Winning Poems for November 2019

Judged by Laurie Byro

First Place


by JJ Wiliamson

This morning’s April showers taste much sweeter,
now that winter’s storms have flown. A blow
of warmth, at last, and borders look much neater,
and how the dormant seeds are set to grow.

All around the shrubs and plants demand
the gardener’s touch, the thrust of patient hands
to turn the soil and tame the raging grass.
Thirsty skies are no longer overcast.

The trays and cold frames heave with tangled flowers,
and silver koi revive to stir the pond.
Spring’s eager dance reclaims the dawn. Those hours
of anxious eyes, of gales and sighs are done.

I sense the chill of winter scurry past
and listen to the trill of birds, at last.

Who can resist a perfectly executed iambic pentameter sonnet? I cannot, I find them maddingly difficult to write. I know "sonnet" means "little song" and I know it is 14 lines, but only having written a few successful ones, I shall call myself ignorant and have to do some research. Luckily, our Poetry Circle is discussing Shakespearean sonnets, so I am pretty confident that this sonnet is a Shakespearean sonnet.  I will go out on a limb and also say that other than the obvious odd enjambment, there are headless iambs littered here and there and also, feminine line ends. I have a sonnet mentor instructing me on the differences between feminine and masculine stresses. The feminine, I am told, makes for the softer sound befitting nature: Keats, Wordsworth, (always gushing on about flowers, bowers etc) emphasized feminine stresses. If I have an argument with this sonnet, it would be the title, announcing itself with horns: "Rapture" but that is a small quibble, and I am not even sure if it is "wrong" with so much "right" going for it. I shall put aside my only swerving and conclude regardless of title: this is a ravishing poem. The final couplet announces Spring, and as we approach winter and generally snowy ones in New Jersey, this poem reminds me of the delight of looking through bulb catalogs. It a promise that nearly warms us as we bundle up, a winter's occupation.  Silver Koi is another delight stirring the poem. I give this poem high marks for making the most difficult form (I believe) look easy, and while it is old-fashioned, it is the time of year where we need to be reminded of tradition. A good poem, should make us just a little homesick of past pleasures. I am very content in giving this little perfectly 14 pointed star that melts into Spring, a first place. --Laurie Byro

Second Place (tie)

Red Spider Lilies

by Bob Bradshaw
The Writer's Block

Spider lilies line our garden path,
like a crowd carrying red candles.
It’s said they guide the dead
to their afterlife.

We strode this same walkway,
hands laced together.
Under August nights, we shared
moon cakes and Li Bo’s poems…

By fall you had dropped your hand
for the last time from mine.
It’s said red spider lilies grow
along the path where lovers last depart,

and sure enough more and more
of them leap up from the soil.
Resigned, I think of you
as too distant to be retrieved,

like a released sky lantern, drifting
towards someone else’s embrace

Red Spider Lilies breaks tradition and even uses the lesser known "Li Bo" rather than Li Bai, or Li Po. I am not familiar with this type of lily and discovered that it was introduced to Japan from China, I wondered why Li Po and not Basho, but the poem reminds me of a Li Po poem, the River Merchant's wife, when he or she says "by fall you had dropped your hand" echoing the obvious separation. But there are all those allusions to death. We aren't entirely certain if these two are separated by death, but hopeful that this is not a permanent separation as there is so much grace and acceptance in these few strophes. "Hands laced together" (pun intended) is a nice touch. I keep going back to this poem, and almost gave it a tie for first place, it is so gentle and wise, and for its content and brevity, seems Asian in its simplicity. --Laurie Byro

Second Place (tie)

The Big House At Mambalam

by Siva Ramanathan
The Writer's Block


The cattle left Pondicherry in four wheelers
and came to T-Nagar in Mambalam,

straight to their sheds behind the house
where partitions were made for cows and buffaloes.
They settled down, they wagged off flies.

The clay pot soon filled up with kitchen waste—
the uncooked, the peels, and rice-washed water,
all for the fodder trough.

The dung used to make gobar gas
reached the kitchen through PVC pipes.

Daughter-in-law number one did puja;
she took Aarti with camphor and incense
and worshipped the behind, where the tail started,

the dung place—goddess Lakshmi resides there—
she loved to circumambulate,
feed it hummingbird-tree leaves.

The harvest Pongal was celebrated
for the worshipping of cows, buffaloes and goats.

Before the celebration, the courtyard was prepared
for the festivities, topography marked
with pointers in strategic places,

cow dung was lumped as Pillayars
every dawn at the front doorsteps
and crowned with yellow flowers.

The hierarchy of daughters-in-law vied with the daughter
of the house to draw the kolam, a rice flour artwork
with dots and loops, depicting the Sun Lord’s chariot.

