2005 Poetry Competition

"Sing what is well made"

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.


Read winning entries for 2004 and judge’s report

Read winning entries for 2003 and judge’s report

Read winning entries for 2002 and judge’s report

Read winning entries for 2001 and judge’s report

Read winning entries for 2000 and judge’s report

Read winning entries for 1999 and judge’s report

Read winning entries for 1998 and judge’s report

Read winning entries for 1995 and judge’s report


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

First Prize

The Geography of Distance

by Margaret J. Hoehn

Sacramento, California

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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.

First Prize

Broken: Blue

by Melissa Morphew

Huntsville, Texas

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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

Second Prize

Reading the Tideline

by Paul Elisha

Niskayuna, New York

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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.

Honorable Mention

On Skopelos

by Steve Lautermilch

Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

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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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