Winning Poems for September 2013

Judged by Robert Sward

First Place


by Penguin
Wild Poetry Forum

Lady Jane Grey was little more
than a holiday home, a brief change of air;
Elizabeth Woodville was Long Stay –
students dreaded placement there.
Hers was a thicker atmosphere: moon-fogged
with menace throughout the year.
It’s the Western Australian Blue Mist, Doctor,
or else I’m going blind.

When a man said he wanted to meditate
it meant he wanted to murder.
Each patient had his own chair to throw
and a needle drawn up in the clinic.
In emergencies we called on
George Eliot and Jane Austen.
It was every man for himself but
you couldn’t confront a delusion.
Alice believes that I’m John the Baptist—
we’ll just hide all the knives and forks.

Everything signalled something else
that the staff spent hours deciphering
while sat underneath No Smoking;
the former boxer fractured nerves
and the failed actor reeled off verse
after verse of counterfeit Shakespeare.
I could spot functional psychosis
there’s a johnnie stuck up my arse, nurse,
and show empathy at ten paces.

We learnt the types of schizophrenia,
how to defend against knight’s move thinking
and the lineage of English monarchs.
I’m digging up Charles I today
and replanting The Wars of The Roses.

Any accretion of insight
was offset by a lack of remorse.
Nobody could bury the hatchet because
we’d forgotten the word for spade.

I like the use of rhyme, the grace and bitter humor of WARDS,

"Lady Jane Grey was little more
than a holiday home, a brief change of air;
Elizabeth Woodville was Long Stay -
students dreaded placement there."

We seem-- the poem has a setting and that setting would seem to be a teaching hospital, a mental ward, "moon-fogged / with menace throughout the year."

One reads on:

"Each patient had his own chair to throw
and a needle dawn up in the clinic."

What I don't understand are lines like:

"In emergencies we called on
George Eliot and Jane Austen.
It was every man for himself..."

As a reader I'm not sure how the author's private knowledge, private associations are going to be understood.

"Everything signalled something else
that the staff spent hours deciphering
while sat underneath No Smoking..."

And the sense of brooding and mental discomfort, of cleverness, and ultimately despair, culminates, it seems to me, in the final lines:

"Nobody could bury the hatchet because
we'd forgotten the word for spade."

Author wins the day with this great parting line! --Robert Sward

Second Place

Why I’m not a Monk

by Laurie Byro

I like to talk. I contemplate while I talk and people say
I sleep-talk. I like the appealing collar, the lace around
the sleeve. I love Epaulets. I like the little details. Once,
while I was about to climax (in the wrong place, a closet,
don’t ask) I stood among the shoe horns, the winter

coats and bit my shirt to stop myself from crying out.
I worried (not that we’d be discovered) but that I would
ruin a lovely Nehru collar with drool. How is this possible,
I asked myself, knowing I was not a contortionist and
impressed with such detached determination. I covet sound.

I repeat the phrase inside my head; I love the taste of words
rolling around among my molars. Listen: persimmon, catalyst,
katydid, polliwog, drool. I love bargains and paying pennies
for cool shoes. I have stood inside a closet, my boots filling up
with blood. I have thought about this. Face it, I have more

than thought, I have spoken this out loud. Can a wind chime
equal a sacrament? Can a butterfly be worth the same
as a seashell? How do we measure thrift against desire,
passion against compassion, lie against thievery, incest against
adultery? Can a temple bell fill the air with language or is it only

noise? How many orchids does it take to topple a wall?
If it were up to me to build a bridge, I would ask a stranger
to pass me a stone. Once in New York City I begged a cop
to help me parallel park. Instead, he issued me a summons.
Take my advice, know what you do and cannot do but

do it out loud. Set the world on fire with wooden matches.
Listen: cinnamon, wolverine, clementines, audacious,
anemone, puck. A man huddles on the sidewalk and I am
unable to give him more than a nod and a compassionate five.
Here, take my words. Rub together my sticks of love.

I like the humor of the piece, the "easy" pace of the narrative, I like the gentle self-deprecation and the "flow," which strikes me as natural as opposed to contrived. I'd like a little more about the why of the title, "Why I'm Not a Monk." The poem opens with the line, "I like to talk." and that's followed by "I contemplate while I talk and people say / I sleep-talk..."

