2005 Poetry Competition
W.B. Yeats Society of N.Y. 2005 Poetry Competition
The W.B. Yeats Society of New York poetry competition is open to members and nonmembers of any age, from any locality. Poems in English up to 60 lines, not previously published, on any subject may be submitted. Each poem
(judged separately) typed on an 8½ x 11-inch sheet without author’s name; attach 3×5-inch card with name, address, telephone, e-mail. Entry fee is $8 for the first poem and $7 for each additional. Include self-addressed stamped envelope to receive a copy of the report, like this one. A list of winners is posted on our Web site around March 31. First prize $250, second prize $100. Winners and honorable mentions receive one-year memberships in the Society and are honored at a Society event. Authors retain rights, but grant us the right to publish/broadcast winning entries. These are the complete guidelines; no entry form is necessary.
The deadline for our 2013 competition is February 1st. Awards will be presented at an event in April. For information on our other programs, or on membership ($40 and $30 per year, full-time students $15), visit our website, or write us at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, New York NY 10003.
2005 contest report of the judge, Grace Schulman
Yeats’s great poem, Adam’s Curse, first appeared a century and a year ago, but its criteria for poetry are still new.
The poem opens on an intimate conversation:
I said, "A line will take us hours maybe; Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought, Our stitching and unstiching has been naught."
The finest of the poems I read in the contest named for William Butler Yeats have that manner of skillful “stitching” that seems only “a moment’s thought”. Those poems are beautiful. They “labour to be beautiful”, in Yeats’s words, and hard-won accomplishment is seamless.
Since the contest is properly anonymous, the winning poems are given here only by title. Like you, I’m eager to find out who the authors are. As I savored my top choices, I knew they were all winners in a real way. Still, I had to rank them, and after an intense inward struggle, came up with a tie for first prize, The Geography of Distance and Broken: Blue, both amazing for their unobtrusive skill. The first is set in a little town at dusk. I quote from the second stanza:
It starts when the clerk of the five-and-dime sweeps the dust from the floors, slips off her apron, flips the sign in the window to closed, locks the door behind her. Cars on the main street fade away, the grocery store empties, the lights of the houses go out, one-by-one – Then, distance settles in like an unlit road unspooling through years.
That deceptively casual opening suddenly deepens as the town becomes a metaphor for
the wilderness within: those stretches of deserts, of flatlands that inhabit the heart – the miles pulled forth by longing.
Once again I’m struck by the seeming effortlessness, the ease, of the inward turning. The statement is large, and it is made with neither rhetoric nor sentimentality.
Broken: Blue is very different from The Geography of Distance in manner and form but it, too, has the unmistaken look of “a moment’s thought”. As The
Geography of Distance is conversation, Broken: Blue has the diction of thought. It is a startling villanelle whose expression of grief is deeper and stronger for its indirectness. Broken: Blue has sprung lines reminiscent of Hopkins and a voice like no other. It is composed all in one sentence, and excerpting any part will not convey its magic. Still, I can’t resist the final quatrain:
of a grief that cannot be wept, swept into kitchen corners, the pulse of your left temple, quickilvered fish thoughts, blue-shimmered, litheblue drenching the sky, drowning, this blue breath
My choice for second prize is Reading the Tideline. Here the poet layers image upon
image of “the sea’s leavings” to arrive quite naturally and inevitably at a concluding statement:
We try but can’t articulate the pain of something undefined, yearned for, somehow never quite attained, a search inscrutably rewarding; prospect without incident or end.
I pick On Skopelos for honorable mention. The central character, a mountainclimber,
apprehends the world around her in a new way and is transformed by a quality of the light affecting her vision of rocks. The concept descends from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous
observation about the writer as “transparent eyeball”: “I am nothing. I see all.” Like the
others, it is made new:
Then these filaments, like spearpoints, either reverse or vanish – as if, in the middle of a silence closer to whirlwind than calm, more squall or waterspout, near vortex than stillness, she has become all pupil, pure eye – and her look, her vision, if these are the right words, if they are what sight is, what seeing means, no longer goes out or comes back, but is.
