Saturday, July 29, 2023

July 2023 Winning Poems: Family


The matriarch and patriarch of my family: Myron David Webber and Dorinda Strange Webber

Mary Beth Bretzlauf, President of the Illinois State Poetry Society, judged the July Poetry Challenge. She selected the following poem as the first-place winner, saying, “I loved the theme of crafting with their hands - the weaving of memories and a legacy of connections. Stepping up to do what mothers do - keep the connections alive.”


A Matriarch’s Shawl

What holds a family together after
the mother, the matriarch
grabs heaven’s golden thread?

Who will weave the lacy shawl
of memory, of legacy
large enough to connect all?

Where do you turn
as the bobbin unspools
seams come undone?

How do you care for each other
without a mother
to knit all together?

Why fuss and fret?
Why linger as it unravels?
Why does it matter?

When do you know
whether to patch
or toss the remnants? 

You pick up the needles
follow her lifelong pattern
one stitch at a time.

~ Christy Schwan


Bretzlauf said “the poetry of family [is] well illustrated” in the prose poem, to which she awarded second-place:

Genealogy of a Poet

My mother sang sweet lullabies to me as she cradled me on her lap in a mahogany rocker. Later, I’d watch her orchestrate a meal. And she wrote poetry with the pictures she drew in her cookbook.

Father’s poetry were equations, a lonely beauty of the universe reaching deep into the recesses of mind touching the physicist-to-be in me. He taught me stern compassion, and the poetic license of a hug, a kiss on the cheek.

My younger sister is a fine cook, and a poem herself. The lines of her life breaking with as much joy as pain. I’d tease her unmercifully when she was eight, but always loved her. Now she’s layered like an exquisite poem with deep meaning & enigma.

My older sister was shear music, the story of her life still singing in my heart even though she’s been gone for years. Her voice over the phone, full of complex harmonies, and that Latina sparkle.

But my twin brothers, a Christmas wish when I was ten—whose sustained lyrics I can only imagine—strum the heavenlies with the God of all the children of miscarriage. I want to hear their song.

 ~John C. Mannone

Genealogy of a Poet” first appeared in Credo Espoir, Issue 7, 2021.

In an aside not sent to the Judge, Mannone shared the backstory for his poem. When he was ten years old, he told his mother that he wanted a brother for Christmas. Many years later, his mother told him that he had tried to make his wish come true, but had miscarried twin boys.  


The third-place poem is, as Bretzlauf says, another story of a mother gone and of the circling of family stepping up to never fully erase the void, but smudge the edges of it.”

November 5, 1915

Cooling herself after baking bread
on the wood stove late at night,
my grandmother was found
dead on the stoop.
Mother was nine.

Days before,
walking together on the short cut.
Grandmother stopped
to make a cairn of rocks.
“A memorial,” she said.

Children on the homestead
were expected to be strong,
to understand death
is a necessary part of living.

I asked Mother once
if she had been very sad,
lost and lonely.
She said, “No,”
she was cared for,
being the last of eight.
Life on the farm went on.

All her long life,
she felt for little beings,
helpless people, hurt animals.
And she collected rocks,
which, easily found, last forever.

 ~ Peggy Trojan

From All That Matters 2018


Each poet retains copyright on his or her own poem.


Honorable Mentions:

Bretzlauf selected three poems for honorable mentions. Here is a list, along with Bretzlauf’s comments on the poems:

*Sudden Turn by Michael Staeger – “a sad story of a child's death - the pantoum form was perfect for this story.”

*Life Lessons by Seth Brown – “a great story of family and gullibility.”

*Pieced Quilts by Mary Marie Dixon – “like poems, quilts tell the story of those who came before us and shared their love through the ages in fabrics sewn together.”



Mary Beth Bretzlauf is a poet and fiction writer who lives in northeaster Illinois. She has just been elected president of the Illinois State Poetry Society. She serves on the board of the East On Central Association, and is an active member of Poets & Patrons, Zion Writers’ Guild, Writers in Progress, and Highland Park Poetry’s Live Events Team.

Seth Brown is a poet and humor writer and sushi enjoyer. His poetry has appeared in publications such as Apt, Light, The Washington Post, and most frequently in his humor column in the Berkshire Eagle. He writes a free wordplay-filled semi-monthly newsletter at

Mary Marie Dixon, a visual artist and poet, whose focus on women’s and mystic spirituality centered in Great Plains’ nature, has published in various venues and exhibited in galleries. She explores the creative intersection of the visual and poetic. She loves stars, sunrises, and sunsets on the open plains!

John C. Mannone has poems in Anthology of Appalachian Writers: Barbara Kingsolver, Vol. XV; Red Branch Review; Windhover; North Dakota Quarterly; Poetry South; Baltimore Review; and others. He won the Impressions of Appalachia Creative Arts Contest in poetry (2020), the Carol Oen Memorial Fiction Prize (2020), and the Joy Margrave Award (2015, 2017) for creative nonfiction. He was awarded a Jean Ritchie Fellowship (2017) in Appalachian literature and served as the celebrity judge for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (2018). His full-length collections are Disabled Monsters (Linnet’s Wings Press, 2015), Flux Lines: The Intersection of Science, Love, and Poetry (Linnet’s Wings Press, 2022), Sacred Flute (Iris Press, 2023), and Song of the Mountains (Middle Creek Publishing, 2023). He edits poetry for Abyss & Apex and other journals. He’s an Assistant Professor of Physics and Chemistry (and an invited Professor of Creative Writing: Poetry) at Alice Lloyd College.

Christy Schwan is a native Hoosier author/poet living in Wisconsin. She's a rock hound, wild berry picker, wildflower seeker, astronomy studier, and quiet sports lover of kayaking, canoeing, snowshoeing and loon spotting. Her work has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Museletter, Ariel Anthology, 8142 Review, 2022 and 2023 Wisconsin Poet's Calendars, and Bramble Lit Mag.

Michael Staeger was first exposed to writing poetry through the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee outreach, Summer of the Writer Program poetry workshop taught by Marilyn Taylor. He lives in Waterford, Wisconsin with his wife Karen and is a member of the Author’s Echo Writer’s group that meets in Burlington, Wisconsin.

Peggy Trojan's new release, a collection about her father, titled PA, won second in the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Chapbook contest in 2022. It won Honorable Mention for the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award for 2022.  Her previous release, River, won second in the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Chapbook contest in 2021. It also won an award of Outstanding Achievement from the Wisconsin Library Association. She is the author of two full collections and five chapbooks. Her books are available on Amazon. 



© Wilda Morris