Sunday, August 25, 2019

August 2019 Poetry Challenge Winners - Return

Karla Linn Merrifield at Age Seven

The first place winner this month used a Japanese form, haibun, which begins with prose and ends with a haiku-like poem.

Land’s Edge

We had to cross the Monongahela at the First Street Bridge to reach the eastside state road, the far side from home in my child-mind—way over there to reach the Pettigrews’ summer camp a dozen miles downriver on the East Fork. Twice each year for three years—I was 7, 8, 9—our Aunt Gertie’s friend Dottie P. let my brother Robin and me come too.

The visits smelled of sulfur water from the well, musty cots, cigarette smoke. You could hear mice afoot. Mosquitoes’ mean drone meaning the after-bites scent of calamine lotion. Stepping outdoors, after dark, when speedboats’ marine gasoline fumes have floated away? All I could smell was green river, green trees.

From the end of the dock I saw stars, abundant fireflies, a bare yellow bulb outside the screened room door, my night’s dim lights. Black against black, silently, bats gleaned humid August air. I heard  frogs, crickets, cicadas and a pair of great-barred owls—an evensong, its melody the flow lapping at the bank on the best night of childhood before we woke up to learn that Dot’s mom, Maggie, recently released again from the asylum in Weston, supposedly in a manic phase, went and drowned herself in a puddle.

Bathing suit mildewed
in a pastel pink suitcase
days of ruining

~ Karla Linn Merrifield

The August judge, Diana Anhalt, said, “the use of strong imagery is very effective: ‘...far side from home in my child-mind,’ ‘Mosquitoes' mean drone...,’ ‘after-bites scent of calamine lotion,’” among others. She also liked the three images in the closing haiku, and complicated the poet on her ability to “show rather than just tell” in this “compelling—and very moving—narrative.”

The second place poem is very different in many ways.

Dry Months

I'm on a morning hike to exhume
something arcane and precious from soil,
rich or putrefied -
—mushroom, helleborine, maybe
an aboriginal axe blade -
but the ground's as hard as bad luck.
One good look around me
and the treasure map in my head crumples.
The woods are corrosion in withered green.
Sun's a viper coiled around the throat
and biting fierce.
Failure points are everywhere,
in the stillness, the painted dry,
the heart-worn droop of branches.
And there's the stories
scratched plain as dust in the river bed,
no rain, no cooling, no current,
just stains head high to a floundering river trout.
It all makes sense.
The long drought has bumped all living
into the background.
What the weather couldn't steal,
it broke.
Coarse, raw, brown, baked...
no surface is its own.
I will return with nothing.
And I believe that's everything.

~ John Grey

Anhalt spoke of the poet’s “ability to convey meaning through the use of effective images such as: ‘ground's as hard as bad luck,’ ‘sun's viper coiled around the throat.”’ She also commented on the interesting use of language, as in "What the weather couldn't steal, it broke."

In counterpoint to these serious poems, Anhalt picked a humorous work for third place.

August returns

August is back, those dog days of summer,
I already feel like it’s a bummer.
It’s summertime, I got the blues,
Whatever happened to barbecues?

When was summer ever a grand picnic?
How did I get so old, so quick?
People are constantly moving away,
solitude is my summer so gray.

The fall is a ball when school starts,
I am a student of the visual arts.
But summertime has lost its luster,
doomed to die alone like Custer.

Nobody knows how to communicate,
smart phones dumber than a primate.
If telemarketers didn’t bother to call,
I wouldn’t get any phone calls at all.

Everybody’s having fun at their summer home,
here I sit alone writing this poem.
Everybody’s taking a fun vacation,
I don’t even have a TV to watch a station.

But I better be grateful, in God I trust,
even in the midst of the long month August.
If I feel grateful, if I feel weary,
wait till the return of January!

~ Mark Hudson

Perhaps the weather in Atlanta, Georgia, when Anhalt was judging the poems, enhanced her view of Hudson’s poem—it was 90 degrees. Anhalt liked the humor of the poem, Hudson’t use of couplets, and his rhyming, especially the unusual combination of “luster” and “Custer.”

Anhalt also gave an honorable mention.

Penniless Denni

gives lovely little gifts
a pebble, a painted paper clip
on random occasions
you never expect
asking only 
Please return the wrap.

Don’t waste.
Spread joy 
not crap and 
return the wrap.

~ Joe Cottonwood

My daughters laugh at me for reusing gift wrap, so they may suspect that I wrote this poem, but I didn't. Anhalt enjoyed the humor, as well as the use of rhythm and rhyme. She also commented on “how the writer conveys the message central to the title, i.e. “penniless,” by illustrating (rather than telling) with the last line in each of the 2 stanzas: "Please return the wrap."

Thank you to Diana Anhalt for judging, and congratulations to the four winning poets. They retain copyright on their poems.

Another challenge will be posted on September first. Maybe it will be your turn to win.


Diana Anhalt, a former resident of Mexico City, Mexico—her parents moved there in 1950 in order to escape the McCarthy era—made that country her home for sixty years.  She married a Mexican, had two children, taught and served on the board of the American School Foundation, and subsequently edited their newsletter, “Focus,”for eight years. She resided in Mexico City until 2010. During that time, her work, which has included essays, book reviews, poetry and a book, A Gathering of Fugitives: American Political Expatriates in Mexico 1948-1965 (Archer Books) has appeared in both English and Spanish. She subsequently moved to Atlanta, GA with her late husband, Mauricio, in order to be closer to family.

Joe Cottonwood has worked as a carpenter, plumber, and electrician for most of his life and is also the award-winning author of nine published novels, two books of poetry, and a memoir. He lives in the coastal mountains of California where he built a house and raised a family under (and at the mercy of) giant redwood trees. His most recent book is Foggy Dog: Poems of the Pacific Coast.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in That, Dunes Review, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming in Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Thin Air, Dalhousie Review and failbetter.

Mark Hudson is a poet, writer, artist, and ceramicist. He appears on Evanston Cable TV, and he had a hidden track on the first local 101 CD. He has designed art for a front cover on a one-time run of a magazine called Puffy Fruit. He has an ancestry of artists going back in history to Europe including Charles Lucy, who has paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Karla Linn Merrifield, a nine-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-Residence, has had 700+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 14 books to her credit. Following her 2018 Psyche’s Scroll (Poetry Box Select) is the newly released full-length book Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North from Cirque Press. Her Godwit:  Poems of Canada (FootHills Publishing) received the Eiseman Award for Poetry. She is a frequent contributor to The Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, and assistant editor and poetry book reviewer emerita for The Centrifugal Eye.

© Wilda Morris