CONNECTICUT POETRY AWARD In Honor of CPS Founding Members Wallace Winchell, Ben Brodine and Joseph Brodinsky Made possible through the generous support of The Adolf and Virginia Dehn Foundation
Submission Period: April 1 to May 31 Open to all poets. Prizes: 1st $400, 2nd $100, 3rd $50
This year's judge
Terry Bohnhorst Blackhawk is Founder/Director Emerita (1995-2015) of Detroit’s InsideOut Literary Arts Project, www.insideoutdetroit.org, a writers-in-residence program that encourages youth to think broadly, create bravely, and share their voices with the wider world. Her poetry collections include Escape Artist, winner of the 2002 John Ciardi Prize, and One Less River, a Kirkus Reviews “Top 2019 Indie Poetry Title.” Twice named Michigan Creative Writing Teacher of the Year, Blackhawk has many poems in print and on line with awards that include the Foley Poetry Prize, the Pablo Neruda Prize, and grants from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Kresge Arts in Detroit. After retiring from InsideOut, she moved to Hamden to be near her son, Yale Professor Ned Blackhawk, and her grandchildren. She serves as a Humanities Advisor to “The Slave is Gone – The Podcast that Talks Back to AppleTV’s Dickinson.” Terry Blackhawk’s most recent book isOne Less River,http://mayapplepress.com/one-less-river-terry-blackhawk/.
It was an honor to judge this year’s Connecticut Poetry Award. I learned a lot from these poems and appreciated the range of forms and concerns of the seventy poets who sent entries. From the elegiac to the erotic to Golden Shovels and sonnets, many poems were worthy and memorable. I read and reread and lived with several dozen before making final choices and writing my thoughts on each. Congratulations to all. Poetry lives!
FIRST PLACE: Aaron Fischer
‘Got My Mojo Working’
On learning that Muddy Waters’ house has been awarded landmark status
Unsee the weather-warped plywood nailed over the windows, loops and whorls distinct as the tideline, the chains and padlock
shackling the front door, where someone has twisted the heads off the decorative flamingo silhouettes.
Unsee the green and brown glister of beer bottles smashed on the stoop, the stair-step pattern between
bricks where the mortar’s leached away, the red X posted by the city to warn firefighters the building’s unstable.
But all the masons and carpenters on Chicago’s south side, the roofers whistling shrilly for another pallet of shingles, the plumber sweating
the new pipes, can only minister to the visible, a redlined two-story with too few windows in a dicey neighborhood,
a cockeyed pyramid on the roof, like a false start on a minaret, a narrow house the blues bought.
That’s like mistaking music for the instruments used to make it: the piano and drum kit in the basement
rehearsal room, the double bass, mic stands, amps, long runs of cable duct-taped to the scarred linoleum.
Or the upright in the front parlor. Or Muddy’s guitars leaning against the sofa, “The Hoss” taking pride of place,
the ’53 Telecaster he bought new and painted candy-apple red. It carried him from Delta gutbucket and bottleneck,
from the “good moaning and trembling” of the church, the wind-tousled kerosene lanterns setting apart the Friday night fish fry
from the pre-electric dark. It’s what called the elders to him, before they had a record spinning on the jukebox,
a song charting on the hit parade -- B.B. King and Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy and Otis Spann. Little Walter, who transformed
the blues harp into a jazz sax. And Muddy’s pale, short-lived acolytes -- Johnny Winter, Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield.
They all could hear the sweetness in his music that broke into joy — the buoyant shuffle of I Can’t Be Satisfied,
Hoochie Coochie Man’s strut and vamp. And they sent their joyous racket out into the world.
Judge’s remarks: Thanks to ‘Got My Mojo Working,’ we learn about “The Hoss”— the ’53 Telecaster Muddy Waters “bought new/ and painted candy apple red” that claimed “pride of place” in his boarded-up, red-lined South Side Chicago “house the blues bought” with its “cockeyed pyramid on the roof, like a false/start on a minaret.” “The Hoss” had carried Muddy Waters away from the “pre-electric dark” of the poem's richly described Mississippi Delta and into music history. Like a designated landmark, this poem is a tribute: to the grit and mojo that transcend “gutbucket and bottleneck” with a “sweetness…that (breaks) into joy.”
SECOND PLACE: Shellie Harwood
What Bloomed in Dresden
When the shriveled men feel need again to invade another country and the talk talk talk is tanks rolling in, missiles launched, air raids, and nuclear options; when the earth begins again to shudder, I go to the cupboard and pull down the chipped and yellowed tin where my people, mostly unknown to me, left recipes copied in my grandmother’s palsied hand, pick a comfort card, any old card, and begin.
When I hear of refugees and mortar shells, artillery, I begin to assemble Berniece’s applesauce cake, spiced with my childhood, and I sift and sift, soak raisins on through the sirens, while the shelling rocks the counters five thousand counted miles away from me. My arm spent from mixing, I pour brown batter in the cracked glass pan, as all the women who share my blood have poured it, secure it in its oven, wait for it to bubble and rise.
When I wait, I think of Ukraine, of Afghanistan, of Vietnam, Iraq, and Normandy. And I wonder what bloomed before bombs in Dresden, what flies or crawls or claws its way out of Ukraine.
I ask the internet to show me the national bird of Ukraine, the color of wings to watch for as it makes its frantic way under the radar, out of choking skies. Two birds are pictured, white stork and nightingale. Which is it, then? I have no one to call in Kyiv to ask, which creature flies for you?
When I hear that they have breached the border of Chernobyl zone, when I am breaking from the massacre in Bucha, I pull Berniece’s cake from the oven, hold it hot and close against me, carry it steaming outside where there are still wild and hungry things.
I fill my own mouth first, in handfuls sticky with raisins and soft fruit; crumbs fall like cardamon tears. The rest, I crumble along the fence line for the nightingale or the white stork. Whichever might land here, gasping from invasion, stumbling its way to me.
Judge’s remarks: With Whitmanesque rhythms, “What Bloomed in Dresden” spills news of war virtually into its troubled speaker’s lap. To bear the unbearable, the poet turns to family traditions—“the chipped and yellowed tin” with its generations-old recipes — in order to “pick a comfort card, any old card” and bake a cake “spiced with…childhood.” Like a surrealistic batter, the poem “bubble(s) and rise(s),” casting about for answers where there are none—just the cake, warm, sticky and sweet that the speaker feeds partly to herself, its “crumbs…like cardamom tears,” and partly to the birds of Ukraine that stumble toward her, “gasping from invasion.”
THIRD PLACE: Kathryn Jordan
for Kirk, 2/1/60 - 9/11/20
I follow bike tire tracks into the marshes where you lived your portion of life, looking around before I leave the trail.
I don’t want anyone to see me clambering down the embankment, pickle weed squishing under my Merrell boots.
Remember when I caught you smoking pot at twelve? After fifty years, I realize I must have yelled something about trust.
What you wrote is still in my scrapbook, your elegant, penciled script slowly fading. “Trust is when you say, ‘I’ll be out with
my friends at the disco. There won’t be any trouble.’ Tell me what trust is tomorrow, okay?” As if I knew. As if you didn’t, from
the lack of it. Now I read a solemn poem as a white bird appears and hovers above in the wind, observing your last rites. Are
you with me as I begin to pour— as bits of your femur, patella and clavicle swirl out over the water and glitter like stars?
I want go back and hold the jolly baby you were when you were my little brother. But the gull is gone and the jar empty.
I search the rippled surface of the tidal stream and find you drifting down, landing softly on the sandy bottom, a white flag.
Judge’s remarks: While following a trail through marshes in order to cast a brother’s ashes into a tidal stream, the speaker recalls a long-ago message about trust written in the brother’s “elegant, pencilled script slowly fading” from a scrapbook. The ambiguity of the memory and the spareness of the setting enhance the loneliness and solemnity of the moment and prepare us for the beautiful surrender of the final image. Fragments of bone have swirled out over the “paisleyed surface” of the water, “glitter(ed) like stars,” and landed “softly on the sandy bottom, a white flag.”
