Winning Poems for February 2012

Judged by John Timpane

First Place

Jane

by Mitchell Geller
Desert Moon Review

My sister’s beauty would often elude
that hide-bound glance which is apt to respond
to harebell eyes, to the bland and the blonde.
(Her hair was dark, her skin was amber-hued.)
Some folk would dismiss her as under-sized—
so slight was she, no more than seven stone ;
and yet, to me, it seemed that she had grown
enough. For me, her stature emphasized
her changeling charms. A pocket Venus needn’t
be taller than she was. Her DNA
seemed right to me in every single way,
the gift of some Baltic, Jewish antecedent.
And no expenditure would seem too dear
to see her smile—however briefly—here.


Why wouldn’t first prize go to a sonnet? Why not? A good sonnet was always hard to write, and in our day, when a lot of sonnets are written with a look over the shoulder, this does away with the self-consciousness and simply presents a heartfelt poem. Although written with masterly skill, it isn’t tediously circumspect. It has fun with the rhymes (hurrah for needn’t and antecedent!) but isn’t afraid of an end-stopped line or a perfect rhyme. It goes beyond witty and disarming to being right. What’s best is that this sonnet is so direct. It’s a very vague recollection of the faux-apologetic “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” gambit: “Well, some folks would have had this criticism of her coloring or stature, but I liked her anyway.” Except this is a sibling to a sister, and it is a declaration of love, and it makes no bones about it. It’s fresh, it challenges dumb ways of seeing human beauty, and it breaks our damn hearts in the last line. --John Timpane

Second Place

Death left you a voicemail

by B.A. Stites
conjunction

Time hands you a coffin.
Inside the coffin is a telephone.
The sound of the telephone ringing
is the sound of a million sparrows
taking flight. The sparrows
make up the face of a clock and
the clock’s hands are the hands
of your mother. She sits
behind you now, running a black
comb gently through your hair.

A million black sparrows
taking flight. This is the image
of your mother, sitting
at the end of her bed. The
sound of the telephone ringing
is the sound of a coffin opening.
Inside it you place a clock.
Its hands are made of combs.
The combs are black, the color
of your mother’s hair.


I simply could not stop experiencing this poem down to its last word. It impels the consciousness right down the line. So much is admirable, and when read aloud, incantatory. Reminiscent of musical forms such as the villanelle, pantoum, muwashshah, ghazal, and sestina, this orchestrates keywords and key images into new meanings and combinations. One simply flows into another: the clock with hands that are combs, the telephone’s ring, opening to the millions of sparrows, which are the image of the mother. Surreal is a hateful word, but there is an uncanny heightening in this poem, an aching, supra-real quality. What happens is that the poem represents its own system of meaning; the only way to say something about the poem is to let the poem say itself, and be within its network of relations. Death is always leaving us messages, and whether we pick them up or not is, of course, the question. And what we answer, if we ever can. When read aloud, this sings, and this reminds me of what poetry ought to be about. I’m grateful. --John Timpane

Third Place

Domestic

by Allen Weber
FreeWrights Peer Review

Dress and underwear drape a ladderback chair. Unpinned,
hair sweeps the flour-dusted butcher block. Released,
her grateful breasts rebound from every straight-arm thrust.
She’s shaped and covered balls of dough; they’re left to rise.

Hens cackle in the yard; through the window she takes
a trembling aim, mouthing, Bang. Bang. Two town boys fall
behind tall grass at the edge of the road, alive
to violate her chickens—more sling and stone.

Punching down the yeasty dough, to rise again, she
recounts a life of slights and crisply ironed shirts—
words so florid, the tabby flees his square of sun
that’s warmed the beaten heartwood pine. The floor replies

to burdens, shifting foot to calloused foot. She spies
husband and son, descending from a further field;
their strides measure her time to re-dress, leaven bread,
wring a rooster’s neck, and wipe the mess from her hands.


What a sweet, concrete, finished work. So much is so good: the sturdy rhythmic base of (to my ear, but I could be wrong) iambic hexameter, or at least a six-stroke line; excellent line-ending and enjambment action; very light touch on the domestic’s awareness of her hard life, boiling down to the phrase slights and crisply ironed shirts (a joy to read aloud, like so much of this poem, which surprises, being so concrete, with its musicality), and otherwise letting her experience of her moment speak for itself; the sense of a restrained but infinitely humane sympathy in the portrayal. The final note, in which she realizes, once again, she must get ready to serve yet others, closes tightly and wonderfully. --John Timpane

Honorable Mention

Chauvet Cave

by Don Schaeffer & Alex Nodopaka
PenShells

I.

From a world of
closed loops
where bends and
corners weren’t
imagined yet,
where animals
mixed and souls
slipped in and out
of bodies. We hold
the line now, cold
and fast. We
lock and crimp sharp.
The circle is only
an ideal we cannot match.

II.

Two learned bards on a poetry forum
were exchanging particular knowledge
about articulated molecular formations.

The elder poet spoke of the aforementioned
cave drawings fashioned of only closed loops
and bends and curves where not a single

quadrangular design could be perceived.
The other versifier noted that in some
scientific readings he learned that portions

of the visual cortex were programmed
for rectangles and orthogonals.
Something Newton probably didn’t know

due to the orthogonal concussion he sustained
consequent to the apple falling from the tree
at a right angle to his position to the earth.

