Winning Poems for May 2011

Judged by Judith Fitzgerald

First Place

Ophelia Speaks

by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review

I had a river once. No one shared what I had.
I had you, mansion of tears. My love was forever
a country boy, dusty, bumping along the road
looking for a gang of Magi to join. He found a star

to follow, he was a tart seeking fame and alas
the skies found their fiery boy. They stole him,
plucked him down and put him under the ground
to grow, to grow not white birch or a prayer tree

the others tried to climb upon. He is all in green,
my love; he will ferry us straight to the North.
And me? I was fashioned out of petals, rain
and garland paths. When you enter my halls of water,

call me daughter. I am a studded and baubled rose,
gathered in fennel and rue. Rosemary
for an uncrowned Lady. Remember me. What I could not
say, they took that from me too: I speak to the fish.

In my kingdom of carp, all my Princes know
who they are. Make no mistake, there is no hidden treasure
in frogs. They stray away from me, always my lot,
they nibble and taste but they don’t stay long.

The moonlight drapes their green throats in luster
like ermine. All these dazzled spirits flutter and descend
on my lips: ruby-winged darter, gold ringed nymph.
And you, who said I never had a treasure worth keeping?

How can I live without a name: a father or a brother?
I beg you, call me daughter. The turtles lay down
their robes before me. We have no need
for jewels, no Queen to steal my pearls.

Where do we begin after we've already dove head-over-hurt first into that sublimely controlled, frigidly fixed, and cataclysmically chaotic pièce de réjoycement "Ophelia Speaks" intimates, animates, implicates, and articulates? Where, indeed. "Ophelia Speaks." And how/ls, heart-attacking, soul-wracking, and brain-whacking utterances of every devastating ideational structure potentially in possession of its inherent realisation. (Ophelia Speaks.) "OS." (Does she ever.)

S'pose a scholarly soul might cite the poet's deft technical expertise (best evidenced in its unflinchingly down-and-dirty divagations or investigations as well as its near-obsessive attention to line compression, Byronic illusion, or Plathtic disingenuous illogicollusion when "it" gets down to "it," so close to "id," even closer to "ego," the delicate balancing act see-sawing between altruistic strands of love (self) and apposite streams of hatred or fear (ego). The rest? Just news that stays news.

An exquisitely shaped achievement of the highest magnitude, "OS" rips our hearts to shreds, smashes our skulls on Babylonian rocks, carelessly plucks and plants us squarely in the beautiful downtown muddle of diddly-fuck until that instant when tangential effluvia and inconsequential extrania give up the ghost ipso-quicko. Spectacularly — cf. Guy Debord's give-and-take on same in his seminal work, The Society of the Spectacle ( — encarved upon readers' memories the moment the poem rearranges the new world ordered, the one simultaneously within and beyond ourselves.

Interweaving such as "He is all in green" or "these dazzled spirits flutter and descend / on my lips: ruby-winged darter, gold ringed nymph. / And you, who said I never had a treasure worth keeping? // How can I live without a name: a father or a brother?," amplifies the way in which compression intersects with concision to shiverously gorgeous effect. The wordworks, finishment's flawless imaginative outposts, go with the everslow evenso flow. Love limned in the details. Life embraced unconditionally at large (at first, at last). Looking over shoulders. Resisting salt in wounds. Practising admirable restraint à la Conrad. Frantic prantics. Crime-time rhyme :).

Tethered to decadent moorings, the poetic vessel sails calmly through Poe's maelström eddying at the delicate edges of near-transparent verglassic skin. The scope's eternity times grasp exceeding reach on this gawd-forsakin' twenty-worst century planet. (Baudelaire and Dickinson stand down. Rimbaud stands up. Spectral Whitman rises.)

Think spaces, elisions, gaps, and syllable air among allusive riches, chiasmus, the kind of linguistic abutments for which one invariably gives thanks that now-or-never instants remain indelibly preserved by the light of a blood-orange moon that turns out her light (precisely when she's most needed, natch).

Think sorrowful sea crashing gently against humanity's protracted withdrawing roar, the rush of a generation unto its complementary closing, the wholly and fully realised scaffolding enabling participants to happily drown in the drench and dazzle of the poet's signs, significations, thefts, themes, and endlessly shored-up schemes. Ah, the mag-pied magnificence enwrapped with something-special deliveries; and, make no mistake, another angle on a heart unpacked emerges. (Bonus gloriosus?) The grand tradition, the resonant rendition, the heart-whacking works. (Plath beams, the uneven lines complement the structured solidity telegraphing either adoration or immolation. Passion or poison. Prince or frog? Does it matter? Yes. And, no.)

Cast off pearls, plucked eyes, the rue of indifference. Here, the edge of sanity's coherent enough to communicate the essentials intertwined, travelling from jewels to Magi no less, a singular submerged metaphor built to endure death by dreaming for a lady who once owned a river. Lady Lazarus? (Why it matters? No. And, yes. The Future becalming what remains of a present gone long. Mercy taking flight.)