Honorable Mentions, unranked:
HON. MENTION: Jayne Marek
Infection: Tether and Needle
this is what my blood looks like--
rim of a well seeping rust a lost scarf snarled in mud geranium petals blown from their stems
chokeberries crushed by the beaks of ravenous sparrows
a penny lost in the street for a year degraded to the color of neglect
under a streak of dawn, a cloud's arm creeps toward a heart
strands of tubing pinned to my arm as still as a pew,
the soft throb of a pump telling its prayers
I have lived among these sounds so long they breathe for me in endless supplication for more time
beyond curtains the sea reaches its torn blind way along cliff rubble
harried by rocks it dislodges in the tide that silently fills until it has to turn
withdrawing, the same place ever changing,
sea bed stalled in drift that can unexpectedly carry this water past the vanishing point
half-sounds and half-light half-living, half-not
the IV pumps peep solicitous as guardian angels not sure what to do
as meds whisper through my limbs searching for the hidden spider that crouches under my small knuckle,
watches the blood-borne searchers pass one pulse at a time
here I am anchored lightly by a meager tether and needle,
the cotton sheet like fragile paper folds and wrinkles its cryptic messages,
outdoors clouds roll on salt water following the wind--
I imagine an otter bobs and sinks in the pattern of waves near shore
surface spins where the otter dives-- an oracle present in absence--
will my sheets be washed as if in surf when I am gone
the bed, the shore new-made erasing whoever had been there
Judge’s remarks: The poem describes a state of limbo with its speaker on intravenous life support in a room whose windows open “beyond curtains” onto the sea. “Infection: Tether and Needle” is noteworthy for the delicacy of its imagery, its airy, unpunctuated stanzas, and the way one sensory realm flows into another. Acutely aware of sea and tides, clouds and wind in the outside world, the speaker at the end tempts erasure, wondering if “my sheets will be washed as if in surf/when I am gone.”
HON. MENTION: Jennifer L. Freed
Kinds of People
It was the ‘70s. We were thirteen. Outside, spring unfurled in the schoolyard. Mr. E told us to put our science texts away. Today he wanted to tell us-- he said we should know-- it wasn’t talked about, wasn’t taught-- But we were thirteen. We’d be in high school soon. Soon the world would be ours. So we mustn’t let this slip away—this truth that was part of our parents’ childhood. Of our grandparents’ grown-up lives. We should know there were people—so many people, their days full like ours. He told us about the trains. About nothing wasted— not shoes, or hair, or silver fillings from teeth. He told us about the gas. Forced labor. People with limbs thin as sticks. He said there were ovens.
He said it was okay to feel whatever we felt. He said we could ask questions.
A skinny boy with wet eyes asked if all those people had to live with the smell of cooking meat.
The room held still. May dazzled the windows.
Judge’s remarks: This straightforward narrative recounts a classroom in late spring when a science teacher instructs students to put their texts away so that he can spend the hour telling them the unspoken story that had been “part of our parents’/childhood. Of our grandparents’/ grown-up lives.” With the sparest of details — “trains/…nothing wasted/not shoes, or hair…there were ovens” — and its stunning ending, “Kinds of People” leads us to feel the students’ shock at the news, as if learning it for ourselves for the first time.
HON. MENTION: Dominic Bellido
Son of Amauta
You can be a grandson who lives with his ear to the window still unbroken while blue dawn floods each roof gutter glittering like fillings from abuelo’s smile for the picture day in the damp auditorium crawling with itsy-bitsy spiders going up the water pipe down the teacher screams you scream they scream we all scream for ICE to not check abuelo’s papers next to the broken crayons & spoiled children there are too many children & not enough milk at home abuelo pours a drink thanking God he took up the shovel & laid enough bricks to cover his body just in case la guerra cierra tu boca es poco más que una puerta opening for family is not everything you prayed for a second chance & are given the white page before recess you hum catechisms memorized for the indivisible God for the invisible games of tag you’re it but you are only it if they catch you on your knees you search for dandelions in the blacktop cracks & they all laugh but you have learned to ignore the fire next time you will choose the game because abuelo says you have to ignore the history of the white page because you ignore the history of the white because you ignore the history because
Judge’s remarks: Heavy enjambment and blasted syntax in “Son of Amauta” make visceral the terror that comes from life as an undocumented immigrant. Common classroom rhymes, broken crayons, itsy-bitsy spiders, “catechisms/memorized for the indivisible God” mount in an echo chamber of unreason where “…you/scream they scream we all scream for ICE/not to check abuelo’s papers.” That “Amauta” is Quechua for “master” or “wise teacher” adds to the irony as “abuelo says you have to ignore/…the history of the white/because…”
2021 Connecticut Poetry Award Winners scroll down
2021 Contest Connecticut Poetry Award Judge is Rennie McQuilkin
Rennie McQuilkin is the Past Poet Laureate of Connecticut. His work has been published in The Atlantic, Poetry, The American Scholar, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, The Hudson Review, Crazyhorse, and other journals. He is the author of fourteen earlier poetry collections, several of which have won major awards, and has received fellowships from the NEA as well as the State of Connecticut. He co-founded and for years directed the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival at Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, CT, subsequently founding Antrim House Books, which publishes Connecticut, national, and international poetry. In 2003 he received the Connecticut Center for the Book’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2010 the Center awarded him its poetry award under the aegis of the Library of Congress. He and his wife, the artist Sarah McQuilkin, live in Simsbury, Connecticut, where he is the local poet laureate.
Winners of the CT Poetry Award 2021
Judge’s Note: “I was hard-pressed to select winners from the excellent group of entries in this year’s CPS contest. The quality of the work was so high that a number of excellent poems barely missed out on being winners. Perhaps the real winner is CT poetry! – Rennie McQuilkin, CT Poet Laureate Emeritus.
FIRST PLACE: Richard Levine
Is! in memoriam, Joe Hayman (1938-2017)
I had gone to take the bare trees of my thoughts to walk in the park, seeking consolation in goose honks, coot dives, the lily-white of swans beneath the ominous red-tailed glide of a hawk, and the small talk of a sidewalk bush, alive with dozens of chirping sparrows. Dozens. Chirping. For today, I was bound to bear my heart like sad hands hiding in shallow pockets.
Since the news, grief has collected and disquieted memories tangled like fish lines, sticky, blood-barbed hooks, sinkers, snares, bobbers and bones, all thrown in and cast to rattle a racket in a gray pail, where the stink’s cooked in and as sharply pronounced as the cacophonous, sad-handed carrying of it.
To no avail, I am parading in grave-muddy boots, as if passing like a clarion every hearth where our names are known and called is helpful – Am! Are! Is! Damned present tense! Dear friends, our superlatives are but a palliative ruse, for we have gathered today to past tense our friend's every verb, pull out each one like a dead fish from a bucket.
What, but an inevitable occupation. Tis true, tis pity; tis pity, tis true.
But come, cast each in his chowder pot and gather edible nouns – fish heads first, then turnips and beans, parsnips and greens, coriander and fenugreek, for a stew he’d simmer all day, to shut winter’s windows and doors against itself, because gray is a lonely ache. Is! Again! Here! give a stir, as he did, humming arias and songs over the stewing pot, maybe En Tarbena Quando Sumus or Lydia the Tattooed Lady. And open plenty of wine bottles for the long nights and the cold heave.
And come, call on every creature to sing for a dear friend, a sweet choir-voice, which first rose in the building of ricks under barn-lofts and weather vane-skies. And that boy, that hay-man boy who would one day want to feed and sing for everyone he knew – for he knew how we were all always so hungry and what for – that fine fellow, ... my dear friend, ... is dead; is no more is.
Listen, as I was telling you, this morning, as I wandered the park, my bare tree thoughts encaged a hawk not twenty feet above where I stood. In its thrall, I watched the graceful swivel of its head and eyes, its bullet-body as still and hard as its raptor-beak. But its feathered majesty could not fool me, not today; I know what its swift, hollow-boned villainy is here to undo. Is! Is!
