Saturday, August 27, 2016


There were a number of excellent poems submitted to the August Poetry Challenge - the challenge of painting a portrait with words. The judge, Mary Jo Balistreri, selected the following poem as the winner:

Wearing Slippers Now

He shuffles down the long hallway,
studying the number on each closed door.
Which room is mine?  he asks the aide.

Number seven.

Soon he pauses, fingers combing his sparse hair.
I think 
this is it.

She prompts him -
Is there a way you can know for sure?

He furrows his grey eyebrows,
then straightens his rounded shoulders
and looks up.
’Cuz that picture is on the wall?

Yes, you’re doing great, she says. 
Before we open your door,
can you tell me about that photo?

He sighs.
It’s the two of us. 
On a trip.

That’s a fancy shirt you were wearing.

He chews his lip.
She bought it for me 
while we were there.
His eyes overflow.
I miss her,
he whispers.

~ Deetje J. Wildes

Here is what the judge said about this poem:

The Now in the title gives us a picture in itself and is a wonderful introduction to the poem. Why the slippers now?
This poet gives a clear picture of a man alone, in a home, losing his memory, and she does it superbly with verbs, gestures. He shuffles, pauses, asks, combs his sparse hair, furrows his eyebrows, straightens his rounded shoulders, sigh, chews his lip, eyes overflow.
The diction is carefully chosen, and sparse. This along with the smaller font the poet used shows the diminishment that has happened to this man.

Form and content are one. There is a quietness to the poem which adds substantially to the background of the poem.
Not until the penultimate stanza do we see him as he was—in a fancy shirt his wife chose. The finality of her death. The use of a photo itself is brilliant—a moment frozen in time. Past.

After reading this poem many, many times, I also felt the quietness that accompanies loss of memory. “Wearing Slippers Now” will stay with me for a long time.

Balistreri selected another poem for an honorable mention. 

Tikkun Olam*   
for Yvette 1948-2012

Yvette did not turn away
from the pain, the ugliness
of the broken places.
She faced them straight on and asked,
“What can I do?”

She figured out her role
found her work and did it.
Were things getting better?
Of course it mattered
and Yvette would tell you
exactly why it mattered,
who was getting screwed,
what organization
what governing bodies
needed to change.

But it didn’t take a crisis
for her to show up.
She stood her ground
when others drifted off.

I never knew if she was hopeful
or discouraged.
She met the world with friendliness and fierceness.
She carried the world in her enormous backpack.
I carry her example in my heart.

~ Barbara Ruth

* Hebrew: Repair the world

Here is what the judge said about this poem:
Dedicated to Yvette, and reading what she's about makes her an example for all of us to follow. It is understandable why the poet carries her example in her heart.
This is a straight forward telling--a woman no one knew intimately--she was friendly and fierce, didn't turn away from the pain and ugliness of the broken places but instead walked the talk. She was there when most needed and it didn't take a crisis for her to turn up. She was one who carried the world in her enormous backpack.
I would have liked to see examples, more showing. The portrait of Yvette is abstract. Where is the individual, Yvette?

As it is Yvette could be Mother Teresa or one of the volunteers helping in Louisiana right now. We are grateful and enriched by these people--They truly show us how to repair the world.
The poem is well done in a big picture kind of way. We need more descriptive details. 

Congratulations to the winning poems, and thanks to the judge! 


In addition to writing poetry, Deetje J. Wildes enjoys making music and experimenting with visual arts. She is an enthusiastic member of Western Wisconsin Christian Writers Guild, and a regular contributor to “Faith Walk” magazine  (Eau Claire, Wisconsin Leader-Telegram).

Barbara Ruth writes memoirs spanning this decade and the last seven decades as well. She also writes poetry, fiction, essays and is a published photographer. Her work is widely anthologized in feminist, queer, literary and disability collections. She lives in San Jose, CA with one woman and one cat, both quite adorable. They are the reason she lives in the Valley of the Silicon, which, given her Luddite tendencies, actually seems quite unlikely.