Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Winning Poem for April 2010

The consulting judge for April, Iowa poet and writer Lorene Hoover, selected “Will Write for Canapés” as the winning poem. Hoover liked the narrative approach and said she was sure “there are many people like Thurston.” Maybe you know some of them!

Will Write For Canapés

Thurston grew thin and brittle, no longer
able to hover, elbow his rivals away from
the hors d’oeuvres. Instead he lingered
hopefully in an overstuffed chair for dainty
bits—barely enough to sustain a beetle—
on a smallish plate fetched for him by young
lady poets with svelte figures and large
appetites for encouragement, whose fathers
had urged them to become secretaries.

We called him The Cleanup Man since in
his prime he never missed a writers' reception
or awards banquet where he deftly reduced
the food tray to a wasteland, vanished like a
giant chipmunk with bulging cheeks, pockets.

In his lonely room, propped up by four pillows
on his Murphy Bed, he worked on five poems
side by side, skipped meals, munched on stale
crackers, moldy cheese leftover from his last
triumph, rummaged trade invitations to the
next small press award or writers' benefit
whose notices he pasted on the wall with
rancid peanut butter.

Thurston's work had its interest and its audience,
well-crafted, if predictable, poems about winning
motorized wheelchair races at zero-to-sixty miles
per hour down the corridors of the Indy 500
Nursing Home, fights to the death with tentacled
respirators, but nothing of the poetry to be found
in a lightly sauced Lobster Newburg or a hearty
Eggs Benedict because his stomach would howl --
it was like trying to chew recipes.

His poems got him into the worst
and the best receptions in the city:
from the upscale congregation of Poetry,
to the Jiffy Peanut Butter with Gallo Jug
Wine buffet for donators to the latest
desktop collector’s issue—Friends of
the Poet, Volume One, the One and Only.

It was not that he lacked discrimination,
it was just that he had to eat. Social Security
barely covered his rent, and Thurston
was serious when he joked that he was
the only one of us who actually made
a living off his poetry.

And so he accepted The Final Invitation
with a shriveled grin in an overstuffed
wing chair, teeth clenched on a shrimp
scampi, and when the proofreader who
moonlighted as a mortician, couldn't pry
the cheese ball loose from his grip,
we gave up and buried Thurston with it,

but for a year afterwards, no one had any
appetite for canapés, and the piled up
leftovers had to be shoveled into bins
for the homeless.

-- Tom Roby

Tom Roby, who is the President of the Poets Club of Chicago, is the author ofShape Shifterand other books of poetry.

Among the phrases which boosted this poem to first place in the April challenge are “elbow his rivals” and "appetites for encouragement” in the first stanza, which help draw the reader in. The idea of attending poetry events primarily for the refreshments and thus to "made / a living off his poetry" is a clever commentary on the fact that poets are often "paid" only in copies. Hoover says that the conclusion is “yummy, satisfying.”

Students at a middle school in Batavia, Illinois, took the challenge. They were given a different deadline, one which fit their class schedule. Thus, a Junior Winner for the April Challenge will be announced soon.

NOTE: Winning poems posted on this blog are sole property of the poets who submitted them.

© 2010 Wilda Morris