Judge’s comment: “Is,” written in memory of Joe Hayman, is informed by a vast energy of grief and a love that cries out savagely against the loss of a dear friend and insists on ways of celebrating that friend. The poem is as vivid in its details as it is adventurous in its headlong presentation of those details, but it is also ingenious in its use of grammatical tropes (present vs. past tense, noun vs. verb). The wildness of the poem is further countered by the way it is bookended by the appearance of a hawk, whose second entry at the end is devastating, though it is offset by the splendid ambiguity of the final line: “Is! Is!”
SECOND PLACE: Taylor Lynn Copeland
Ask me what does peace feel like, & I will remember the scent of woodsmoke & the soft hush of late August as I stepped out of my car & into that mild afternoon in the Catskills. There was the cabin, my tiny home away from home. I was alone, & it was quiet.
Ask me why didn’t you check your phone, & I will think of how the wide picture window framed the lush summer forest as I lay in bed & rested for the first time all year, bare legs cool under a rumpled white duvet, the kiss of the morning sunlight kinder than any alarm clock.
Ask me why did you go by yourself, & I will tell you about the way dusk braided itself gently through the trees; the taste of salt on my fingers as I ate an entire batch of popcorn by the campfire; how I laid out a blanket on the picnic table as the flames burned low & let my gaze wander among the stars.
Ask me why was this the highlight of your year, & I will ask if you’ve ever stopped to stand beneath a waterfall while out hiking in the woods, or if, amid months of chaos & conflict, it’s so strange to cling to the moments when you feel at ease. I will ask: when did you last give yourself the gift of peace? when was the last time you found joy in the necessary solitude of your soul?
Judge’s comment: I love the simplicity of language and sophistication of format in “Necessary Solitude,” with its repeating refrain adding formality to its highly charged series of questions and answers. I also admire the exquisite language and vivid imagery of the answers. The poem’s unpretentious accessibility and linguistic economy remind me of Mary Oliver. Like her best work, the poem changes us.
THIRD PLACE: Ellen Hirning Schmidt
A red eft salamander wriggles across our road as together my neighbor and I walk six feet apart. “It’s all going to hell in a hand basket,” she says as I lean down, reach my thumb and fore finger around the soft orange body, long and flexible like a young string bean, so supple, so squashy “We’ll not survive it,” she adds. I place the newt near the watery ditch on the side of the road where she seemed to be heading. “No income. No food. No health care.” I see another tiny orange body, carry her across to the other side, where she seems to be journeying “No infrastructure.” And then there’s another one going the same way and I carry her, too. Each time we walk another round in the neighborhood, another squiggly amphibian wiggles her tender body on rain drop feet making her way one way or another In the end, nine salamanders airlifted to the other side We go home to our houses, Waving good-bye, she smiles and calls, “See you tomorrow!”
Judge’s comment: How unlikely and perfect a response “Saving Salamanders” offers to the Covid-19 Pandemic! The wit of the poem, with its whimsical portrayal of salamanders being “airlifted” to safety, is countered by the underlying passion and humanity of the narrative. We are reminded that even in the midst of human suffering, the planet and the least among its denizens have their own rights, by attending to which and forgetting ourselves we become all the more ourselves.
Honorable Mention: Susan Squellati Florence
Sometimes In Other Countries Hydra, Greece
Sometimes, in other countries parts of me carved in concrete crack shake loose from their ground of the ordinary, venture out of hiding.
I admit pleasure in being anonymous and anxiety in being alone. One day on an Aegean island with no cars or roads I set out in search of God
Up narrow alleys by white walls aflame in bouganvillea, burros bulging with bags, passing sky, blue shutters and doors, fifty cats, and women in black
Up a switchback trail, into gnarled olives and pine scented mountains. No one else only dirt path and distant sea until at last stairs of steep rock steps In sweat, heavy breath, and thirst I arrive at the portal of Profitis Ilias Monastery and find no God but water, a tall jug and plastic cups.
One priest, who doesn’t look at me, polishes a gold icon in a cement courtyard. I pay to light a votive in the chapel and let sadness for my mother swell
Up unmarked stairs I roam by open windows and billowing pots of basil, to the lookout. There below, a stark stone church casts its indigo shadow on the barren field.
From everywhere mountains to the sea a tremendous quiet is loosed inside of me.
Judge’s comment: “Sometimes in Other Countries” pulses with the age-old peace of the Greek countryside, in which one might indeed find the presence of God and balm for the aching soul. The poem’s stark economy of language is well suited to the primal scenes it depicts. Its graphic specifics overlay a deep spirituality: at the end of a steep, skyward journey, the narrator is rewarded by “a tremendous quiet” within.
Honorable Mention: Terence McCaffrey
Fishing with My Father
Lake Champlain was still and silent beneath the steel gray sky that lonely summer before high school, my hard pivot for better clothes, longer hair and girls, things that mattered more than a spontaneous trip through my father’s heart. It was his idea to cruise north in his blue Volkswagen Rabbit to where his father and his father’s father afforded their own father-son memories, but after half an hour I realized my father didn’t know how to fish. As we sat at opposite ends of the rented aluminum dinghy the wind picked up. The low clouds cracked then cried. Flat-topped and aloof, I ate my ham sandwich, watched the black water and yes, my father, start to boil. He reeled it all in—the war replaying in his head, the work away from family, his offer of future camping trips-- until he held his limp lunker line that swung like a pendulum in front of him, hypnotizing him against his febrile dreams while I just stared at the pale worm on the end, impaled and twisted into a question mark. Back at the site we buried the rest near a short hemlock tree. We didn’t speak much. Nothing about high school. It was okay. We had already cooled the embers of our small leftover fire with dirty rainwater, crawled into his brother’s old tarpaulin tent for two, understood why we were there, the dutiful father, the dutiful son, going along living in gestures, drifting off to sleep to the amplified sounds of the darkening forest, humming in out heads the briefest most beautiful song.
Judge’s comment: “Fishing with My Father” is strikingly honest and pulls no punches in its depiction of the separation between father and son, though it ends with a momentary resolution, a catharsis softening the central conflict, which is presented in images so harshly graphic I feel myself sitting in that rented aluminum dinghy.
Honorable Mention: Janet R. Kirchheimer
The Poet is Given a Toolbox
There, in the top drawer, is Revelation. A Philip Morris smoking mixture, the perfect tobacco, mild and mellow.
I open the beige tin. No tobacco smell, just small pieces of metal with pointed ends, like stubs of steel crayons.
My father’s workroom: I’m not ready to clean it out yet. Jars of rusty nails and bolts, sandpaper, hole punches,
soldering irons, a tube of epoxy for bonding, and other tools that remain a mystery to me.
Each wooden drawer lined in green felt – a blue cotton apron, and drill bits lined up according to size in the top drawer.
He made doorbells at Trine Manufacturing and tin phonograph dies at Lindstrom Toy in the Bronx. Two doorbells remain in the toolbox
that he bought from a guy who was drafted in 1940. Arrested on Kristallnacht, sent to Dachau, my father was seventeen when
he got out of Germany in late August 1939 and became an enemy alien in New York City. He could not leave without permission.
He took his toolbox with him to each job. His last, tool and die maker for Pratt and Whitney Aircraft.
Once when grinding a tool, a tiny piece of metal flew up into his lower lip. It’s still there, with him in his grave.
He taught me how to use some of his tools: the drill I used to install the paper towel rack in my kitchen,
showing me how to drill holes for the mollies, to hang it and use a level to make certain it was straight.
The metal crayons, my father told me, were used on a lathe, rotating each work piece in an axis, to create an object of symmetry.
Metal clamps of all sizes line the middle and bottom drawers. I wish I understood his machinist’s practical guide – rules for finding dimensions
of circles – and how to make something purposeful from reading a blueprint, or to take a piece of metal and shape it into a useable object.
What does a micrometer calibrate, calculate? I pick up his compass, used for inscribing arcs or circles and to measure distance.
That distance between us now, the arcs that narrow and spin off into the atmosphere.
Judge’s comment: “The Poet Is Given a Toolbox” is as specific in the myriad details of what a deceased father’s toolbox contains as it is universal in its depiction of communion with a father through discovering objects bespeaking his life and his generous giving of himself.”
