CL Writing Contest 2016: Poetry

Poetry Judge Helen Pruitt Wallace offers her impressions in selecting this year's winner.

click to enlarge Poetry Judge Helen Pruitt Wallace reads from her work at the 2016 Writing Contest event at CL Space on Mar. 16. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Poetry Judge Helen Pruitt Wallace reads from her work at the 2016 Writing Contest event at CL Space on Mar. 16.

Culturally, historically, “green” suggests many good things: hope, spring, fertility, nature, luck, growth, wealth, and yes — sometimes jealousy and greed. Many of these are woven into poems submitted for this year’s Creative Loafing poetry contest. Thank you to all who submitted, and congratulations to the poets whose poems made it into the top 10 — you’re in good company!

Each of these poems includes striking imagery and charged language. Myrna Shuman’s wonderful last line from “At the Green-Eyed Café” shows us ”taro root green in coconut milk,” and in “Nahua” by Christopher Costabile, “green earth stumbles forth like a newborn calf.” From his fine poem, “Feeder,” Andrew Harlan draws us in with his image of a “rake propped against the door/powder blue garden/gloves draped over its handle.” Images are seductive; charged language is seductive. John Davis’s villanelle makes us want to be at that campsite where “These woodland days heat rises as light falls/We build our fire to intermittent calls.” Beautiful!

While all of these poems have much that catch the ear and eye, finally, it was the poem that accomplished both, using clear narrative, concrete detail, and metaphor, which rose to the top.

In Brooks Peters’s “Chrysalis,” I feel the heft of the avocado pit — like a fist, or a hardened heart. And the toothpicks — spokes “crucifying it” as they hold the pit captive — much like the speaker of the poem, once held captive in a pantry, with “only the dank odor of potatoes slung inside a sack.” But this poem, like most good poems, includes an important turn. And it comes by way of a crack.

A slit in the skin of the pit. I love the metaphor here. Isn’t that always the case? Our own small cuts, those sharp punctures we all know, become portals — of what? If we’re lucky, maybe empathy finds its way out of a cracked brown thing — a greening of sorts.

In the last stanza of “Chrysalis,” Peters writes “and from deep/within the cleft/a stem unfurled/lifted up, it seemed,/by viridescent wings.”

In this image and in this poem, so are we caught in a powerful greening.

Congratulations to Brooks Peters, my pick as winner of the CL 2016 Poetry Contest.

Helen Pruitt Wallace serves as St. Petersburg’s Poet Laureate and was the recent recipient of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance SunLit Award. Her first collection of poems, Shimming the Glass House (published by Ashland Poetry Press), won the Richard Snyder Prize and received a Florida Book Award. Helen teaches poetry and nonfiction at Eckerd College.

Judge's Pick: "Chrysalis," by Brooks Peters

Readers' Pick: "My Luck," by Ronni Radner

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