This explains why planets appear to be
round because the world is an optical illusion
full of obtuse human squares

and despite poets spinning curved language
giving words reverse English spin
through similes and poetic allegories

only to confuse us poor white potato eaters.
As for me I have an affinity for the ova
which explains why my perspective on the

subject is as oval as femininity can be and
that the Ganzfeld theory of perception
which starts with circles becoming deformed

by ocular compression resulting in migraines
is a good reason why I stay away
from burdening scientific dogmas.


A looping, intelligent poem that tries to duck its own ambition, succeeding, at last, in not doing so. We start from a lovely sense of how the artistic sensibility displayed in the cave wall painting differs from our own. And then, the second part, cocking snooks at the way in which too much human conversation about things we really cannot grasp sound. The main vehicle here is tedious overstatement, opening, however, into windows of unsuspected lyricism, such as the hilarious “planets appear to be/ round because the world is an optical illusion/ full of obtuse human squares.” Not only science, and not only academic talk, gets smacked, but also poetry. Right at the end, we have drilled down to the predicament of the “I” in the poem, as far from cave paintings, Isaac Newton, optical and neuophysiological theory as you can get, a subjectivity that just can’t see things in any of these ways, the voice out of which we get the poem. It’s fun, funny, makes some great, unparaphrasable points, and changes so much as we go through reading time (nice use of the three-line stanza form!) that at end, we feel we have had a fine and worthwhile journey. --John Timpane

Honorable Mention

For Leo

by Dale McLain
PoetryCircle

I bite the thread that joins us,
burn the half-assed bridge,
sever the fingers that remember
the curve of your spine.
A storm conjures itself out of season.
Winter thunder breaches my sleep.
Yes, I sleep, curled like a fiddlehead,

small and infected with hope.
You never see me anyway, never listen
to the bones of this house give way.
When the clouds scatter, the Venetian
mirror catches the moon again and again
and I prowl with the coyotes and the owls.
I think of something small and furred

between my teeth. I think of you in a copse,
quiet and still, hiding from me as always.
I bite the thread that holds the stars
in place, watch them scatter on the forest floor.
You pocket one and scurry. I burn
the remainder, for the cold light they hold
is the very color of your eyes.


A poem that simply refused to be forgotten. I found its images in my head even when they had no business there. Argumentative, both with Leo (“You never see me anyway, never listen/ To the bones of this house give way” – superb!) and with the materials of the poem (angrily, it renovates readymade clichés: “I bite the thread that joins us,/ burn the half-assed bridge” . . . the thread isn’t very strong in the first place, yet the speaker destroys it with a bit of dental violence, and the bridge burnt is only “half-assed,” so whatever relation there was, we feel, was weak or questionable or halfhearted in the first place). The crazily mixed-up metaphoric spasm of the third stanza is splendid, with both Leo and the speaker becoming predators, becoming anti-creators, undoing creation, loosing the stars, burning them. More burning. We are left, in this active, prowling poem, with coldness, sustaining the accusal and closing with a chill. Well made. --John Timpane

Honorable Mention

I Thought I Would Say

by Andrew Dufresne
Wild Poetry Forum

Ah, I see now, how lips shape
words, how we become soft and ripe,
spare fruit left in the bottom
of the bowl, how we engage with

time to a driven degree to be carried
out limp like sacks of so many
potatoes sprung to sprouts, how less
of us come to winter, summer, fall

each year, or the sound we make
when leaving the world, paper
thin skin rustling, like a basket
full of leaves before they burn, how

dust accumulates on objects
we don’t use, ourselves as well,
though being used we accumulate
disgust, which is never or ever

quite articulated to the degree
we feel it, or the man who wonders
aloud why this should be will
wonder until he becomes

his own sweet unnecessary blossom,
watered occasionally, how he
shapes his words like an infant
at the end, how he weeps.


A lasting lyric. Like most lyrics worth reading, it ends up being about “everything,” about, well, being. It starts with language and takes us through any life. It shrugs about the human attempt to “wonder why this should be.” Technically fascinating, too: it plays the enjambing line against the expectations of the tight (supposedly?) four-line stanza, what appears to contain against the statement that finds its own shape, length, and level: “how// dust accumulates on objects/ we don’t use, ourselves as well,/ though being used we accumulate/ disgust.” The ironies of this passage, in statement reinforced with music, is the center of what this poem does, the changes wrung across the words use and used, and the startling bringing-up-short of the dust/disgust echo. Such empathy and sadness in the man becoming “his own sweet, unnecessary blossom.” Gorgeous, just gorgeous. --John Timpane


  • August 2018 Winners

    • First Place

      The World Is Moist in the Morning
      by Terry Ofner
      The Waters

      Second Place

      My Epitaph
      by Guy Kettelhack
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      I kissed a tree
      by Alison Armstrong-Webber
      The Waters

  • July 2018 Winners

    • First Place

      The First Time I Drank With My Father
      by Ken Ashworth
      The Waters

      Second Place

      My Bicycle
      by Andrew Dufresne
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      J. Alfred Prufrock Searches for Mrs. Right
      by Laurie Byro
      Babilu