Jonas Zdanys, a bilingual poet and translator, has published fifty books, most recent among them The Angled Road: Collected Poems 1970-2020 (Lamar University Press, March 2020). He has received a number of prizes, book awards, writing and travel grants, and public recognitions for his own poetry and for his translations. He has taught at the State University of New York and at Yale University, where he held a number of administrative positions and was a Scholar-in-Residence in the Yale Center for Russian and East European Studies. He served for more than a decade as the state of Connecticut’s Chief Academic Officer and is currently Professor of English and Poet in Residence at Sacred Heart University.
2020 Connecticut Poetry Award Jonas Zdanys, judge
It was a privilege reading and savoring and thinking about all of the poems submitted, by my count some 150 of them. When I came to the end of my first round of readings, I did two things: I celebrated the expansive range of voices and themes and angles of reflection in all of these pieces, and was delighted to have read so many well-crafted works of art; and, I found myself quite daunted by the fact that I had been asked to choose three to take the prize honors and to list three others worthy of honorable mention. The first of those -- celebrating the poetry I had just read -- was easy. It was a clear affirmation of the strength of contemporary poetry and of the CPS commitment to encouraging the very best writing. I found the second task -- choosing prize winners -- remarkably difficult. I hope my comments about the poems I chose, after a great deal of consideration, commend those poems to you. That they are within a context of strong and engaging and finely-tuned works affirms an essential truth that is truly worth repeating: that poetry is alive and well, that it teaches us at every turn what it is to be alive and human, and that poets are necessary and welcome in all the horizons in which we live. JZ
First Place Packing the Spices "Packing the Spices" is a wonderful series of lyric moments within an extended lyrical narrative frame that asks -- and in many ways seeks to provide an avenue of reflection on -- essential questions we all consider: How do you sum up a life? How do you comment on a relationship without making that commentary commonplace or trivial? How do you celebrate (and sometimes mourn) connection so that its complexities, and the complexities of a life, are expressed in all of the evocative, tantalizing details -- some clear, some embedded in mystery -- that all lives unfold with? This poem seeks to provide us with glimpses and insights into such matters. There is something of "connected disconnectedness" in the structuring of this poem, and that is one of the things that makes it new and original and engaging. The naming of the spices does not necessarily define the particulars that follow. Rather, each named spice serves as a kind of touchstone or reminder or a trigger of the detail that follows, and the poem, in that way, becomes a gathering of lyrical reveries that engage memory and reflections on transition, and affirm for us the transformative nature of aesthetic shaping of those lyric moments. This is a quiet, gentle, reflective poem in terms of its thematic focuses. It is also honed and shaped and crafted: each line is carefully cut, each line is a secure and necessary plank in the structural framework of the poem. It is, by every measure, deserving of this recognition.
PACKING THE SPICES
By James Miller
Ancho Chili Powder. I’ve found a damp cardboard box in the garage, much like the ones we used when you moved into the house.
Berbere. Once we made a wat so over-spiced, we coughed and wept on swallowing a half-dozen bites of beef each.
Celery Seed. I had planned to set up my camera on a tripod, in our kitchen over twelve dusks. Every shot would wait long, silent.
Chinese Five Spice Powder. When you left me alone in a Paris stairwell, for ten minutes, I could not remember words even of greeting.
Cinnamon. You had me play a third hand at the piano. Afterwards, we agreed that I had known the bass clef once, as a friend.
Cloves. At the accountant’s office, we handed over our tax forms. She asked, do you have any dependents?
Coriander. Hearing the voice of your father on the phone, I could remember your telling me: I am an only child . Cumin. When I have students read the famous poem about fear, one always stays after to ask for recognition.
Curry Leaves. I left the plane in Delhi, past midnight local time. An attendant checked my temperature, seeking signs of fever.
Fennel Seed. For years we shared breakfast, especially on Saturday when the oats were willing, easy to warm.
Garam Masala. We’re reading Gertrude Stein this spring, one page a day. We speak most nights of that feeling, the important feeling.
Garlic Salt. Is it wrong to count up the suicides and murders our families have known, combined?
Ginger. I think of listing the names of useless things. The most useless of all will be sacred, neighbor to God.
Juniper Berries. Tell again the story of your shoes in the opera chorus. The famous soprano needed just your size, your lucky feet.
Lemongrass. Every summer a new hurricane swallows the unhappy city where I once lived alone. We speak of visiting—but will not.
Mustard Seed. Tell again the story of your miraculous afternoon in Basel, an hour’s fluent German in praise of fallen paintings.
Nutmeg. When we married I spent an afternoon mixing my stale flours with your fresh, in expectation of our first loaves.
Onion Powder. Our first bedroom brooded, still as a shallow pool. Shadows of myrtle leaves hovered on the greenblue walls.
Oregano. Though my mother is still living, I know that she will never see our second house, our next life.
Paprika. The box is nearly full of jars. I can tell already that the spice rack will not be able to join its brethren within.
Red Pepper Flakes. I worry most over the evening hours from ten to eleven-- in this span, the coming sleep shapes itself.
Thyme. Yet our feet warm together in their first coiled minutes, under a stiff sheet and two heavy blankets.
Tumeric. Driving home from our first meeting, I played your gift: Lieberson’s Neruda songs, twice through in full voice.
Vanilla Beans. We have enough packing tape left to finish this task. Tomorrow, I will buy another roll, and better boxes for the heavy thing.
Second Place The Trickster For my son with autism "The Trickster" is a loving lyrical telling, a complex yet direct vignette about a son with autism, a presentation that does not rely on sentiment to make its powerful and heartfelt point. The accomplishment of this poem is at least two-fold: the tightly knit wonderfully controlled rhythms and rhymes of the lines and stanzas, and the splendid ways in which the poem gathers the reader in thematically. The poem begins by establishing the connection of the narrator to the natural world -- in a kind of Wordsworthian paradigm -- first to the squirrel and then to the fox, and in the third stanza to the child. Squirrel, fox, and child are of a one, each an element of the natural world. The parent exhorts the child, in the last stanza, to connect to the world that is unfolding around him and of which he is a part, to accept and recognize nature as a living thing to which he should also connect. But the poignancy of that hope is that the boy is disconnected, from the parent and from the world around him, and that connection might not, in fact, ever take place. The poem skillfully uses oppositions in the poem to establish that reality: the connection between eye and face, between seeing and face, between eye and averted face, presented sequentially in the three stanzas. That is a splendid organizing principle, made even more powerful by the fact of disconnection that the poem considers. This is an honest and authentic voice in an honest and authentic poem.
For my son with autism
By Meredith Bergmann
The squirrel insolently met my eye, then, for a second, hardened. Thudding off the feeder, even as I wondered why, it sped across the lawn into the rough (I thought my face had startled him– I try to scare them from indoors. They know I bluff.) and climbed a straight line up the nearest tree with sure and natural geometry.
A moment afterwards, a fox appeared as if on cue, with silent, perfect grace, drawn to the seeds the squirrels hadn’t cleared beneath the feeder. The fox saw my face and turned towards the trees and disappeared with only very slightly quickened pace, abandoning this station in its round because there were no peanuts on the ground.
It was an avatar of full attention, as you are inattention. You don’t start at drama in the yard, the swift ascension, the plummeting, the pounce. Perhaps you dart a sidelong glance, and nod in comprehension if I demand it. You must learn this art. (I am not bluffing.) Let me see your face turn toward the world that happens in this place.
Third Place Coronavirustic "Coronavirustic" is an elevated conversational reverie about nature, family, life, death, the earth itself during this time of social isolation. The elements of the landscape, as we are shown them in a lovely and rich cascade of details and beautiful particulars -- among them trees living and dead, vigorous playful dogs, a woodcock as symbol of our own protective instincts -- offer us insight into and acceptance of our natural place in the world. There is technical mastery throughout and the poem is beautifully crafted. The last stanza in particular is symphonic in its controlled rhythms and music and expressed images and actions, all of which catch and hold the reader's attention and move us to a sense of lyrical harmony with the familiar and immediate, all transfigured into something transcendent. This is a mature and reflective voice, a poem of and about this moment, that moves us, lifts us, to the universal.
