Winning Poems for August 2016
Judged by Lee Nash
The Writer's Block
Henry awoke to you racing towards him, Fanny,
your summer dress a fury of flames.
He would rather be mauled by wild dogs
than face that night again,
and blames himself for not saving you,
his wounds minor: hands burned,
his neck disfigured. To this day
he hides his facial scars
with a beard, rough as horse hair.
Friends no longer bring that night up,
and at times Henry must feel
like it never happened.
Yet, when he least expects it,
his beard will envelop him
in a scent of thick
"Longfellow" is the clear winner for me. There were so many fine turns of phrase and much to praise in many poems this month, but this poem stood out as one where the poet has succeeded in his/her craft in creating a whole and polished piece. Clarity and simplicity are the order of the day, and less is more. The form, with its gradually diminishing couplets, echoes the fading away of a memory, although as we see in the last lines, one never really forgets a traumatic event. --Lee Nash
I longed for the time of the deepening,
when a full spring tide rolled pebbles
and shells in Frenchman’s Bay. I was young
and lithe in those weed and kelp days
when boulders seemed lively with menace.
Low water urged me to probe and scramble
around the starfish pools, where limpets
and crab lurked like silent pirates
near the flowering red anemones.
I sensed ozone on the breeze,
watched as kittiwakes and fulmars competed
for the crannies, and still I climbed around
the starfish pools, where whelks
and winkles cruised like privateers
near the flowering red anemones.
The storms had taken their smuggled hoards
of rock, ruined arches and fractured stacks,
and piled them, against the bayhead cliffs, for winter
to grind. I watched sand stir in the currents,
bringing algae and slivers for the starfish
and flowering red anemones.
As the tide turned and the grey North Sea
swashed and gathered, I thought
of high tracks and the green, green leas,
where walkers and dogs strolled and loped,
untouched by salt and whispering spray.
The sun and sea were merciful
during those quiet weed and kelp days.
All Marsden was To Let, all Heaven For Rent,
and the memory of coves and beaches,
caves and cormorants and starfish pools
warmed me, as I took a shortcut home
through the allotments, past the rugby fields,
by the shadows and mansions of Westoe Village,
far away from the flowering red anemones.
In this beautiful and reflective mood piece, gentle rhythms accompany the imagery of the sea's currents and tides. We explore, then return to "the flowering red anemones," a visual anchor to the poet's wanderings. There is well-placed assonance throughout, and the line "All Marsden was To Let, all Heaven For Rent" is a deft touch which lifts the poem briefly out of the blustery physical realm to a place of peaceful retrospection. --Lee Nash
Desert Moon Review
The whoosh of traffic shifts to the ringing silence
of indifference. I surrender it along with reality, step
up from the sidewalk just like as a boy—
inch toward a house now as aged as I am.
Its white paint has flaked
away like the sun-baked skin
of a Marlboro-smoking snowbird. It’s
all meat and bones these days, and yet
I pass the same overgrown aesculus blitzing
our lawn with buckeyes; the descendants
of long-ago squirrels flit across grass
cleverly avoiding its bitter offerings—
they know what poisons are rooted here.
I remember the fear of this plot, how
once I looked out from that window
now blackened as an emptied eye socket.
Through glass I would admire birds with names
I’d never heard of, charcoal angels—
I loved how they could always rise above
this penury. I wonder as I gaze inside
at hollowed spaces of my childhood
if that little boy is peering out; curtains
a cloak from all the rages of those rooms.
This poem effectively captures that strange feeling of disorientation when returning to a place we once knew so well. The stark imagery, for instance "that window / now blackened as an emptied eye socket," "birds with names / I’d never heard of, charcoal angels" and word choices like "bitter" and "poison" suggest an unpacking of a painful past; we watch from the sidelines as the years dissolve and childhood memories return. --Lee Nash