Winning Poems for November 2020

Judged by Jim McGarrah

First Place

Notorious RBG

by Laurie Byro

Insects don’t have politics. Insects are brutal. The Fly–David Cronenberg
(with a line from Wallace Stevens).

From where I am, you still have to play a clever game of Bridge, letting them
know what they suspect already, but not so obvious they kill the messenger.

Should I perpetuate the myth, that it’s all harps and angels here?
That the worst danger is, by dodging a cloud you land on a lightning bolt?
I didn’t go out in peace, my last breath was fighting for a better future.

I have finally swallowed that lesson: life is not always fair. Sure we win
a few but we do lose the rest; I have learned to play with the Big Boys.

Sometimes in order to acquiesce, I have been known to become the cloud.
Some would tell you, I have also been known to become the lightning bolt.
Which is why, during that spectacularly brutal display of arrogance

and chauvinism, interrupted by privilege, I gathered up my ugliest self.
You ever read Kafka? Well here, I am not destined to remain stagnant

and stuck, so for fleeting moments I took center stage. Enduring a whiff
of cloying cologne, manly sweat: I became a heavenly labial in a world
of gutturals. This time, without even opening my mouth: I created a buzz.

Persona in Latin means mask. In poetry it is a form the poem takes when the writer becomes or speaks as someone else. The writer in this voice speaks directly to the reader and because of this can often create an interpersonal relationship with said reader. This poem does just that and you can see the inherent value. A sense of immediate intimacy is created by. Speaking to us from heaven we are reminded in a conversational and yet reflective way by Ruth Bader Ginsburg that she was human, not a mythical creature, with the same hopes and fears and desires. The playful imagery between being human and being a spirit works well and reminds us of Ginsburg’s contributions metaphorically while alive. In some decisions in order to get along in her role she was “a cloud” while in others “a lightning bolt.” --Jim McGarrah

Second Place

To My Old Age

by Bob Bradshaw
The Waters

Huffing uphill leaves
my legs heavy as grief,
the trees panting
as if at any moment

one will place its limbs
on its hips,
arms akimbo
like a training instructor

at the gym, his new
and elderly client
–as my ex always claimed–
a disappointment.

At home I thwack
the hi-hats in the den
every time I walk by,
the ringing vibrations

like my a-fib.
How did this happen—
decades lost, as if swept off
by a furious broom.

There are creams
that promise to erase
my wrinkles, hair implants
to recover the lost

ringlets of my youth.
Everywhere young women
pushing baby carriages
in the Japanese tea garden

look less like wives
in their mid 20s
and more like girls
who should be taking notes

in a high school
biology class.
It’s odd how koi
and the pink faces of oleander

are the subjects
I now take note of,
as if old age
is a class without grades,

and one I hope never
to drop out of.

This is a keen observation of what it feels like to recognize mortality and the uncontrollable urge to stop the passing of time, or at least slow it down. The lines are short, which adds to an ever-increasing urgency as the images speed down the page. The images are clear and unobtrusive and lend themselves to the feeling that what is lost can never be recovered. Denise Levertov in her seminal book The Poet in the World argues that there is no such thing as “Free Verse” poetry. Every poem is organic in form. In other words no poem is without some kind of form, one which grows organically in harmony with the substance. She also posits that poets are not creators, they are translators. What they translate is human experience into language so that it can be felt by readers. This poem is a good example of both those theories. --Jim McGarrah

Third Place

Beggar’s Lice

by Ken Ashworth
The Writer's Block

First, the lush green

tendrils make

a basil rosette.

Beneath the wither

of summer

she brittles,

dispersing her little

ones, the stickseed,

onto the down

of a doe’s coat

or between the

ribs of passing


to be reborn

as a mother on

the forest floor.

Often, a poem becomes successful through the simplicity of its form and language because what it ends us relaying to a reader is a discovery or a reminder of something profound. Here, the magnificent cycle of nature, of all life, as it has been occurring and re-occurring for eons of time is laid out for the reader in one brief synecdoche. A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a term for a part of something refers to the whole of something or vice versa. It’s a interesting craft tool for poets because we often use it subconsciously and naturally as a way of describing an action that is greater than the sum of its parts. This poem provides us with a good example of that usage. --Jim McGarrah