By Charles Chase
A half-hour out, the dogs and I are sitting under powerlines in a meadow not yet come back to life this first week of Spring. It’s a welcome break from viral news, daily tracking the climb along the parabolic curve of contagion.
Here, a new plot of points: dried leaves caught in whitened grasses, spikes of weeds, some with empty seedheads still in place, dormant stalks of briars and saplings, black spots and holes in the laurels’ evergreen leaves, clods of dirt from tractor pads, hunks of roots ripped up when the maintenance crews with their mighty machines cleared the fringes here near the woods. What is nature but a history of ravages survived, a dance of cells replacing cells, changing partners, the play of energy and matter?
A thirty-foot long fallen tree, its branches stripped and skeletal, its bark mostly fallen away. A majestic presence in its day, now a tantalizing conquest for my grandsons to clamber, were they here, were they not also isolating at home.
The sweet smell of earth enters my nostrils: Amber has been madly scratching and gnawing at the roots of a stump. Yes, like that! Gracie plunging to the ground and twisting on her back, bathing herself in the litterfall, instinctively craving to be part of it all. Aren’t we all? Even, I fancy as we re-enter the woods behind my house, the nesting woodcock, flushed by the dogs from its lair of leaves, even this fleeing prey, flying a low, slow zigzag through the trees, luring the dogs away from its chicks, its heartbeats breakneck with fear, this danger, this possible injury or death or loss of loved ones is not something separate, not some part of existence that doesn’t belong, but something to embrace – this flight and pursuit, the tumble, the drift, to live on or not, to follow where nature directs, ready or not, to merge, to play each our bit parts.
Honorable Mention These are listed here based on the order in which they appear on the submission sheet. These are not ranked. Each is of equal merit.
And Almost Home This is a powerful and yet low key build-up to a moment of crisis and loss, the ripples of action in this lyric moment standing outside of time and bringing us up to and into the moment of time named in the epigraph. The poet works backwards in this poem, in a kind of brisk countdown, to those closing moments of a life, based on an account in a newspaper. The sense of standing outside of time and yet being engulfed in time is what gives lyric poetry its defining authority, and the poet manages that clearly and well here. The recurring use of the long "e" sound sends a jarring aural message, an expression of surprise and pain, throughout the poem. It is a long sound, not a quick one, and therefore it is a counterpoint and a background noise to the fast and unexpected action of the falling tree and the death of the boy.
AND ALMOST HOME
“... Surrey School District spokesperson Doug Strachan said Friday the final bell had gone and kids were heading home. They had been warned to stay away from treed areas because of the high winds ... Fire crews continued medical assistance on route to hospital. However, the boy...” Vancouver Sun, Oct 14 By Patricia O’Brien
He'd only just added three French phrases, one algebraic formula, ease
with his locker key. He'd elbowed his buddy in the hall.
the night into being ... his favorite Hey, cute thing!
just before maple leaves garlanded the spikes of his perfect hair, his sweet/
smart-ass smile no guard against the descent of the undermined tree,
the wind with its last lesson.
Sunday 9 a.m. Waiting for Sara This is a lovely lyric moment, a gathering and a presentation of things seen and heard, details and particulars shaping the narrative through the use of oppositions (and especially the very visual opposites of headlights and taillights that end the poem) which together draw the frame of a relationship marked by longing for connection, and which hint at an ultimate world into which the narrator is not able (or is not allowed) to enter. The strength of this process is that it does not require editorial commentary; the specifics of each line and stanza, presented straightforwardly, create a gentle reminder, something of a resigned acceptance, that separations come, that we cannot, as the poet says, "turn back time." The poem's modulated tone and voice are nicely handled and affirm the touching and poignant content.
SUNDAY 9 a.m., WAITING FOR SARA
By James K. Zimmerman
we sit in surprising sleet too early on a gray November morning, in monotones, too late to turn back time
we sip weak tea and misgivings
seats in the murmuring car offer refuge and confinement still smell new as morning sleep and gasoline
we speak in silences between pauses, dry coughs, texting
no time to talk
your fingers play out their own secret sequence on the palm of your hand in rhythm with persistent sleet and fleeting lines on your forehead
you say: it’s beautiful anyway this unfortunate snow
then again the waiting
until finally unforgiving sleet becomes a softer rain, a tap on the window and Sara speaks in hurried cadence a flurry, a worried friend furtive prayer to the god of time
then a jumpcut (I am out of frame):
two of you in shades of gray and fog, beyond the reach of thought, riding a headlight- taillight river back to Boston
Darker Self After "Perseus with the Head of Medusa" This is an ekphrastic poem, springboarding from Cellini's sculpture "Perseus with the Head of Medusa." Such poems seek to define and describe the original work’s essence and form and, in doing so, to cast a clear light on what is thematically or metaphorically essential in that original work. The poem does that very well, but it also adds commentary and insight about Cellini himself. In that way, it takes a step -- perhaps several steps -- beyond the expectations of traditional ekphrastic poems. It illustrates the fact that we can define lives in a poem, that salient and essential details and observations, framed by the poet's careful eye, can offer us understanding, can substitute for extended narratives, can present insight and epiphany in the powerful ways that lyric poems most essentially do. "Darker Self," in this way, is a sculpture of words that recognizes that a poem can stand in equal presence to the statue itself.
after “Perseus with the Head of Medusa”
By Barbara Jennes
One luminous Italian morning, Benvenuto Cellini took note of how the low-angle sunlight cast his shadow, long and lean,
across a dewy bed of grass, then crowned his dark umbra with a glowing ring of light-- a “saint’s shining,” a halo.
It was a sign quite at odds with the sculptor’s renown as embezzler, murderer of rivals, sodomizer of women and boys.
But grace sometimes glimmers around a miscreant’s head: when Cellini played the flute, the pope’s court musicians wept--
and what of that impossibility, birthed from a single douse of molten bronze spewed into the mold’s waiting mouth?
Perseus: saved from disaster when Cellini ordered his chattel to be slung onto the flagging fire to resmelt the clotting metal--
a salvation Cellini likened to the resurrection of Christ. The mold broken, the statue found whole and complete,
the artist proved to Medici the merit of his preposterous plan. In the Piazza della Signoria, Medusa’s severed head
still grips the glare of David-- fittingly sculpted of stone, fulfilling both the gorgon’s curse and Cellini’s wry derision. ... So, what of the hooligan who discovered the glowing heiligenschein only shadows are sanctioned to wear?
Find him beastly or beatific, but note that it is your own darker self that wears the corona awarded by morning’s tender light.
2019 Connecticut Poetry Award Winners
Note from Vivian Shipley, Judge
When I read a poem, I hope to learn something new or look at something already familiar to me in a different way. Reading this remarkable group of contest entries has taught me so much and introduced me to fresh ways of using structure and language. Picking the top poems was a very lengthy and difficult experience because the submissions were all carefully crafted. very strong and very unique.
•FIRST PLACE Impaired Michael Lepore
In a wheelchair under the portico near the front entrance, he shares the quietness with others—some legless, some mindless, all waiting for darkness.
From the other side of the hedge row he hears sounds of youth in the schoolyard, voices of play and excitement that ring sad in his ears like hymns at a memorial.
Before he was married to this chair, he would take pride in guiding young ladies across the dance floor. Their glances lovelier as the evening grew darker.
How slim their waists were, how fragrant the smell of their hair. Their hands were so soft. Now hands touch him as if he has an infectious disease. He wonders why he joined.
It wasn’t for love of country, it wasn’t for defense of flag. It was for her! She thought he looked godlike in dress blues. Yes, it was to please her! Now her eyes pass from him to the strong men who are whole.
He will spend the remaining years in this place he refuses to call home and take whatever orders they may assign. He begins to feel the cold, wonders why they have not come for him for dinner.