Then, also in stanza #1, one reads, "Once,/while I was about to climax..." so there's something of the confessional about the poem, in short, much that the poet believes would serve to discredit his application (should he make one) to serve as a monk.

Five lines to the stanza, an easy working with the formal limits he sets himself. And, yes, there's a jaunty quality to lines like "...persimmon, catalyst,/ katydid, polliwog, drool." and "Can a butterfly be worth the same/ as a seashell?"

In answer to the poem I'd say a love for language, a sensuality, a delight in the play of the imagination, a hint of compassion... none of these would in themselves disqualify the poet from a place in the monastery. Oddly, I wouldn't be surprised to learn at some point in the future that the author of these lines chose indeed to spend some time in a monastery.

The poet offers in parting, "Take my advice, know what you do and cannot do but / do it out loud." --Robert Sward

Third Place

The Call

by R.C. James

In a quiet reversal
the beautiful Chinese primary teacher
asked me for my phone number
after I’d finished a half hour of
visiting native English speaker class
and was packing up to leave.

I immediately began anticipating her call;
by evening we’d married
and were expecting twins,
one American and one Chinese.
I was sure she’d call within the week,
that we’d stroll through town
her hand edging toward mine
and to end up firmly clasping confidence.

Then, our first meal together
in someplace of her choice,
where Chinese was more Chinese than Ming.
I, of course, impressed her
with my near mastery of chop sticks.
When She asked where I’d learned.
I told her Chinatown, New York City.
She asked me about the food there.
I said ‘nothing like this,’
affirming the rightness of everything,
of us, her eyes, her effect
on everything dormant in me for years
that I brought to her in a package
she was unwrapping slowly,
sensuously, without wiles,
pretense, anxiety or insistence.

She’d had the paper off
and the box unsealed
with her first request for my number
and now my soul was looking
for some protective wrapping
as it had not been this exposed
since the first pink sweater,
leaning elm tree days
of my 12 year old romantic emergence
with the blond haired, soft-voiced girl
who had captured me.
This was countries
and many yearnings away
from those blushing, sweaty
hand-holding days
of Saturday matinee
Doublemint aroma’d kisses,
Elvis’s first romp through
pubescent girls’ swooning psyches
and YMCA dance nervousness.

This, on the other side of the world,
was another beginning, another start.
As we left the restaurant
she asked me if I liked China
and I could only say
‘China contains something
I am beginning to love.’
She asked what that something was,
and I felt as unable to answer
as I had been unable to seize
anything like the moment
back there under the elm tree.

I said I’d found it
but there was a long way
between finding something
and calling it your own.
She said, ‘I know that feeling,
I’m still looking for what might be mine,
but there is one thing I’m sure of,
I think we’re both searching
in the right place.’
‘You mean China?’ I asked.
She answered with four fingers
to her heart.

She hasn’t called;
it’s been weeks.

Admirable working with narrative, though I believe THE CALL could use some judicious editing. I like the poem, but can't help thinking, "less is more, less is more!" The poem tries to cover too much ground. Still, I found myself engaged in the "story" and the author's self-deprecating, tongue in cheek humor is welcome.

For all its length (a page and a half, single spaced!) I don't feel we get very much sense of the object of the poet's fantasy. There's much more info about the author and his fantasy romances, romantic reminiscences... that is, too much about what's gone before, and not enough about what's going on in the present moment. Too much of the poet's inner "meanderings" and not enough about the front and center object of his affection, the "beautiful Chinese primary teacher."

If the poet is so struck by this woman, why not make more of an effort to describe her, to "evoke" a sense of her beauty and her personality? What is it that makes the teacher so beautiful that he fantasizes about her in this way?

Again, I like the poem, don't get me wrong, but I respect and take the author seriously enough to say 1) I'm drawn into the piece by the offhandedness of the narrative and the jaunty humor; 2) my primary reservation is that the poet's narcissism and sustained focus on himself, works to the detriment of the matter at hand, i.e., the Chinese teacher who has excited his romantic interest; and, 3) apart from being an engaging anecdote it falls short of delivering what, for this reader, is the narrative promise.

The last two lines, "She hasn't called; / it's been weeks." could be cut without harm to the poem. --Robert Sward