Sunday, December 19, 2010

December Poetry Challenge Winners

The December Poetry Challenge was to write a letter in poetry to someone who has been gone from your life for at least a decade. I sent four poems to Jared Smith and asked him to pick the winner or winners. Here is part of his response:

“These poems are so far above the normal standards of poetry--so attuned with the individual, honest and unposed nature of the authors--that they ring out with their own unique visions and nature. The images, line lengths, metrics, and tone are perfectly crafted in each of the poems. What this demonstrates--and it is very important to understanding contemporary poetry--is that if one writes with true, deeply felt intensity and the feeling that the words in a poem really do matter--then that poem finds the "craft" that it should have...what the editor of The New York Quarterly, William Packard, defined as "organic" form. With further explication, what this means is that every emotion or state of mind one goes through has its own "natural" emotion and metrics of thought: and the very best poets can find and recapture that metric of thought and put it down on paper when they write. As Ted Kooser has said, placing a poem within any standardized form may be difficult and one has to have the control over language to be able to do so, but it is like putting eggs in an egg carton. It is harder to look at the infinity of words and images one has to work with--like Michelangelo looking at an uncut slab of marble--and then draw the vision or the poem out of it.”

Jared Smith declared a four-way tie for first place. I think you will find these poems moving, too. Congratulations to Judith Tullis, Mary Cohutt, Peggy Trojan and Gail Goepfert. Their poems are presented here in the order in which they were received.

If you are a poet, and did not have time to try the December prompt, this might encourage you to give it a try one of these days!


I wanted to brush your red hair
and wish for the millionth time it were mine

to look in your dark eyes
and be glad I have them too

to have your smile land on me
and feel the warmth

to make you laugh
and be filled with the joy of it

to take your arm and help you walk
the way you did for me so long ago

to reminisce about the times good and bad
that only we have shared

to hold your hand while we compared
the thrill of romance, the ache of lost love, the loneliness of widowhood.

But I could only release you from the place that stinks of age and pain
and carry you to the hallowed ground of your family.

~ Judith Tullis

To My Brother

I remember our wagon of sun-faded red
With wheels that wobbled and bowed
We were short-shadowed seekers
On long winding lanes
Our newly found treasures in tow

I see our new bikes
Yours red, mine blue
With the store shine glint on the bars
Sunny day summers, with wind in our hair
Like birds on the wing we flew

Springs turned to summers
Summers to falls
Winters completed the turns
We lived to life’s music, high notes and low
Shoulder to shoulder through all

The darkness that came
With the fading of light
Was a shade pulled on what I’d held dear
My colors were dimmed, my music was stilled
No respite lay in sight

and I wondered…
just where…had you gone…

but then…

The sun’s on my face like warm molten gold
The wind whispers your name through the trees
A robin takes flight in a sky of deep blue
And flowers gift colors to me

Clouds roll and cast shadows
On hills painted in hues
Of purples and deepest green
My skin is caressed by an angel wing breeze
And I envision all that’s unseen

And then…I smiled…
for I knew…

You’re still pulling our wagon
You’re riding your bike
You’re holding your first born son
You’re drawing your first breath
Releasing your last
You are He
He is All
All is One

~ Mary Cohutt


After ninety-three years,
we reversed roles.
Remember? You were brought
to the table and sat waiting.
It was right before you gave up
eating all together,
putting your arm across your mouth
to make the point.
You were agreeable,
smiling and patient.
I was the one mashing the food
and feeding you cheerfully,
coaxing you to take
just one more bite.
I had assumed that I would do
the works you didn’t have time
to finish….sorting your photos,
publishing your journal,
doling out your treasures.

In a flash, I realized you were also
giving me Pa,
though we had competed
for his attention
almost seventy years.
The look on your face
I had waited for all my life,
that trust, and adoration.

~ Peggy Trojan

Dear Aunt Nernie,

I think the secrets
sprouted from good intention—
parents, grandparents, protecting.

Unease filled my plate
and followed my food down my throat
each time grandma and grandpa
rose from the table
and led you from the room
without a word
in the middle of mashed potatoes
and homemade applesauce.

Grandma saw the signs
that something was amiss
and rushed you to a backroom
while cold lumps, each one a question
congealed on the china before me.

Years later, I realize you felt shame
not knowing what happened--
during epileptic episodes
beyond your control.

I’m sorry I didn’t know more,
have the words to comfort,
but I’m sure I didn’t mind so much
that you smelled of Noxzema
that the hair on your upper lip,
half-plucked, bristled
my cheek when I kissed you goodnight.

~ Gail Goepfert

Copyright of individual poems remains with the authors.

Check back at the beginning of January for a new challenge.

© 2010 Wilda Morris