I walk to the Wailing Wall, but cannot think
what to pray.

The stars in irregular rows begin their silver stare
over the old city and the Occupied Zone.

It is striking how photographs in a museum are the first window into the disquiet of the city, but soon the speaker is outdoors, drinking coffee, reading the Jerusalem Post, and what appears to be a commentary from outside of the “real” space becomes a dispatch from the “front”—the kind of dispatch that reminds us that the fronts are constantly present in our lives no matter where we live these days. The most eloquent and powerful line of the poem is so subtly rendered it could be missed: “but I cannot think/ what to pray.” A fine poem. --Kwame Dawes

Honorable Mention

Feed the Snake

by Michael Creighton
The Waters

–on the road to Gangotri

The sky is clear when a smiling girl
offers to lead us up the trail that connects

the road by the river to her village in the hills.
After an hour, she tells us to sit and rest.

“This pond and that tree are brothers,”
she says, “and we leave milk on these banks

to feed the snake that lives here.”
My seven year old son shakes his head

and asks: “But is the snake real?
Have you ever seen him?”

She shrugs:
“But why would we want to see him?”

Behind us, a dozen crows rise
to scold a passing hawk.

In the valley below, yesterday’s rain
flows toward the Bay of Bengal.

Sometimes poems find us, and the good poets know when to grab onto them. This is a moment of profound wisdom—the kind of wisdom we find in proverbs on in the mouths of those who have seen the world in its most stark realities and who have found a way to live in that world. The poem revolves around a simple punch line—“But why would we want to see him?”. The curiosity and skepticism of the child is addressed by the pragmatism of the girl. Here rituals are more important than their results. The symbolic suggestion of the scolding crows is a tad convenient, but the simple truth of the idea of the constantly flowing river is elegantly caught in the final lines. One image would work. A small matter, though. --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