PRINCEMERE POETRY PRIZE

Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry. 
- W.B. Yeats

2020 PRINCEMERE POETRY PRIZE


Christopher Vaughan, Jennifer Phillips, and Joan Crate have won the 2020 Princemere Poetry Prize. Their poems appear below.


Christopher Vaughan


Ration

Berries on cereal,
Squirts of Purell,

Cereal itself.
The pantry's upper shelf.

Onions, onion skin
For stock. Take-out, take-in,

Trips out.
What we can go without—

Pickle ball, bike rides,
Breaths in outside,

Wipes and rewipes,
Knife-swipes

Down cabbage heads.
Breads

Elsewhere kneaded. Salt, sugar,
Least-opened bulgur

Wheat. Bananas,
Now brown bananas,

Hard-seeded flax,
Kleenex packs—

What little we can use.
The news.



Jennifer Phillips


Torchbearer

Inside the dark self is another self
like a small sun continually
trying the edges of shadow
with its insistent tongues,
sending out its experimental flares. So—
no need to fear night-walking
when the half-moon has packed up her flimsy light
in night's black valise and flown the coop.

Whatever you are when whatever you call it
takes possession—
your black dog, fog, that metal shade
that rackets and rachets shut over you,
the hours you are your own eclipse, still

your annular brightness flames,
let me tell you.

Until the dog frisks off into the meadow
and the door clanks open,
until fog swishes her soft linen into the trees
and light's sickle smites and transects the dark—
I can see you. Trust me.



Joan Crate


Three Poems for Kamal


Costa Rica

Water shivers around our plump thighs and bellies
in warm blue, swirls of sugary juice with a lick of rum
in our mouths, the sun lustring through the sky—
a liquid pearl—glowing through your eyes
as you grin at me. Who would ever guess
you are dying?

                         We lunch on fresh fruit
and barbequed pork while grackles flit up to steal
food off our plates, grabbing at gratification, greedy
as we are.

                 In the emerald light, we can't tell toucans
from pineapples, iguanas from guava, lazy pleasure
from clawing fear. This meal, this moment, this holiday
from reality is necessary as breath, as you, my darling,
to me.

           We have lived with lack long enough to know
how lucky we now are
                                     except for this:

your bleeding bladder, liver of tumours and cankered lungs.
We are at peace
                            except for the vomiting, hacking cough
and terrible yearning for more days to peer through windows
at deer gobbling last year's marigolds in the snow,
bellies swollen with young, or swallows diving kamikaze
through an aneurism sky.

                                          I whisper to you
when your eyes are closed and half your mind in dream.
I plant kisses when your flesh is hammers and needles,
acid marching like red ants from penis to throat.
I cushion the fracture between one and two a.m.
as you retch in the toilet, brain buried in a coal mine,
organs in earthquake. I tell you, I always say I want you
to stay.

             But trust me. Please, please believe that sometime
soon when I have hauled my most putrid sorrow to a landfill,
maybe a dreary afternoon I've stuffed myself with pot brownies
to crowd out misery, a day I hope will be long, long from now,
at least a week, maybe a month—oh god, make it two,
give us an entire season—when at last I have grown
bigger than myself—then,

I won't insist.



Perennials

Hummingbird wings beat thoughts
to froth on a morning of acid sun
and burnt blossoms, this clear
and wounded morning
of mourning.

                     Evaporated clouds hang
heavy with memory of downpour and loss.
A rainbow hovers—bruised hangover—
too temperamental, too miraculous
to manifest without pain.

                                        Hummingbird
works its beak in a petunia, shameless
hunger and thrust, its small compressed
desire pulls every muscle to motion.
This bird of dervish and embers exists
here                                          now.
                I will remember.


II

For months things fall apart:
stove, job, you, printer, bathroom
mirror.
           Splinters of curse catch
in my heel, pierce a fingertip
reflecting streaks of more bloody
disaster. Treachery of disease

and machine lurch through the dead hours.
I awake to the frenetic cry of stripped screws,
fighting birds, viruses, scorched firewalls
and coughing, can't take anymore break-
downs, decide to go to ground. Like you
I go to the famished ground.


III

This year of ruin will be my summer
of perennials. After 3 coffees, I work compost
in stony soil—rancid orange grin, eggshell teeth,
salad slime—plant seeds, fountain and feather grasses,
murmur to the lavender's frugal leaves, daydream
its widow's weeds the colour of slumber. I wail

in fragrant sorrow,
                              lift mine eyes
unto the gods of chance and weather.

Day after day, hour after hour in funereal dress
of white garden gloves and hat of shadows,
I plant perennials. In your conjured arms
I place them, your perennial arms of love
and vanish.



Wait

Death is not what you want,
not what you choose, and you would do anything
to avoid it if you could.

                                     But you can't

so you slip it on elegantly:
a dinner jacket on the Titanic, the scent
of burnt almonds lingering at the lapels,
the coarse gold and black pattern of Andromeda

falling down your sleeves. You breathe in Mercury's
toxic air of silver and torture, sculpt an ice centrepiece
of the second coming, take my cold hand in yours
and kiss my fingers. You aren't afraid as I am,

terrified for and without you. You think death
might be a revelation in velvet, perhaps the gown
worn by the beautiful stranger you brushed against
just before birth, umbilical cord festering in your belly.

