On behalf of Lummox Productions, the estate of Richard Mankiewicz and our judge B.J. Buckley, I extend my congratulations to JOHN B. LEE — THE WINNER OF THIS YEAR’S ANGELA CONSOLO MANKIEWICZ POETRY PRIZE OF $1000.00
John B. Lee’s Winning Poem
my first dog Tip died in the dark
lying alone on the floor at the barn
his body gone hard
in the cold of the night
like a branch that broke off at the graft
and then broke again
as it fell to the earth
where he lay in the curl of himself
among chop sacks and
in the fragrance of silage
of rolled oats and molasses
and wheat straw
shook of its dust
and whitewash rubbed
from the rock as with each white stone
you might think of the full moon
coated in mist
and the cruel gods
brought the news to the house
in the snow
blown in at the door
and oh my slow-to-wake heart
you’d think it might
be inured to death
accustomed as I was by then
to failing runts and scouring calves
and distempered cats
their eyes sewn shut
by the green weep of crusted suppuration
but in truth
I suffered every loss
even that of the old ewe
her last fleece
tattered at her shoulder
like the torn-away sleeve
of a mendicant’s coat
who snuffled to breathe
the yellow snooze
worming her nostril
and not-at-all beautiful
come and go
with an effluent
flux of her lungs
her lamb twins leaping
as I might leap
in the milk-breath of morning
to think of my mother
and my first dog
a fat pup calling joy out of sorrow
and sorrow from joy
© John B. Lee
Thoughts on Tip from BJ Buckley (judge)
This deceptively “simple” poem is actually an amazing and skillful tour-de-force of image, form and the music of spoken Amer-Canadian English. Although devoid of capital letters and punctuation, it is a single, beautifully phrased, complex sentence, divided by two stanza breaks into three uneven “thirds”. Yet it reminded me of nothing so much as a sonnet, because it performs, much as a sonnet does, the presentation and development of an event/idea/emotion from the intimate and particular to the universal.
As it unfolds from the author’s memory of the death of their first dog, the writer’s life as a farmer is revealed – dealing with death is a constant of that hard occupation — and one might anticipate a stoicism in the face of that; but rather the author suffers even at the death of an old ewe (whose described ailments echo with incredible subtlety the devastation of COVID on human lungs) — and then in a marvelous turn in the last stanza, they give us her leaping twin lambs and themself as a child, their mother young, their dog a pup again, the life-long mortal seesaw of sorrow and joy.
I must also point out the seeming effortlessness of the narrative flow (which we all know is NEVER effortless), and the precise and vivid images — the dog’s death as being like a branch “broken off at the graft” — dog and child part of one body, now severed — the “snap string hay” the ewe’s “last fleece/ tattered at her shoulder/ like the torn-away sleeve/ of a mendicant’s coat”.
ACM Honorable Mentions
Eric Dickey – (for these 3 poems); James River; James Smith; James Byrd, Jr
Eileen Hale – Beyond the Trapdoor
Clarinda Harriss – GRIEF LITANY, IN COMMON MEASURE
Diane Klammer – What a Fisherman Said at Sawhill Ponds
Ellaraine Lockie – Eavesdropping on the Stars
John Macker – Jazz on a Summer’s Day
Wendy Rainey – (for 2 poems); Sweaters of the Dead; Astro Turf
Patti Scruggs – Degas’ Bathers
Judith Skillman – The Cantor
Dawn Senior Trask – You Horses: Paycheck
Judge’s Statement Regarding the Honorable Mentions
For the second year in a row I have had the great pleasure of judging the ACM Poetry Contest. Rather than multiple “places”, this year the prize went to a single poem, and because of that, I took my task with especial seriousness. The high quality of this year’s entries made that task difficult in the extreme, but there was, at the end, a shining star.
It was almost as difficult to select the 10 poets and their work for Honorable Mentions, because of the tremendous variety of styles and forms, and the breadth of feeling and subject matter the entrants brought to the page during this unusual, painful, complex, and difficult year. I think contest entrants take an amazing risk in sending off their most deeply felt and carefully crafted work to a complete stranger; I am humbled by the hundreds of poems I have been privileged to read. And I think such entrants always have questions about the process by which winning poems are selected. So I want to share my process.
I read every poem blind (which means no names were attached), the entire group of nearly 300 poems, all the way through, beginning to end, five times. The first time through I read purely for pleasure, as I would any collection of poems, enjoying the wide scope such a diverse group of writing offered. Then I got to work with more careful, close, and deliberate readings. At that point I made a difficult initial division into two groups, one from which I would choose the winner and honorable mentions.
I then went through that multiple reading process again, eventually putting aside about 30 poems, from which I made my final choices. My criteria throughout the entire process was, first and foremost, the quality of the craft with which the poet presented the content to the reader, as well as the clarity with which the writer’s intentions were executed. By the time I had the final 30, every poem rated high in that regard. From then on I read for exceptional language, vivid image, for surprise and beauty, for how well the individual experience described in the poem resonated beyond the individual to the wider human condition. In the very end, I picked the poems that touched me most deeply, knowing that another person might have been touched differently, or by different work, because our lives and experiences are all different. Please know that I honor all of you who entered for your persistence, your dedication, for putting pen (or keyboard) to paper, for taking the tremendous risk of committing grief and fear and anger and death and illness and love and joy and celebration to paper, and putting it OUT THERE into the world. Please don’t stop. Publisher’s note — It’s been a pleasure working with BJ; her intuition and suggestions have helped make this a wonderful experience! This year’s contest has been the most successful one ever! I hope this trend will continue. Be on the look out for next year’s contest… RD Armstrong
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