2005 Winning Entries
Hear entrant reading from the poem
Every night, little towns like the one in which I live disappear. The leave only their absence in the creosote and sage; on stony hillsides, with grey-needled pines; along plains that sway with centuries of sedges and oats. It starts when the clerk of the five-and-dime sweeps the dust from the floors, slips off her apron, flips the sign in the window to closed,. locks the door behind her. Cars on the main street fade away, the grocery store empties, the lights of the houses go out, one-by-one– Then, distance settles in like an unlit road unspooling through the years. How many pockets the night has, how many satchels it must carry because the space between the stars is never small or simple, and darkness is never just a lack of light. And what is distance, but the world expanding in the darkness so far beyond oneself– or maybe it is the wilderness within: those stretches of deserts, of flatlands and slopes, that inhabit the heart– the miles pulled forth by longing. Each sleepless hour is an endless road, a longing, a clock that turns overhead like a far away moon, like a sadness of muted light. Each hour is the estrangement of names, of memories and landscapes, and all their permutations. All night, I turn with the hands of the clock toward the half-light of dawn, toward the moment when distance must release its clutch on these towns, must scatter them back, like pages torn from nostalgia, to the places where they belong. Then night will pack its bags, fold into itself, travel on.
by Melissa Morphew
Hear entrant reading from the poem
Silvered-fish thoughts, blue-shimmered, lithe, too mercurial to voice, this grief, nimble blue-shimmer; the sky can take your breath cold mornings, cloud weft, white rift in bright October sunlight, leaf-dapple, silvered-fish thoughts, blue-shimmered, lithe, sour milk-thistle grief cannot be wept into the nutshell of a silver thimble, this blue-shimmer; a sky can take your breath like a silver perch catches sun-shift and your heart stops; a grief throbs your left temple, silvered-fish thoughts, blue-shimmered, lithe, swimming round and round and round, fretted- blue-shimmer of this glass globe, trembling blue edge of a sky that can take your breath, of a grief that cannot be wept, swept into kitchen corners, the pulse of your left temple, quicksilvered-fish thoughts, blue-shimmered, litheblue drenching the sky, drowning, this blue breath
by Paul Elisha
Niskayuna, New York
Hear Mr. Elisa reading from the poem
Intent on the sea’s leavings, studying what the waves eject, we trace the tide’s utmost reach, scan each scrap, dropping scattered discards in our wake. The sea is generous, haphazardly accepts what wind, wave and woe conspire to stow within its keep. An eccentric warden, the deep hoards the heaviest, sends the gossamer and filigreed back to catch an eye, seduce the senses until something catchier enthralls but all adds up to the same, flotsam. What it breeds is seeded with nostalgia, overlaid, paid for by our fancied inclinations. Unlearned lessons prod us, still yearning for the peculiar, farther up the beach. Each find reminds us of another, once discarded prize we hoped to match, jettisoned too soon, more ruefully remembered by its absence; bits and pieces now endowed with inexplicable value, the slightest hint of iridescence sending glints beyond facsimile. We try but can’t articulate the pain of something undefined, yearned for, somehow never quite attained, a search inscrutably rewarding; prospect without incident or end.
Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
Hear Mr. Lautermilch reading from the poem
for a friend, away for the summer
She has been climbing the mountain for most of the morning now, and the better part of the afternoon; and as she pauses she can feel the darts leaving her eyes, the hot dry flint of each look hitting, striking the targets in the waves. The sea, or seas, the waters are all around, on every side, wherever she sends her glance; and she feels the arrows of her sight shift in mid-air something about the light, the sun on this mountaintop – and changing become fine threads, silver maybe, or gold – or maybe some element even more volatile, more subtle and quick. Then these filaments, these spear points, either reverse or vanish – as if, in the middle of a silence closer to whirlwind than calm, more like the rush of vortex or waterspout than true quiet, she has become all pupil, pure eye – and her look, her vision, if these are the right words, if they are what sight is, what seeing means, no longer goes out or comes back, but is. There are no trees here, only boulders, great heaps of scalded or blistering rock, though the little mosses and lichens cling in patches here and there to the stone. Now she sees her footsteps, this trail of scuff marks she has left, even that path along the cliff edge seem to be grinning – as if the sea out there, the ocean in here, are smiling. And she and the place are their mirror. Their candle. Their bed.
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