Judge's comment: In “Impaired,” Michael Lepore presents a detailed portrait of a soldier who has been permanently impaired by injuries sustained fighting for our country. What is so impressive is that Lepore creates so much emotional impact while utilizing the third person point of view which creates emotional distance for the reader. The poem bears witness to the individual struggle of the heart, the mind, the body ensnared and mutilated by powers that can’t be understood or controlled. The war is over for this young soldier but his life is not. “Married to this chair,” he lives with others who are “legless, some mindless, all waiting for darkness.” Lepore ends the poem by dramatizing the helplessness of the speaker who “wonders why they have not come for him for dinner.” This poem reminds us that we must remember not just those who fought and died to keep America free but be aware of the suffering that continues on a daily basis for so many who were maimed physically and psychologically by war that seems to have no end.
Girl of Darfur Curt Curtin
Shall I kill this baby? God, I am asking you. Each day I waver like palm in a hot wind. This poor thing is innocent, but I am so full of dirty shame, of hate that wants her away from me and still I desire to nurse her need. My splintered will. No peace in this wounded will; one way or the other, love or kill this little one who came like knives of fire; it wasn’t even lust, those many laughing at brutality—I can not say, only again, again they took my body, beat disgust into my soul. You see, God? How can I decide between innocence, hers and mine? Did you send them? Did they not have an arm like God to reach me where I hid, to choose me, virgin girl? She cries, poor thing. Hunger is everywhere here. Her need. Mine—I would as soon die. But this poor child, she is—no, not mine-- yes mine—and daughter of too many men whose mix of blood and sperm found their evil way in me. Oh God, she cries. Why do I want to hold her, stop her tears with my old hymns-- but she looks too much like those: her eyes, her skin. I am so angry that I cannot cry; but then, sometimes the crying is the dry wind that howls from the desert. It strangles my soul. Whirlwind God, answer me now.
Judge's comment: In “Girl of Darfur,” Curt Curtin creates a deeply moving poem by speaking in the voice of a young woman who immediately involves the reader with the question, “Shall I kill this baby?” The new mother dramatizes the impact of sexual violence that permeates worldwide warfare. This emotional monologue creates compassion for countless victims by dramatizing the human longing, the human dreams that have been cut short for a “virgin girl” who was brutally repeatedly raped by men “whose mix of blood and sperm found their evil way in me.” Never sentimental or dogmatic, Curtin shows how the past continues to flail at the heart as the speaker explores the complexity of having the courage to love a child conceived by unspeakable bestiality. The poem does not end with an answer to the initial question which “strangles” the soul of the young girl who concludes with her cry, “Whirlwind God, answer me now.”
See-saw, Margery Daw Carol Amato
You of a certain age remember it the long wooden board balanced on a metal fulcrum and holding-on bars at either end still cold in summer.
You and a friend of approximate weight taking turns pushing off with your legs lifting one of you up to then fall fast and the thrill in your gut like invading butterflies, the same whoop you felt when your father sped down a high hill just so you could have that joy.
‘See-saw, Margery Daw Johnny shall have a new master. He shall not have a penny a day Because he can’t saw any faster.’
You learned much later there was no Margery Daw but sawyers with a two- person saw, singing it again and again. Discovered too that those highs wouldn’t last, like your Dad who forgot all about joy.
And the chubby dimpled cousin who always got the better of you but couldn’t get off the ground. We laughed hard at her mean little bastards that we were and never did feel sorry.
Rusty, too, the kid with so many freckles they melded into a brown face-puddle smirking as he jumped off sending you plummeting to the ground too late for the rescue of legs, banging the board on the macadam not cushioned with wood chips or bouncy rubbery surfaces slamming your teeth together the jarring jolt pain shots into your head.
Don’t cry. Don’t tell your mother. Fight your own battles, fists if needed hiding the bruises from her when you came home after dark long after being called in to a now cold dinner or none.
In “See-saw, Margery Daw”, Carol Amato vividly depicts for those of “a certain age” a childhood pastime of being on a teeter totter. Amato extracts a multitude of meanings from the “see-saw.” First it teaches a life lesson that “highs wouldn’t last, like your Dad who forgot all about joy.” Then describing the speaker’s self-awareness of being a “mean little bastard” she explores the desire to be destructive in children as they mock a chubby cousin “who couldn’t get off the ground.” Going from inflicting psychological damage to becoming a victim of physical harm, the speaker’s teeth are jammed together by Rusty who smirks “as he jumped off” his end of the teeter totter, causing the speaker to plummet to the ground. This powerful poem vividly shows how cruelty is innately present in young children. As Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn observed inThe Gulag Archipelago, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
Pastor Monica’s Powers (a ghazal for Monica Tomtania) Pegi Shea
From Ghana, a floral wax-block textile—gift to a teacher who taxed your brain, your drive, your gift.
You spun straw into golden threads, stories of being wracked or uplifted by visions—gifts
from God—along with healing powers beyond those of the witches and quacks who offered the Devil gifts:
fetish items, soul-possessions, sacrificial animals hacked to pieces. You gave gifts
of exorcism, comfort, and herbs, of faith in Jesus your congregants lacked. Their demonic gifts
to you? Blood splashed upon your church, flame upon your home, attacks upon your children (Heaven’s gifts).
You bolted the paths in Ghana to streets of Harlem, traded witches for addicts, packs for gangs. You poured your gifts,
first world revelations, visions and re-visions into songs, books, and tracts. Who am I to edit your gifts?
Judge's comment: In Pegi Shea’s Impressive use of the ghazal to pay tribute to Monica Tomtania, “Pastor Monica’s Powers,” Shea celebrates the life of a remarkable woman who had the courage to try and change the part of the world she inhabited. In a recent 2019 LOC speech, Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate of the US said, “we have to turn down the volume on sources seeking to sell us an unmendable divide.” Bringing her healing power from “paths in Ghana to streets of Harlem, traded witches for addicts, packs for gangs,” Pastor Monica used her voice to promote peace and suture the divide. Terrorists won’t be tamed, injustice won’t be eliminated but poets cannot allow the world to look away from atrocities and must celebrate those voices like Monica Tomtania that are raised in protest.
Puzzling Gunilla Norris
Nine and a little mean I stole two pieces of a puzzle my uncles were happy doing. They didn’t notice.
I was careful.
There was no place to be with them as they took all the time and the table.
So I kept the pieces
in my pocket feeling hot and guilty with power. Now here in the family room
at the nursing home
I sit at the table alone while you are bathed, wiped and turned. No way to be with you.
The back-side of this puzzle is cardboard–gray. It’s not difficult to notice when
pieces are missing.
I am trying to make the bright colored side of our lives whole a little longer as if, as if being together has not already
In “Puzzling,” Gunilla Norris creates a new way of using the puzzle as a metaphor. The speaker in the poem engages the reader at once by confiding “Nine and a little mean/ I stole two pieces of a puzzle.” Keeping the pieces in a pocket, the speaker delights in her newfound power “feeling hot / and guilty with power.” Norris then manages to provide a smooth seamless transition in time and place by fast forwarding to a nursing home during a visit to someone the speaker loves. Again utilizing the metaphor of the puzzle but in a different way, the speaker mourns the possibility of making “the bright colored side of our lives whole. Now, the missing pieces of the puzzle being worked on become a metaphor for their life together which has “already gone missing.”
2019 Connecticut Poetry Award Judge Vivian Shipley
Connecticut State University Distinguished Professor, Vivian Shipley teaches at SCSU. Her thirteenth book, An Archaeology of Days is forthcoming from Negative Capability Press in 2019.The Poet (SLU) and Perennial (Negative Capability Press, Mobile, AL), nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the 2016 Paterson Poetry Prize Finalist were published in 2015. All of Your Messages Have Been Erased, (2010. SLU) won 2011 Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement, NEPC’s Sheila Motton Book Award , and CT Press Club’s Prize for Best Creative Writing. Shipley won 2015’s Hackney Literary Award for Poetry for “Foxfire” and has also won Poetry Society of America’s Lucille Medwick Prize, Robert Frost Foundation’s Poetry Prize, University of Southern California’s Ann Stanford Poetry Prize, Marble Faun Poetry Prize from the William Faulkner Society, New England Poetry Club’s Daniel Varoujan Prize and Kent State’s Hart Crane Prize. Most recently, her poem, “Cargo,” won the San Diego Arts 2017-18 Steve Kowit Poetry Prize.
