Poem of the Year:
May 2011-Apr 2012

Judged by Toi Derricotte

First Place

Yard Work

by Dale McLain
Wild Poetry Forum
April 2012

The shed is orderly, all muted shades,
and there within I am a glimmer.
The air smells of cedar and rust.
I find shears in a coffee can,
wrapped in flannel, blades ready
still to whisper in polished sighs.
In this beautiful solitude, I cut the sapphire

threads stitched on me, cipher
of disregard, a pilfered incantation.
The pure laziness of affection
staggers me, as if it were a bundle
of broken branches thrust at me.
Now I hope for a late frost to dull the glass,
clouds to tether the sky, a night cold

enough to sleep a silvery sleep.
But the year has lost its keen edge
and by mid-day it is too warm
to weave into this poem. I am hungry
for some faith, a curtain of radiant light
to shield me, but there are flowers
instead. A confection of blushing buds

trembles against the cloudbank.
Listen, I exaggerate. The days are sweet,
laden with splendid little sufferings.
I feel like a saint until nightfall when sin
nips my heels. I hate this weather though,
the frail cusp of spring, all tender and bright.
It reminds me of everything that ever died.

My choice for first prize is “yard work.” It is a poem that begins, simply and clearly, with a gardener picking up garden shears in early spring. Its unexpected power lies in the poet’s ability to skillfully capture his/her ambivalence--an appreciation of spring’s coming beauty coupled with an equal dread of the process that starts before the first bloom and leads irrevocably to death. In the first stanza the poet is looking at herself/himself from a distance: “The shed is orderly, all muted shades, / and there within I am a glimmer.” Then, unexpectedly, the poet leads us deeper into an interior realm, “I am hungry/ for some faith, a curtain of radiant light/ to shield me . . .” At the end the emotions take center stage and, in a kind of exaltation, blossom fully. “I hate this weather though, / the frail cusp of spring, all tender and bright. / It reminds me of everything that ever died.” The depth of this cry indicates a terrible and unspoken loss that has come to the surface of consciousness. The poet’s use of language, music, and form creates a lyric brightness that celebrates, as it mourns, the passage of time. ---Toi Derricotte

Second Place

The Lost Daughter

by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review
March 2012

I have three daughters. They say I snatched them
from the earth. But the first appeared in a sugar cube I left

on the window one night after the snow-moon was round.
The second I grew from a seed in a brown porcelain cup.

The last came through my belly after I left on a train.
Everything I wanted I kept finding. Others lose a country,

a lover, a key to make things start. I lost my tongue
and the moon. I had to buy back my loss with keening.

I left their dream-music buttoned-up safe on their pillows.
When I knocked on the door of Patience, there was no reply.

I lost the word that contains all the syllables for mother,
for daughter. My mothers-heart knows the salt and sand

of her as she makes herself known to me. When I read
bedtime stories to them, we were afraid of wolves, afraid of lies.

These woods are full of them large or small, slow or stealthy,
they yip and dance before me skirting the fire while braving

the cold. How strong these lies must be to make them
so bold. I know which sleep-songs I shall never toss away.

I am like the stranger at the rail of a ferry. I search for the last
wave of a hand, the names I knew in a dark, sleeping land.

My second choice is “The Lost Daughter.” This is a mysterious poem with mythic overtones that, like nursery rhymes, holds the sense of something common and familiar that feels, at the same time, imminent and dangerous. Though the circumstances remain unclear, the poet’s adept use of form brings me back to speculate on and enjoy its illusiveness and contradictions. ---Toi Derricotte

Third Place


by Brenda Levy Tate
January 2012

Pearls – a row of fish’s teeth –
rose-dot cheeks, cranberry smile.
Thick braid with all the gold
memories twining my ears.
Lacy throat, where creases
hang under the fluff. Bouquet
on my chest, with every bloom
in the birch-carven world.

Uncap my head and another
woman stares out – eclipsed
by my larger incarnation.
A clutch of hyacinths spreads
over some small wound.
I am diminished, like a cat
who follows walls and pleads
for some way past them.
A cat with emerald eyes,
pretending to be human, who
will not walk another way.

Inside, the third girl blinks
at unexpected light. Shy
as a luna moth, speckles
on my hair. Blown from wings,
perhaps, or shed like layers
of myself, doll within doll,
face behind face. I carry
a crocus: Abuse Not.

I open, open and open – gem
crown to prisoner’s wire barbs.
Lilies crumple over scarred
hearts – Mary as her pain begins,
Magdalene with drenched hair,
old shadows bent above one
fallen stone. Wax from a ring
of candles is pouring down.
I crush a thorn branch.

Only a splinter woman remains
now, on the right-hand side.
I am no longer certain
she wears my name, or any
other part I valued once.
Still, she may hold the rosemary
that I grow in my window,
flowerless but grace-filled,
caught in the last atom of all.

My third choice is “Matryoshka,” in which the poet takes a look at the complexity of personality. Its vivid imagery reminds us that strange and unrelated women live at the same time in each woman. ---Toi Derricotte