Sunday, October 30, 2016

October 2016 Poetry Challenge Winners

Christine Swanberg, the judge for the October Poetry Challenge picked an interesting “praisesong” as third place winner:

Praisesong In Late October

Praise to the grasshopper, highjumping over the dung.
Praise to the grasses, coming up green in the midst of fall.
Praise to the Douglas firs, vertebrae on the far hill.
Praise to the crooked fence, bent by vinca’s load.
Praise to the fallen apples, let us gormandize them 
into pies and poems.
Praise to the worms that certify them organic.
Praise to the stealthy grey tabby, belly low to the ground.
Praise to the sun, silhouetting the branches of dawn, dusk.
Praise to the flute and the flautist,
etudes gamboling through the valley.
Praise to the shriveled up plums on my tree.
Praise to the rose bush, all thorns and no flowers.
Praise to my cane waiting patiently on its four feet.
Praise to my book and my blanket, my hat and my pillow,
my bottle of water, my notebook and pen.
And praise to this body, this mind, this God
who have brought me to this present moment,
the out breath, the in.

~ Barbara Ruth

The judge commented that “This incantatory poem has some delectable surprises. It begins with an intriguing, unexpected line. The cane is a nice, unexpected touch.”

For second place, Swanberg selected the following:

Indian Summer at Holy Hill

and we stand in the bedazzled warmth
of late afternoon, when the clans
of Schwedler and Birch begin to speak
in reds and yellows. Snatches of words
skim and swoop, sail over the parapet,
race for the cobbled courtyard.
Syllables scuttle across worn paths,
sound out the gusty wind, bump against stone walls.
Children chase these tongues of fire, understand
the foreign alphabet that rustles and crackles beneath
their feet. An unexpected flare flames this October day.
We chatter and laugh as a leaf of perfect crimson
lands on my sweater, a copper fragment snaggles
in my husband’s hair, and everything, everywhere
steeps in the burnished fragrance of now.

~ Mary Jo Balistreri

The judge said of this poem, “The sounds, senses, and specific details create a tantalizing poem that ends well.”

The first place winner this month is a narrative poem:

The Apple Seller

Days are like candles
burning at both ends with dark.
Shortening sunlight panics
the apples into ripening.
Those that don't fall
are plucked, fill buckets,
are trafficked from orchard
to ramshackle road-side shack
where scrawled sign and cheap scales
make for a fleeting autumn store.

While some rake leaves into
mounds of pastel uselessness,
this one taps slow-motion seasons
for their cash: bright red Washington
fruit traded for crisp green Washington
money, a plush, juicy Granny Smith
sold to a bent, age-tarnished Granny Smith.

This makeshift merchant does her business
from ancient lawn-chair while noisy children
race in and out of her legs chasing dogs.
A guy in a Mercedes drives up, is checking
through a bushel so fresh, the smell of tree's
still on their skin. He scowls at the spots,
the bruises. The first law of apples is that
nothing ever tastes like it looks.
The second is that she in rumpled dress,
unwashed hair, a thick wad of dollar notes
oozing from her fist, is the law-giver.

~ John Grey               

Swanberg explained her preference for this poem in the following words: “This poem has a lot going for it: simile, interesting verbs, narrative line, as well as vivid description.”

These poems are the property of the poets who wrote them. Please do not copy them without permission.

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to Christine Swanberg for judging.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, Stillwater Review and Big Muddy Review with work upcoming in Louisiana Review, Cape Rock and Spoon River Poetry Review.  

Mary Jo Balistreri has two books of poetry published by Bellowing Ark Press, a chapbook by Tiger's Eye Press. She is a founder of Grace River Poets, an outreach for schools, churches, and women's shelters. Please visit her at

Barbara Ruth grew up in villages and towns with populations between 300 and 6,000 in the Midwest (US.) Her career goal, when she was twelve and happened upon a book called The Beats, was to move to Greenwich (which she pronounced with a “w”) Village, wear all black, and drink coffee laced with heroin while she snapped her fingers at some cat’s poem. She does, on occasion, wear all black. As an adult she has lived in small towns in Vermont, Massachusetts, Michigan and California. She currently lives in Silicon Valley, which strikes her as very unlikely.

Christine Swanberg has published several books of poetry, including Tonight on This Late Road, Invisible String, Bread Upon the Waters and Who Walks Among the Trees with Charity. Her work appears in numerous anthologies. She has published hundreds of poems in journals such as The Beloit Poetry Journal, Spoon River Quarterly, Amelia, Chiron, Kansas Quarterly, Creative Woman, Earth's Daughters, Mid-America Review, Powatan Review, Midnight Mind, Sow's Ear, Wind, and others.

Swanberg's awards include a featured reading at Seattle’s Frye Museum through Poetswest, first and second place in Peninsula Pulse, first place in Midwest Poetry Review and the Womanspirit Award from Womanspace. She received a merit scholarship to attend the post-graduate seminar at Vermont College, where she worked with the late Lynda Hull.  In addition, several of her poems were selected by the Poetry Center of Chicago for a juried readings.  She has edited Korone; Confluence: A Legacy of Rock River Valley; Land Connections: Writers of North Central Illinois. She founded the  Rock River Poetry Contest and has judged many contests including  Pen Women and Illinois Emerging Writers. She has been a teacher for over thirty years.

Check back on November 1 for a new Poetry Challenge.

© Wilda Morris