Winning Poems for December 2020

Judged by Jim McGarrah

First Place


by Judy Kaber
The Waters

It’s not like I was hungry from the start.
I just returned the stares from those in need
of touch. I couldn’t keep myself apart.

I wasn’t good at music or at art,
but I knew how to germinate a seed.
It’s not like I was hungry from the start,

but boys just fell into my open heart
and propped their feet up there. So I agreed
to touch. I couldn’t keep myself apart

from red and tender lips. I’d hate to chart
How many boys I kissed. It wasn’t greed.
It’s not like I was hungry from the start.

If tenderness were graded, I’d be smart,
I’d get an A. They all knew how to read
my touch. I couldn’t keep myself apart

from love. (Or was it lust?) One would depart,
a face of salt and glass—another came to feed.
It’s not like I was hungry from the start.
But touch! I couldn’t keep myself apart.

For something given, something else is usually taken away. This is often true in poetry. One of the many reasons the American Modernist poets quit working in forms was because they saw a specific form as limiting. Other technical and substantive craft tools needed to be expressed in a burgeoning American idiom. Sacrificing those tools to make a rhyme scheme work became untenable. Thus, the popularity of vers libre, or free verse. This is arguable, of course, as proven by the many excellent poets (i.e. Theodore Roethke, Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and W.H. Auden, among others) who continued using forms throughout the 20th century. This poem is a fine example of both form and substance. The form is called a Villanelle. A chiefly French verse form, it runs on two rhymes and consists of five tercets and a quatrain in which the first and third lines of the opening tercet recur alternately at the end of the other tercets and together as the last two lines of the quatrain. And, it is difficult to use without convoluting language and sacrificing imagery. “Avaricious” achieves that balance quite well. It begins as an apparent treatise on greed as evidenced by the title, but by the end the poet has discovered greed is closely related to need, that hunger is about more than food, and appetite can become obsession. Very impressive. --Jim McGarrah

Second Place

To James Bulger, aged 2, murdered February 1993
by two boys aged 10 in Liverpool, England

by Christopher T. George

Everybody’s little boy
— the mounds of bouquets
near the railway embankment say so.
The surprised little face
Ninja turtle tee shirt
“Take my hand, I’m your friend.”

The blurred images on the video:
child’s hand holding child’s hand
The New Strand Shopping Centre
Liverpool . . . Walton . . . Bootle.
There are places I remember
Take my hand: I wanna hold your hand.

When I was younger
so much younger than today
I remember time
when eyes were knee high
when everything seemed beautiful.
His mother in the butcher’s shop.
Come together, “Hold my hand.”

The mound of bouquets
by the railway embankment
for everybody’s little boy.
There are places I’ll remember
all my life, though some have changed
some forever but not for better.

The photograph among the flowers
of the surprised little face
Ninja turtle tee shirt
— a sadness so deep,
its tears leave us spectator
to a video image, an unlived life.

Like “the blurred image on this video” what constitutes an elegy is ambiguous even though it is a time-honored type of poem in the English language. This poem can certainly be called an elegy as it laments the death of a child, which is always a somber and tragic affair. But the poem does more than that. It reminds us of the fact that cruelty has no age limits. It shows us the power of visual imagery—being taken secondhand from a video. It reminds us how we remember and reflect by incorporating lyrics from old Beatles songs that can help connect us vicariously to the scene. Mostly, beyond the horror, it helps us accept the value of the time we have left to live. --Jim McGarrah

Third Place

Dr. Pachango’s Mango

by Jim Fowler

My lady Sally, don’ you dally
wit no poet mans!
Needs yo carin’, so you be rarin’
fo easy lovin wit dees hans!
When we tango, ma hand on your mango,
soft bottom, so sweet an’ low!
Poets they tight, jus don’ feel right
to a sweet womans like you, I kno.
Music at night, me squeezin’ you tite
moon showin’ new love thru.
Sally, o Sally, don’ you dally,
sachet wit dis man, loves you tru.

Sometimes in the creation of poems, ambition is important. I don’t mean commercial ambition, but rather the desire to take a big risk, to do something no one else around you is doing. Uniqueness, a fresh perspective, is one aspect that can make writing become art. I’m not saying poems written in dialect are new. One of the most often quoted lines of poetry ever written comes from Robert Burns in the 18th century—"O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!”—Oh what a precious gift he gives us / to see ourselves as others see us. I’m saying it’s a big risk to try and write them in a fresh way that appeals to a universal audience. This effort must be applauded. The dialect in this poem goes a long way in characterizing the narrator, which is one of the things dialect poems are good for. To listen to him talking gives us a more intimate emotional connection with him and therefore with the poem itself than having a third person narrator describe this. He is a passionate man who values physical touch and emotionally expressive activity. You can feel his desire for love as well as being told it exists. --Jim McGarrah