CONNECTICUT POETRY AWARD CONTEST In Honor of CPS Founding Members Wallace Winchell, Ben Brodine, and Joseph Brodinsky Made possible through the generous support of The Adolf and Virginia Dehn Foundation Submission Period April 1 – May 31 Opento All Poets Prizes: 1st $400; 2nd $100; 3rd $50
In Honor of CPS Founding Members Wallace Winchell, Ben Brodine, and Joseph Brodinsky Made possible through the generous support of The Adolf and Virginia Dehn Foundation Submission Period April 1 – May 31 Open to All Poets Prizes: 1st $400; 2nd $100; 3rd $50
Submit up to three original, unpublished poems on a single document, no more than one poem per page each poem limited to 80 lines. Do not include contact information on the submission. Multiple submissions are accepted. Simultaneous submissions are accepted if we are notified immediately on acceptance elsewhere.
Winning poems will be published in the Connecticut River Review Winners (not Honorable Mentions) will receive free two year membership in CT Poetry Society -which includes a copy of the Connecticut River Review for each year, a $60 value).
2018 Contest Judge
Daniel Donaghy is the author of the poetry collections Somerset (NYQ Books, 2018), Start with the Trouble (University of Arkansas Press, 2009), and Streetfighting (BkMk Press, 2005). Raised in Philadelphia, he is now Professor of English at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he has received the Board of Regents Teaching Award and the CSU Norton Mezvinsky Trustees Research Award. He is currently the Poet Laureate of Windham County.
2018 Connecticut Poetry Award Winners and Poems
Neighbors Stillwater, OK
By Clemonce Heard
How long did it take to paint the flag on the ga/rage’s back wall is not what I asked
myself or my live-in-lover, backing out of the driveway, heading back to where we’d
just turned, looking for a place to stay. We were greeted by a law/n of trucks & cars,
Hot Wheels that had grown & greyed, & the Confederate mural for us to marvel.
It couldn’t have been that diffi/cult; Seeing as the design is rather simple: A diademed ‘X’
of thirteen stars, an intersection of dreams & the red that surrounds it: The red necks,
the red trucks, the red text, the red rust all pointing to the odd of it all. A single man
could’ve pulled it off. Could’ve brushed, or rather slathered pain/t from canister
to wall, but two stories means family, so I picture a wife drafting the southern cross,
& kids filling the s/tars. Say, can you see an open garage aerating the latex exhaust?
Neighbors walking t/heir children, pointing past the mower, shovels, ladders & saws?
Racism takes teamwork, takes the anointment of offsprings. I can almost see their gawking
once the wall was finished. The man kissing his wife’s temple, both with one arm around
each other & the other around their kids. Or the image could’ve existed in the house
when they moved in, a photo whistling “welcome niggers” they’d failed to take down.
COMMENTARY: “The Neighbors” Judge: Daniel Donaghy
“Neighbors” is a startling, necessary poem that bears witness to racism hiding in plain sight. It pulls our gaze quickly to a “Confederate mural” on a “ga/rage’s back wall,” imagines for us the family that lives in such a house and the messages passed there from one generation to the next, and leaves us with a horrifying, “whistling” final image. With acute attention to word music, imagery, and rhythm, along with its novel use of fracturing words (such as “ga/rage,” “law/n,” “diffi/cult,” “pain/t”) to make us experience the darker forces beneath them, “Neighbors” takes on existential questions of power and privilege as it shines a light on a culture that many of us will recognize within our own communities.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ SECOND PLACE
An Oak Leaf in the Shape of an Owl
By Patricia Hale
Sometimes a leaf leaves its branch but doesn’t find the ground. It gets caught in flight to become a question, an illusion,
a shape that draws someone closer to a window. Becomes a shadow, brittle in its browning, a reconstruction
of something green. Familiar, like writing on an envelope whose letter has been lost, contents forgotten,
but the hand that moved across the paper still known, undeniable. The same hand that held the pen and shuffled cards
laid out games of solitaire again and again, red on black on red until the cards went soft with use and time. Hearts and diamonds
collected into piles, tapped straight, and set aside, to be gathered up when the game was over.
The presence of absence is not the same as grief. My old gray cat lies in the yard, beneath the tulips bulbs that bloom in Spring.
My mother lies beneath her stone, dates cleanly carved and surface shining.
COMMENTARY: “An Oak Leaf in the Shape of an Owl” Judge: Daniel Donaghy
“An Oak Leaf in the Shape of an Owl” I love the lyricism, the searching, associative leaps, and the deep intelligence within this poem. While it acknowledges loss, it doesn't succumb to it. The poem is rooted in images and memories that remain with the speaker, it seems, as gifts, as parts of conversations, ongoing across time, that provide sustenance and good company. As the poet tells us, “[t]he presence of absence is not the same/as grief.”
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ THIRD PLACE
The Last Word
By Judith Nacca
A voicemail from my mother six years after her death, pressed like a wildflower between psalms.
The first year, I listened daily. The sound of her voice both filled and emptied, like a cold wind ever-passing through the hole blown through everything.
Now, I save it for days when her absence is so palpable, it holds me with my own arms.
And for moments I believe her words, even as they scatter their impossible physics all over the room:
"I’m running late. Be there in twenty minutes."
Though I know better, I let myself look out the window. Forehead flat against the pane. Hands cupping each side of my gaze; Intentional parentheses.
COMMENTARY: “The Last Word” Judge: Daniel Donaghy
“The Last Word” I love the emotional honesty and risks within this poem and the surprising figurative language the poet finds to convey complicated, weighted emotions. The speaker is brave and vulnerable, open to experience again tremendous loss. By doing so, the speaker is also open to imagining the dead alive again, on her way over for a visit––not gone, just running late. As this poem exemplifies, when we write about our dead, we raise them from the dead. We bring them back to us, if only within our hearts, if only within the fleeting seconds of a dream.
2017 Contest Judge
Judge for the 2017 Award Dick Allen has had poems in most of the nation’s premier journals including Poetry, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Hudson Review, New Republic, Tricycle, American Scholar, Ploughshares, Margie, Plume, and New Criterion, as well as in scores of national anthologies. He has published nine poetry collections and won numerous awards including a Pushcart Prize, the Robert Frost prize, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Ingram Merrill Poetry Foundation, and The New Criterion Poetry Book Award for his collection, This Shadowy Place, published by St. Augustine’s Press in 2014. His poems have been included in six of The Best American Poetry annual volumes. His collection, Present Vanishing: Poemsreceived the 2009 Connecticut Book Award for Poetry. Allen’s poems have been featured on Poetry Daily and Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac and in Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, as well as on the national website of Tricycle, where he’s been the guest poet writing on Zen Buddhism and poetry. Allen was the Connecticut State Poet Laureate from 2010-2015. His newest collection, Zen Master Poems, appeared from the noted Buddhist publishing house, Wisdom, Inc., distributed by Simon & Schuster, in Summer, 2016.
Dick Allen has had poems in most of the nation’s premier journals including Poetry, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Hudson Review, New Republic, Tricycle, American Scholar, Ploughshares, Margie, Plume, and New Criterion, as well as in scores of national anthologies. He has published nine poetry collections and won numerous awards including a Pushcart Prize, the Robert Frost prize, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Ingram Merrill Poetry Foundation, and The New Criterion Poetry Book Award for his collection, This Shadowy Place, published by St. Augustine’s Press in 2014. His poems have been included in six of The Best American Poetry annual volumes. His collection, Present Vanishing: Poemsreceived the 2009 Connecticut Book Award for Poetry. Allen’s poems have been featured on Poetry Daily and Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac and in Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, as well as on the national website of Tricycle, where he’s been the guest poet writing on Zen Buddhism and poetry. Allen was the Connecticut State Poet Laureate from 2010-2015. His newest collection, Zen Master Poems, appeared from the noted Buddhist publishing house, Wisdom, Inc., distributed by Simon & Schuster, in Summer, 2016.