Maybe it was her shadow in the doorway
and not a hooker we saw as we walked down
9th Avenue the night we met, silk and barbed wire
in our mouths when we kissed.

Me, a student with kids, you an immigrant
just starting a job, we suspected life's promise
was nothing more than a flicker in a coal mine,
layers of grit on grit hovering above our shoulders.

How could we know about the long evenings
of candlelight and open windows?

Death is not what you want, you whisper,
the booby prize in Bingo, the weapon in a board-game
we play with the children, tears glittering in your eyes
when you glance sideways at me from another dimension.

Or is that just my desire?

You play death like a musician—Beethoven—
pressing my skin with fingers of stone,
your gravel notes and accent of ashes.
You perform a narrative arc, dive

through black waves and bring me pearls.
That last time I pulled you above the surface,
you looked straight at me, but saw
what I looked like from the bottom of the sea.

I raise you up, your shadows and currents,
remembering how you shone when we were young
and how you looked at the moment of death—

exquisite.

Let your beauty swim to my need,
my forever and ever longing.

Wait for me at the bottom of the sea
at the end of the world.



Gordon Johnston


Losers Weepers

This one kept a shirt so long a hard rain ripped the arms off him.
The seams gave with the weight of the water and still
he couldn't trash the threads.

Three wild birds this one has held: a towhee brained
by a clean window pane, a green-glittered thumb of a hummer,
a snow-numbed wren he warmed in his hoodie.
Two died in his hand. The hummer zithered south.

In high school, cheerleaders asked this one
for boy advice as he lettered their run-ins.
They said he was nice. The pawprints he painted
on their panties flashed when they flipped.

Each one sad, each wanting to be seen, if only
in a quick flicker, sequin-green. The boy, as small,
as weightless as the bird, watches the girls cheer
when their team tears through his words.



Amy Meckler


Jubilate Piscis

             After Christopher Smart

For I will consider my fish Becky.
For she swims through her Water Wisteria with great purpose.
For she does not care when it rains.
For she has never lived through snow.
For she rests blankly in front of the food I drop for her.
For her eyes are on the sides, so she cannot see the pellets.
For she believes in a god that drops food from above, which disappears.
For believing in something assuages her hunger.
For when I lift her in the air, she gasps.
For her drowning is the opposite of my drowning.
For she may be male, though her fins are excessive
and float like scarves, giving her a feminine appearance.
For when I am asleep she is the only thing moving.
For she considers the mandate to know herself.
For this she performs in stages.
For her tank is one-way glass and lit from above, she nods at her reflection.
Then she swims beneath the leaves to rest undisturbed in darkness.
For she has no soul to wrestle with.
Though she may not live to see snow.
For if she died it wouldn't matter.
For other fish could replace her. As I could be replaced by other gods.



Miriam O'Neal


Want

Last night, we saw the grackles rise
from the yellowwood,
their clicking all we knew of them

until they rose,
kerned the air, above the stubble hay—
curled as waves curl

back from shore across the scruff
of their own seafoam,
sibilant as silk on taffeta—

as when Odette
would rush along a swept stone path
toward a lover,

fed up with Swann's sulking, a copse
of cypresses knifing
the low red sun as autumn's smoke

shot through the weft.
So much depends on happiness.
We watched the flock

break into twos and threes, settle
in the lindens—how
their silence made them disappear.

There will be no child.



Tori Grant Wellhouse


Owl

           My grown son and I play Owl,
a game I learned from a Nordic woman
with solar eyes charged          with the Northern Lights.

           He leans down to me.               With splayed
fingers, I hold his heavy head between my palms.
I aim my forehead into his.

           His hair's too long. He hasn't
shaved. His ginger whiskers look                    like molt.
"Close your eyes," I say. I open mine wide

           as moons, pressing closer, gaining                  immeasurable fractions
until our faces are nearly conjoined,                 pupil to pupil,
mysterious centers. I wish I could push

           through his skull                    to know what he's thinking,
what he's doing, if he's using. I can remember a time when
all I saw was green.

           "Open," I say,               hopeful.
He opens his eyes into my huge orbs, his hands
large as levers resting on my shoulders.

           He belly-laughs, pleased by the attention.
The object of the game is                    to startle,
tubular-eyed proximity,              collecting ionizing light,

           information, courage,               shining it back.
"Now you," he says,               unfurling his scroll of a forehead
into my flattened facade.






Joan Crate, Jennifer Phillips, and Christopher Vaughan have won the 2020 Princemere Poetry Prize. Each was awarded $100.

Runners-up are Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach, Jessica Dionne, Gordon Johnston, Jayne Marek, Amy Meckler, Miriam O'Neal, Christopher Smith, and Tori Grant Welhouse.

(Click the tabs above to see previous winners.)

 

Listed at Duotrope

 

 

 

Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.
- W.B. Yeats