Winning Poems for December 2018

Judged by Jeanette Beebe

First Place


by Kenny A. Chaffin

I’m glad you got new tires
I wouldn’t have thought of that
unless the weather got bad
and you were on the road.

I don’t think of much of anything
these days, just sit in front
of the TV or computer not
thinking, not even reading

much any more. Sometimes
making words like these
on paper or sometimes
not even that.

This poem is complex, which feels both satisfying and surprising. The voice is direct and relatable, which makes us feel closer to the poem. I hear a faint echo of William Carlos Williams's poem, "This is just to say." The repetition of simple nouns (weather, road, days, TV, computer) supports this effect. The atmosphere is so familiar that the most novel, unexpected word might be "tire," even though it's in the title and the first line. The mood overall is intimate and non-threatening — so when the final line arrives, and the poem ends with a sense of loss, the shift is poignant. This is impressive, really, because the poem has somehow managed to convey what it feels like to face a loss that is there — it means something — yet isn't traumatic. Much creative work focuses on more intense, dramatic losses; it's surely rarer for a writer to successfully translate this type of unease. Even the poem's form helps this effort: the final sentence ends in a rhythm that feels abrupt, and the last line's empty space (after "even that") confirms this feeling of coldness. --Jeanette Beebe

Second Place

Scouring Pots While the World Ends

by Elizabeth Koopman
Wild Poetry Forum

The world is ending.
Tom is playing banjo
and I am cooking supper.
Some crazy shot a dozen people
in a synagogue.
The president continues to lie
about everything he can get his hands on.

And did I mention that the world is ending?

I don’t mean “My world is ending.”
I have grief of my own,
uncertainty, and fear,
but that’s being alive.
I’m talking about The World.

The president says
he’s greater than sliced bread
and all the rest is a lie.
But that’s not the end of the world.
Nor are the shootings
or the pipe bombs
or the evil baby who
threw a tantrum and became
a Supreme Court Justice.
These are deep cracks
but can heal.

But I’m telling you the world is ending.
Are you listening?
It has already begun.
The poles are losing their ice.
Islands are awash,
heat waves longer.
What doesn’t drown will burn
before we are ready to die.

So why am I washing dishes now,
while Tom wipes the counters?
Because we are animals
with hearts and minds;
because habit is strong
and we are attached
to the good there is.
But we can’t forget
the world is ending.

This is not a perfect poem: the language drifts into cliché and invective that isn't convincing and doesn't feel fresh. But it is big. It is ambitious. It has something to say. And its message is conveyed in a way that's both competent and slightly surprising. The strategy is mature and not distracting — that is, the language still shines through. The poem is strongest in moments like "because habit is strong / and we are attached" (final stanza) and "Are you listening? / It has already begun." These lines are quite good: "What doesn't drown will burn / before we are ready to die." --Jeanette Beebe

Third Place

Poetry in the Cultural Revolution

by Bob Bradshaw
The Waters

Soldiers stormed in, ripping doors
and cabinets open like wounds.
I clung to mother’s leg

as they pried up planks
for signs of treachery: books.
Hadn’t neighbors seen shelves of poetry

stacked from floor to ceiling?
Where were they?
Father was dragged away

as neighbors watched,
covering their ears, hurrying off
when Mother tried to speak to them.

There were rumors that Father
played piano in his youth, booming out
anti-revolutionary songs.

His list of treacheries grew: the name
of Li Po rolling like a grenade
into our house one morning.

Mother disappeared. Hadn’t she led
children in singing poems? Wasn’t poetry
as dangerous as temples?

I joined a stage group, where I drew
my biggest applause denouncing
my parents as counter revolutionaries,

citing how my father wrote poems
the way a traitor makes bombs—
at night, alone.

The way this poem ends stays with you: it's strong and elegant at the same time. Figuring a poet in the light of a bomb-maker is beautiful and moving. It echoes other parts of the poem, which use image and comparison so skillfully. The opening tercet's "ripping doors / and cabinets open like wounds" is lovely. Imagining a poet as a traitor resonates far wider than the image itself — there is also the "I" in the penultimate stanza, who denounces the parents as counter revolutionaries for applause on a stage, and, arguably, the writer of this poem. --Jeanette Beebe

  • February 2020 Winners

    • First Place

      My Beautiful Body
      by Mary MacGowan
      The Waters

      Second Place

      by Allen M. Weber
      The Waters

      Third Place

      by Peter Halpin
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Honorable Mention

      Only the Good Things
      by Paul A. Freeman
      The Write Idea

  • January 2020 Winners

    • First Place

      consider crossing
      by Allen M. Weber
      The Waters

      Second Place

      by Ken Ashworth
      The Waters

      Third Place

      The Elucidating Imbecility
      by Guy Kettelhack
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Honorable Mention

      Love Letters
      by K.R. Copeland
      The Waters