Winning Poems for April 2016

Judged by Joan Colby

First Place

Saying the Unsayable

by Billy Howell-Sinnard
The Writer's Block

Hands clasped behind his head,
he says something I can’t understand.

Morphine mixes words in a slow
gooey concoction soothing his pain,

blurring the days that are left,
the whys ungraspable.

The dog has gotten outside.
He struggles to remember her name.

“She’ll be run over like the last one.”
It’s a busy road that connects

to a highway, a shortcut.
His wife has run after the dog.

While she is gone he asks, “You
know don’t you, will this work again,”

pointing to his legs, the left one
amputated below the knee, the right

too painful deep inside the bone
to move. His question tentative

as if he knows the answer
has nothing to do with his legs.

I tell him what no one has said
about this last road he must cross.

Before the moment lasts too long,
the dog bounds into the room.


The writer confronts a difficult topic without sentimentality. The spare diction of the poem reflects the hard question the sick man asks, already knowing the answer. The metaphor of the dog reflects both acceptance “she’ll be run over like the last one” and hope as at the conclusion the dog “bounds into the room.” The writer uses verbs to his advantage: mixes, struggles, bounds and conflates the busy road outside and this “last road he must cross.” --Joan Colby

Second Place

The Price of Wool

by John J. Williamson
PenShells

The shepherd flinches
when a Herdwick tup twists
its horns. His fingers and flexors
tighten as the suck of fluid
pre-empts the snap.

Vessels burst,
hooves thrash oil-stained cobbles;
eyes shoot and through a stupor
of muted agony a tongue spills.

A yardhand pins its neck
and screams above the clatter.
He knows the fleece is shagged.

Lanolin hands haul the scruff-shite
upright, blindly sheering gashes
into balls and belly.
A spray of iodine
and a kick on the rump
sorts the frenzied shambles.

The bleeding tup scrambles
through the holding pens,
rams a huddle of lambs
and headbutts an iron gate.
He totters, trembles, drops.

The Laird sniffs and bristles,
curses like a scullion, bellows orders
’til the crew stands still.
Knackered men stare and spit
at the prick in tweed,
reach for his lordly arse
as the shepherd asks him
to knock it off.


Reminiscent of the poetry of Seamus Heaney, this vivid poem of sheep shearing bashes the reader with the violence of the task. The words are well chosen to reflect the scene: thrash, shagged, scruff-shite, gashes, shambles, scrambles, headbutts, bristles, scullion, bellows and not a word is wasted. The lines also break on powerful words: cobbles, clatter, rump, orders, spit, arse adding up to a piece that reverberates with action. --Joan Colby

Third Place

Elvis

by Midnight Moon
Wild Poetry Forum

Maybe entire cities are sculpted by jazz musicians,
but me, I prefer the cowboy bars
magenta lights tingling: OPEN

Girls over 40 in cowboy-rocker boots
slide close to men with sideburns,
so she can almost pretend it’s me.

I resurfaced here after a brief spin
in the faraway land of lonely hearts,
the place where guitars play one, long note

That goes through the center of you
makes you vibrate like a string
as you close your eyes to a warm flush of stars.

I came back to walk dusty Nashville boulevards,
gospel store front churches, old, white mansions,
and one room chicken-shack farms, with determined old hound dogs

coming up to sniff me, then barking in surprise
and running away whining, when they realize
there really ain’t nothing there.


Elvis is deftly presented as a ghost in this adroitly written poem with its “magenta lights” “cowboy-rocker boots” and “one-room chicken shack farms” in “the faraway land of lonely hearts…where guitars play one long note.” The lyrical image of “a warm flush of stars” is offset by the pragmatic ending “there really ain’t nothing there.” The poet’s choice of language suits the subject and the triplet form provides both visual and aural satisfaction. --Joan Colby

Honorable Mention

The Grave Digger of Lesbos

by Christopher T. George
Desert Moon Review

It was never my intent to care for corpses;
I came to Greece to study classical literature.

Nonetheless, I’ve become a soother of the dead:
refugees who arrive here in flimsy boats, too often

fail to land either alive or whole — parts wash ashore;
yet, whole or part doesn’t bother me — I bury them all

according to Sharia law. Do the same for a foot,
wash it tenderly, shroud it in white cotton cloth,

pray facing Mecca: “Allah forgive our living
and our dead”
— shaded by Sappho’s olive trees.


In this poem, the author chooses an atypical narrator to address the plight of the Muslim refugees arriving in Greece, too often”failing to land either alive or whole.” Following the burial precepts of Sharia law, he becomes “a soother of the dead.” The poet presents the grave digger without embellishment; we know only that he came to Greece “to study classical literature”, allowing the reader to participate in the poem “shaded by Sappho’s olive trees.” --Joan Colby

Honorable Mention

A Fox as Fey Totem

by Laurie Byro
Babilu

For DH Lawrence

Why does the fox that divides the grass tempt me so?
Hasn’t the black whip of the snake hardened my heart?

Left behind, I seem to have a knack for abandonment.
A coven of vixen skulks from its den, stealthy and mad

as dreams. They are a brown crust of sleep that fades
into red-ribbon sunrise. These feral children summon

me; my soul is a dark forest. Like any forsaken creature,
I lap up my philosophy of blood. I have no conscience:

I seek out these scarlet whores as I name my unborn children.
And you, Fox about to disappear into mist, a red gash

of autumn still asleep on my chin. You have charmed me into
embracing my savage self. They call me the disciple of Rasputin,

the Godson of Caliban. Is love such a fiendish discipline: my beard,
pelt red, my dog’s head throbbing scandal, my heart drenched

in Holy wine? I am beguiled by sly brides. I have been reluctantly corrupted.
Oh, to be surrounded by vixen in the seductive tapestry of trees.

I have not confessed my intent, nor left my warm bed
of dreams to meet them among a sentinel of fir. If you examine

my crooked heart, you shall see I am both beast and master,
gamekeeper and vixen, a rifle and a thieving fox.


Lawrence’s animal poems are invoked in these lyrical lines in which the poet embraces the fox, the snake, the dog, and feral children to, as he puts it, “examine my crooked heart.” --Joan Colby


  • August 2017 Winners

    • First Place

      Seasoned with Love
      by Eira Needham
      PenShells

      Second Place

      Ill-used
      by Paul A. Freeman
      The Write Idea

      Third Place

      A Note for Perilous Times
      by Fred Longworth
      PenShells

      Honorable Mention

      Whatever Glorious Else It Is
      by Guy Kettelhack
      Wild Poetry Forum

  • July 2017 Winners

    • First Place

      Corton Beach Holiday Camp, Great Yarmouth
      by Marilyn Francis
      The Write Idea

      Second Place

      Still Waltzing with You
      by Allen M. Weber
      Desert Moon Review

      Third Place

      The Aging Magician Speaks to His Reflection
      by Laurie Byro
      Desert Moon Review

      Honorable Mention

      Seeking Duende
      by Richard Chase
      Desert Moon Review

      Honorable Mention

      Dr. Seuss’s Guide to Manly Health and Training
      by Paul A. Freeman
      The Write Idea

      Honorable Mention

      Resonance
      by Sylvia Evelyn
      Babilu

      Honorable Mention

      celebrating the 45th anniversary of Father’s Day
      by Michael Virga
      The Writer's Block