All Love Is Outlaw

by John Wilks
The Write Idea
Third Place (Tie), March 2012
Judged by John Timpane


Lob a grenade into the Scrabble bag,
see what the shrapnel spells. One act of love:
a terrorist kisses his wife goodbye
and all love is outlaw. If evil feels
the same as the man on the omnibus
without a back-pack, then no heart is safe.

No heart is safe. We muster our tiles
to make high-scoring words, while concealing
our worst letters. To deceive in order
to win. Darling, when I say I ZQVX you,
understand I need a blank. An empty space
which could hold anything. Those are the rules.


If the rest of this poem failed utterly, I’d still revere it for the passage “Darling, when I say I ZQVX you,/ understand I need a blank.” We have here a very handy extended metaphor, in a poem that blows up the game board, just to start. It’s a flashy move but does not fall flat, thanks to the lovely “see what the shrapnel spells.” The poem insists on the explosive randomness of love, on the essentially deceitful nature of courtship (“We muster our tiles/ to make high-scoring words, while concealing/ our worst letters.”), on love as a game for which the rules are blank, are any- and everything. I very much like the “if . . . then” faux-reasoning of lines 4-6, followed by the pat confirmation of “No heart is safe” across the space in line 7. Just terrific movement throughout, using line endings in a canny, funny, lancing fashion. This little poem packs a dense wallop, almost as if it were the Big Bang in reverse. It covers so much ground in such a short space, giving the impression of long-lived, long-observed experience. It’s a poem of thought and action, ever-unrolling, eye always on the surprise. It taught me a lot. ---John Timpane

  • 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