2016 Winners of Connecticut Poetry Award Announced
2016 Connecticut Poetry Award Judge: Dr. Joyce Ashuntantang
1st Place “Echo of Stone” by Elaine Zimmerman
2nd Place “Shadow” by Sharon Charde
3rd Place “Skin” by Kat Lehmann
About the judge: Dr. Joyce Ashuntantang is a poet and an Associate Professor of English at the University of Hartford. She was a guest poet at the VII International Poetry Festival, Granada, Nicaragua, (2011), 22 International Festival of Medellin, Colombia (2012), the First Athens World Poetry Festival, Greece (2013) and BIGSAS festival in Bayreuth, Germany (2015). A graduate of three continents, Dr. Ashuntantang received a B.A in Modern English Studies with a minor in Theater Arts from the University of Yaoundé Cameroon, a Masters in Librarianship from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and a Ph.D. in English on African Literature from the City University of New York. She is the author of many scholarly and creative publications. Her collection of poetry, A Basket of Flaming Ashes, continues to be valued locally and internationally. Her poems have been translated into Spanish, Greek, Hebrew and Turkish and many have been anthologized in poetry collections all over the world.
Elaine Zimmerman 1st Place Connecticut Poetry Award 2016
Echo of Stone for Nelba Marquez-Greene
The daughter is winging wildly against the white orchards. Braided hair, braided dusk.
The hills shift and fold in ebbing light. A blue line ribbons through memory.
The mother sobs. Nothing but shattered urns. Her daughter shot. Gone.
Where did we forget our wholeness? Wanting the holes in her daughter’s fabric to grow roots of purpose. Hair, limb, vine.
Open the skin. We sleep in dust. Tear the pulp. Nothing is changed. Repeat the end. An echo of stone.
Please, hold the roof down; guard the light. Fold arms around each child and what shoots forth from clay.
Do not ignore our small and vast despair. Whisper of wings, as close to us as breathing.
Each lamb returns slowly down the path. The shepherd counts with rod of ash. Through a dark window, the mother stares.
Twirls her son’s curls. The night a long knife, sharp as what pierces through dirt air sound breath.
Sharon Charde 2nd Place Connecticut Poetry Award 2016
That white slash of graffiti on golden stone from the bus down to Via del Corso that morning––Americans, Roma will be your grave––
the words loomed so large they’re carved into me still. I didn’t look at my son sitting next to me, attach the words to him, to us,
though he’d soon be dead. I think we were headed to see that Caravaggio he loved––it was one of those churches so dark you put coins in a little slot
for two minutes of light––Americans, Roma will be your grave–– I wondered if it was the tourists they hated so, us with our neck-slung
cameras and credit cards, white sneakers and too-tight shorts? He tried so hard to blend in that when the paparazzi found him by the Tiber dead
that morning they thought he was Italian, the inside of the leather jacket he’d bought in Florence filled with blood from his fall. Was that painting
The Crowning With Thorns, The Martyrdom Of Saint Matthew, The Fortune Teller? Caravaggio was a realist, he knew how to shift
the light to dark with little in between. No, I think it must have been Ecce Homo we were looking at then in that dark church, later on
in the glaring brilliance of a Roman morgue. Kat Lehmann 3rd Place Connecticut Poetry Award 2016
it is my ambassador to the world my hot, my feel, my here but not there
an inexact barrier, heat and sweat like a muddled language seeping through
if I wore a different skin would you still know it is me?
it is recognizable enough – a fancy façade for the shy self within
without it, I might not realize my perimeters or whether I am part of everything else
why do we need to be so distinct? it must not be that important
for what skin is worn in the land of souls? what use is a costume when the pageant is over?
I dream of pure beings in butterfly bliss intermingling like soft flames
what was once contained in a fragile glass will be made free as water
when we drop these worn garments I will still know it is you
as we reach the latent truths of ourselves and fall together, sure as gravity, shapeless as stars
Connecticut Poetry Award winners for 2017
WINNER: FIRST PLACE: Brent Terry
The Torrent Is a Harbinger --Garden Bridge, Willimantic, CT
Raining again, and between my window and the pink Victorian across the river hangs a curtain of concrete lace. Through its folds the abandoned thread- mills dissolve, reconstitute themselves as lofts, as studios where as we speak, painters in Nirvana T-shirts and spattered jeans shout color at canvas, cry and hue that until this moment existed only as rumor, delicious as whispers trickled tongue-to-ear from one grizzled relic to another, rocking westward like spicetrade troubadours conjuring the impossibility of cardamom from pockets of silk. The river thunders with snowmelt, the bones of ruined works raising a havoc of current and froth. I want to smash something until it sings. I want to set the choirloft alight, speak in tongues that torch the silent tabernacle where winter kneels, worrying its beads and murmuring. I want to sing you back, little brother, from the dead. Every blossom bursts from a rupturing and from my chest these bulbs scream your tulips out into the innocent air. Silver hammers pound their syllables of rain into my skull. Who knows what riot provokes the painter’s hand—deft thrust into a puddle of alazzarin crimson, spasm of some rare blue—the incendiary stroke, the cinnamon whiff, vibrato that throbs from brain to brush, bristles igniting a furious bloom.
—for Scott, In Memorium, Easter 2017
“The Torrent is a Harbinger” is as strong a poem capturing the feeling of grief as I’ve ever read: “I want to smash something until it sings.” The poem’s colors are intense (“shout color at canvas”), its use of synesthesia expert, the setting and arrangement of the setting unique. This is a tactile poem when sorrow and atmosphere blend, a poem in which we are utterly, intensely here as we look across the way. It’s a rare thing to find a poem that maintains such strength and throbs so from beginning to end. With its speaker, we are compelled to feel what we would not.
WINNER: SECOND PLACE: Alycia Pirmohamed
Nights / Flatline
There were some tones of night I could not bear,
that I could not gather in my arms and hold onto.
Small town nights.
Cigarette nights, plumage swelling and drifting into a grand mal sky.
Nights where I harnessed myself to the canola fields, alfalfa leaves, elk sightings
unelegiacally, with no magnitude of loss, no understanding of letting go.
That was fourteen years ago, and by now the echo is half-dream
made of skimmed milk and cane sugar stars. The other half?
Radio static, the white noise of prairies twenty minutes outside of the city
where, for miles, all you will ever see is that one spotted calf
walking into the sunset.
Smaller nights, smaller even than the needle of a broken compass
flickering back and forth, then hovering briefly as if to say--
you have reached your destination. Or, perhaps, you are not lost.
Then pointed toward the glimpse of spruce trees outside my bedroom window
holding close all of the stray cats underneath as each stammer of lightning
Those are the nights that dial, that leave a message then hang up, hang you up
under the moon, into a storm, into solitude.
The poem has mysteries of the unexplained and mysteries embedded in its style. Tones are almost impossible to catch, but here there are “tones of night….Small town nights.” We’re in a dream state in which “one spotted calf” is “walking into the sunset.” In “Nights / Flatline” we waver between the terribly concrete and the floating abstracts. I kept returning to this most evocative poem. Many of the finest poems, like this one, keep us purposely unsure.
WINNER: THIRD PLACE: Claire Rubin
be careful crossing bridges some can’t bear the weight of your sorrow having carried too many souls soughing & sighing under oppressive loads some have wooden slats rotting with tears unable to support another step be careful check your footing on suspension bridges wobbling in the air, swinging side to side worn handrails gripped by a glance at white rapids swirling below be careful on covered bridges walking through the shadows of others’ remorse, breathing the musty air of regret that sears your lungs if you must cross, and you must to move from the clitter-clatter of this side to the quiet hush of the other be careful
How difficult is to write a poem of advice without sounding “preachy.” But “Bridges” succeeds. Is abstracts are confirmed by its central imagery of types of bridges we all use to cross between places of our lives. I’m particularly taken by “be careful / on covered bridges / walking through the shadows of others’ / remorse….” “Be careful,” the poem says, and the poem’s quiet admonitions convince me to be so.
HONORABLE MENTION Srinivas Mandavilli, “An End to Suffering”
Karen Torop, “ONSEN: AT A JAPANESE HOT SPRING BATH”
Bill Earls, “The December Mail Is Full of Children We Don’t Know”