Winning Poems for July 2011

Judged by Tyehimba Jess

First Place

In the Waiting Room

by Greta Bolger
The Waters

My daughter says I want to hold a baby
as though she senses the ache in my own body
to feel a featherweight, feather-haired being
resting with all trustingness in my scarred arms.

Holding onto life can seem as certain as the sun,
even as the chill world presents hard evidence
to the contrary. Up above, the ornate ceiling tiles
provide a silent dialogue of X’s and O’s —

O like a baby’s hungry mouth, X like a mother’s
cradling arms; O like the endless passageway of long life,
X like the iron gate that abruptly slams shut,
the shock like a gunshot, heart like a target.

I like the way this poet is interested in such an intimate moment, a time in a hospital after some tragedy. I think the best decision was the move into the space of the ceiling, where they bring us the image of the tiles we have all seen before, the religious reverberation of O, each refrain recounting a story of loss that hammers home in the last line. --Tyehimba Jess

Second Place

A Scarecrow Speaks to its Maker

by Teresa White
Wild Poetry Forum

You’ve gone and done it:
crucified me on a wooden cross
when I have no sins to appease.

I might fool the chickadees,
the sparrow, but not
the unbelievers.

My arms stick straight out,
my thirst unrelenting
as scavengers peck my button eyes.

A swift wind has carried off
my porkpie hat. I grow thinner every day,
straw inching out.

The crows are in the corn;
chaos is afoot. Come get me.
Oh maker, lay me down.

Here, the poet adopts a persona and describes a relationship with the farmer. I got position of the scarecrow, the act of abandonment that translates to the human, and a strong closing that suggests the carnal and the possessive. An effective and calculated risk that pays off. ---Tyehimba Jess

Third Place

put on your suit face

by James Browning Kepple

there’s a corncob hat underneath the fedora,
it fits well into the curvatures,
in the sun we wear two hats,
one on the other, to align our heads with heat,
we feel this mother earth rise to the feet
and we dance a dance of simple lines
some betrayed
some highlighted,
there in the bask of the light

and if in the dark corners of your mind,
you crumple the felt, you squeeze cotton,
we will rebuild

put on your suit face, the one you’ve had hidden,
down deep in the corners of your memories,
you remember all those gritty streets,
you tell the children of such plight
and our served dastardly after, as a poser of blight,
no I am just a showman of the south,
zip your lids kiddos, cause daddy’s gonna fight

and you sequester the information, you fold neat,
place back pocket plead in attempt to repeat,
yes we do this, no we do not do that,
these kids are tripping on mushrooms you gotta see ‘em live

but we don’t live do we in our old age, our adages,
we look dull and black hole to the fire of youth,
for once where we were burning rubble,
sucking in the industrial heat to the teeth,
they see only our stories, our comic book truth,
and deny that we were ever youth,

to trick the transatlantic, to suffrage the swell
we hold on dearly to our defeatist optimistic
one more party to throw
one more stand to be made

and thrust thereafter, we remain
patrons of the suitface

I don’t really ‘get’ everything in this poem. But I enjoy the risks the author takes with the ‘suitface’ the invitation toward obfuscation, and the twists and turns we go through that take us from the mushrooms to the “dull and black hole to the fire of youth.” This kind of desire to stretch the language shows a lot of promise. ---Tyehimba Jess

Honorable Mention

Shell Game

by Fred Longworth

The father handed a conch shell to the son.
Put it to your ear—he said—
and you can hear the ocean.

The shell felt big and heavy for small hands.
The boy held it this way and that,
and finally wrestled it against his ear.
He heard a rushing sound, like when
he got down on hands and knees, and put his head
to the vent for the air-conditioner.

He was just old enough to understand
similars—how the rusty hinge on the gate
into the alley sent the same shiver up his spine
as the bantam rooster at Uncle Henry’s farm.

And so, the way that the sea, the blower behind
the wall, and the conch shell kind of
came together was a fun surprise.

The boy put the shell to his ear again.
He remembered how waves crashed
onto the beach, how the noise rose and fell.
The shell seemed different. The sound it made
was always about the same.

How does the shell do this?—the boy asked.
The father smiled. Tomorrow, they would drive
to the cove, take the stairway
down to Sunny Jim’s Cave in the sea cliff,
and listen to the huge, deep musical notes,
the wind fingering the grotto like a bassoon.

This poem doesn’t try to do more than recount a very simple moment, with very simple language. I’m impressed with that choice, and the ability to sound common place in a space where one is expected to strain toward depth and meaning. Wise choice not to try too hard, and let the day speak for itself. ---Tyehimba Jess

  • 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