Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March 2013 Challenge Winners - Poems about Poverty

Rick Roberts, author of one of the March example poems judged the Poetry Challenge this month. When I asked him if he would do so, he commented on the subjectivity that is always involved in judging poetry, and added, Quite often a better constructed poem lacks the emotional impact of one that may be more raw and honest. . . .  The words that move me, that knock my socks off, will always carry the day with me.”

Roberts listed two poems as tied for second and third place, saying, “Both of these poems are full of subtle and forceful imagery. They were wonderful, each in their own way.” Here are the two runner-up poems:

Dead End Kid

          The photo on his bureau 
is studio-precise: Knickered.
Eight years old. Shining Irish face.
I see my father hidden here.
Long ago, this boy was posed in a fancy parlor
drawn down from a painted canvas roll—
He'd been dusted off, fussed over
like any robber baron's son
for this oddity-- a satin-lit vignette—
A boy standing beside a wooden chair.
Placed on the wooden seat there is
a small bouquet.
           It was slums that welcomed newcomers—
not Fifth Avenue mansions. My father's home
waited five floors up noisy tenement stairs. 
My father's tenement childhood ran with an alley gang—
kicking cats and heaving bricks before Rosary at bed.
His mother died sometime after her steerage voyage.
The aunts lived on, old maids, polishing
the mahogany floors and brushing the velvet
of an elegant age. They gossiped
over Venial Sins of both rich and poor.
But it was Mortal what they did to him—
They told the boy "The Drunkard" was dead.
At eighteen, my father met his father
in a box at an Irish Wake.
           My father's childhood hovers
in family shadows and the shallows
held by an antique camera lens.
I understand the Friday drinking and the Irish Luck
that trapped him here, going silver 
with the small bouquet on a wooden chair.

~ Francis Toohey

Francis Toohey is a painter and writer working in Mexico. His chapbook, The Household, was published in 1989. Goodfellow Editions is publishing a full volume of his poems entitled The Great Gods later in this year (2013).


She stands in the midst of the busy road
all 40, maybe 50 pounds,
wind from passing vehicles blowing her threadbare dress.
Hair and skin the color of dessert and dust,
distant brown eyes
hardly seeing.

She stands in dry heat, diesel fumes, and danger
at the curve while
vehicles of visiting gringos slow, then motor past
her arm extended to collect
coins thrown her way
into a cup.

Every day I see her from my safe, soft seat
en route to that day’s adventure.
Our driver quickly passes
the same dress, same cup, same eyes.
She stands and 
I wonder.

For months I’d saved my money to
Escape to Paradise!
Each day she seeks coins
and hope
and dreams to get away.

~ Katie O’Connell

Katie O’Connell is a writer,  educator, and enthusiast of all things creative. Having worked in the publishing industry as well as in the classroom, she has always loved words and writing, but only recently has dedicated time to refining and publishing some of my own creative works.

Now for the winning Poem:

A city water spigot at the end of a narrow alley
Rusted bucket, grey rag
She shivers, she is naked
No sunlight reaches her between the cement block buildings
At ten years old, she is the size of a six year old
Can this small bit of water clean her body?
Can anything ever clean her emotionally?
The scars of abuse? Can they be taken away?
Tonight she will sleep under the eaves of someone else’s home
She may not eat until tomorrow
Yet now, now all she has is this bucket she found
This rag that she found which is as good as the clothes she wears
Day after day
He must be tough
He must laugh with the others
Money exchanged for a small plastic baggie
Running, running, running
To the next hit and the next
Tonight he will sleep inside at least
On the cement floor, wrapped in the thinnest of blankets
Tomorrow he will run and run some more
So he can eat a piece of stale bread
Tears run down her cheek
And drip onto her baby
He does not notice, he continues to cry
She rocks him and sings to him
This will not ease his hunger but there is nothing else to do
People walk by and don’t notice
Other babies cry today and no one notices
There are too many babies crying to notice
But, she thinks, this is my baby
My baby crying
A coin falls at her feet
And another
Thank you, thank you, thank you
She whispers
It has been days since she’s had a real meal
But now today her baby can have a bite
Tomorrow may not come
She can feed her baby today

~ Chris Kincaid

Roberts said this poem "left me breathless." He described it as “Raw and amazing.  Full of immediacy and all the desperation and agony of its vision.”

Kincaid wrote, “When I was in Kenya on a mission trip, one of the places we visited was Mathare Slum. The poverty there was so overwhelming. What can one person do to help any of these orphans or widows? So many pictures from that day remain vivid in my memory. The young girls sell their bodies and the young boys run drugs. HIV-positive women who have been widowed or abandoned by their husbands do whatever they can to find food for their children.”

Her memoir of this trip, A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven, shares the efforts of those who are trying to make a difference in the Slums of Nairobi. The book is available online at, Barnes and Noble and Life Sentence Publishing. There is a Kindle version, in addition to the paperback book. You can find out more about the author on her blog at

Congratulations to the three poet winners this month. And thanks to Rick Roberts for judging the contest and to the other poets who entered the challenge contest.  The poets published on this blog retain copyright of their own poems.

Check back on April 1 for the new poetry challenge.

© 2013 Wilda Morris