Here (hear), Ophelia struts her off-handed elegant stuff upon the stage/s accumulated over millennia in a poem so utterly amazing in its subdued and succinct virtuosity, the ultra-condensed mini-epic's closer, its ka-thudding final lines involving that "Queen" and those "pearls" (plural), executes a backward glance at a garden and Eliot's corpse hoves into view accompanied by not one (but two) — "Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!" — while forcing each and every reader to address the future (imperfectly rendered) armed with another angle trained up on "lady of situations" (patterned upon The Tempest's Ariel). It almost echoes without saying both Narcissist and Martyr trade places in much the same way colour functions in Tristan & Iseulte, « Les fleurs de mal »; or, sans façon, Charon himself (navigating the Styx or Acheron).

What an accomplished tour d'bliss-bless finesse, indubitably worth its weight in withits. — Judith Fitzgerald

Second Place


by Dale McLain
Wild Poetry Forum

I found the blue one on the bottom of the cage,
dead in the way that only birds can be,
a feathered husk. It weighed no more
than the memory of an unremarkable day.

I might have worn it on a thread, an ornament
of sky and sad curled feet. Things die.
We are such unheeded orphans, afterthoughts
at best. Our histories are barely mounds
upon the earth’s resilient back. Our stories

find no audience. The long nights consume
the heart, the heft of bone, the light
that someone might have cherished.
We are fistfuls of feathers, so insubstantial

we fear the wind and the crush of wheels.
It would take so little for us to fall,
to be wrapped in a shred of lace
with only a suggestion of blue to mark
an epoch that once was winged.

An outstanding lyric among many cut-above compositions this quarter, "Brief" immediately captures its reader's attention laying down exquisitely original lines and startling breath-catcher phrases — from the way "it weighed no more / than the memory of an unremarkable day" to "an ornament of sky" or "the earth's resilient back" (identifying but a trio of its stunners) — that build towards its subtle conclusion concerning the fragility and tenacity of both our humanity and our environment(s), those grounded in the sensorium and those founded upon physiological, psychological, and bedrock standstill. Profoundly gentle yet never maudlin, wistful yet never wanton, "Brief" dishes up an imaginative slice of living better electromagnetically meshing in the moment while simultaneously transcending it. Finely honed to a near-elegiac exactitude, the poem sticks to one's ribs, its many layers consummately polished and supremely controlled by inevitable stanzaic arrangements to bring the work's persuasive — although hardly pedantic — ingredients together in a veritable food-for-thought feast. Form and content blend seamlessly, oddly complementary, given jouissance's brief ecstasies, unevenly accurate, drolly contained, and masterfully restrained. Unforgettably lovely. Why? Primarily because "our stories / find no audience" (but "Brief" nevertheless preserves them with compendious care and precision). — Judith Fitzgerald

Third Place

End of the Road

by David Durham

At the end of the road is blond prairie
where a broke down truck left us,
stopped short of rotten fence posts
beside a tumble of thistle weeds.
You spoke to me then as if a wind
that sweeps grass and soil; an arid voice
choked on barbed wire’s song,
reminding me that a furrowed brow
is a restless prairie’s cemetery
and regret a ghost town.
It is a weathered memory, but not unwilling.
You leaned against the faded red fender;
blue jeans, stained with clay, loose
about your hips. Your skin like sunlight
through branches of a cottonwood tree.

Inscrutably ambiguous, either the best or worst of poems, "The End of the Road" deploys shop-worn phrases to sublime (or sardiculous) effect. Dramatic irony or temporal fluidity never had it so good (or has it?). The sententious speaker gently skims and peels skin-thin realms of memory's dominant driving force to reveal an integral character central to our collective (or nearly unconscious) recollections of an earlier era (sans irony. Or not).

Apparently, given the offhand style balanced by sly alliterative internals, externals represent the timely and timeless, the quotidian trite but tricksy, an elementarily essential stratum unique to homo sapiens. Thanks to the author's veracious nimbletude, readers either accept the exaggerated yet admirably sustained clichés at face value or see, all too clearly, through the cottonwood true, despite the contradictionaerial imagery. Lacking middle ground, "The End of the Road" cranks up the shaft a notch, challenging — almost — for even the most accomplished post-apocalyptic filmmakers; and, then, automagical automobility. (Cormical.) A faded red fender. The submerged Wallace-weathered metaphors redeem these lines of toothless tiger perceptions overlaying sere slant projections, digressions, interruptions, distractions, and reformulations across one league of notions. Or, courageously approximate the cinematic scope swathing this work (which works. Or doesn't). The nifty thrifty morphs into the piece's underpinnings, its fragmentary yet consistently inconsistent philosophy: It takes two takes to fire on all four cylinders. Win. Place. Show and tell. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis (or what the hell). — Judith Fitzgerald

  • 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