Cattle with newly-painted horns in vibrant colours,
wearing huge Hare Krishna beads and mock-silver anklets,
were made to circumambulate the wood-fired brick stove.

Freshly-harvested rice boiled in jaggery, garnished
with cashew nuts and ghee brimmed over as prasad.

Respected and pampered, the cows
received the first offering.


Grandma and little uncle had four chicken coops
for raising broiler chickens. When floods came,
the chickens drowned,

but the cattle were led to higher plains.
Servants and vendors only dared use the side gate.
The long queue was for buying thick buttermilk.

Drumstick trees, mangoes, giant limes, guavas,
sapota, were grown at the back of the compound.

Night jasmines, ixora, wax flower, oleander,
were planted for the gods.
We did not have to purchase flowers.

A few furlongs away, Grandma had a farm
where the well was always full. Beans and gourds
intertwined and every two or three days,

we plucked greens and vegetables.
I tagged along with her to the family farm.

Inside the house’s inner courtyard, uncles sat
with hand-woven towels wrapped around their waists,
while their wives rubbed gingelly oil on their bodies

for the ritual oil bath. I vowed never to get married
if this was one of a wife’s duties,
little realizing they enjoyed it.

Now the big house is demolished, the family farm levelled,
concrete flats tower, and the well is full no more.

As I said previously, I am a sucker for travel inspired poetry. There are many traditions in this poem and references that I needed to look up. We know from the worshipping of the cows this is India.  I found quite a lot of information on Hindu mythology. I love the story as it unfolds, the naming of the flowers, the big house being demolished at the end, echoing Chekhov, so much to like in this poem.  Rather than give it a third, it is long and every part seems necessary, true, well observed and sensual. It is a little taste of traveling to an exotic place, and satisfies the traveler in me.  --Laurie Byro

Third Place (tie)

What Have I Done to Thee O Muse

by Peter Halpin
Wild Poetry Forum

As I try to write a good poem
my mind wonders off on its own
following little bits of odd thought
down rabbit holes or out to mountains
where it perches itself on an overhang
and without fear, jumps into a snow deep valley.

But here I sit in my bedroom gazing out
at bending trees and whirling leaves
as the reluctance of autumn dances
around the rage of winter.
What’s the point, I think, I am undone,
not a poetic thought in my head, I am
as the alabaster duck on my wall, stuck
always in mid-flight and going nowhere.

Write what you know they say
to the sad realization that I know nothing.
All my days spent accumulating a well
of useless information, suppressed emotions
and little insight into anything other than
the need to go ostrich and bury my head.

O for a Grecian Urn or a Snowy Wood,
the muse to see beyond the black and white
of everyday. But here I squander in a bed
of dead daffodils, waiting for enlightenment
to take me to the shores of Byzantium
on the back of a compliant dolphin.While inside
the periscope to my brain I crave coffee,
toast and marmalade.

What Have I Done to Thee O Muse, with its sly nod to craft and block with a conversational Billy Collins tone deserves a chance at POTY.  "A bed of dead daffodils" is a hoot, as are the other literary references. We all could use a good chuckle, an occasional left or right jab at our muse. --Laurie Byro

Third Place (tie)

World Affairs

by Kenny A. Chaffin
Wild Poetry Forum

When I heard my sister
had collaborated with the Chinese
I called Donald
he’d know what to do

But his tongue was gone
his twitter fingers removed
by the Saudis
MBS not responsible

Another reprehensible interrogation
gone wrong but cheered
by Putin whose secrets
will remain sealed

like terracotta warriors
in a mausoleum of despair
my sister’s tears streaming
down Chairman Kim’s cheeks

I am certain that some will not find this poem funny nor deserving an award, and yet "World Affairs" cracks me up. Who can resist the final images, and I say "bravo" for a poet taking a risk. Didn't Williams say we can't always get the news through poetry?  I think the last strophe with those terracotta warriors and the image of tears, earns a tie for 3rd place.  --Laurie Byro

Honorable Mention


by Mary MacGowan
The Waters

The annoying physical traits
have not yet arrived.
The narrow dripping of the nose.
The cough. The itchy ankle, so quiet.

Birds gather at the safflower feeder
but hummingbirds still refuse
to drink after mold showed up.

Somehow I swam through the night
and ended up here
on the heart attack bench.

And the legs. How still the legs.
The swallowing
to see if the throat still hurts.

Honorable Mention

A Can of Grandma Figlioto’s Pasta Sauce

by Daniel J. Flore III

I’m looking at
the blurry slow motion picture
of a heavyset Italian woman
on a pasta sauce can
she moves back and forth
almost hypnotic
in my eyes
gently rocking
my weakened body
with the “old country” recipe of hers I just ate
and her black
Italian eyes and lips
that keep repeating