2017 Muse Contest Winners
Judge's Comments | Mark Doty
Working It Out with Teena Marie
The bouncy pop music of a nearly-forgotten singer playing on speakers at the gym may seem an unlikely subject, but for this poet it’s an occasion for thinking about how it felt to be “sixteen,/ racing my bike down streets whose hot shellac/ exuded waves of hot, phenolic steam.” Quick wit, an acute ear and deftly turned terza rima allow the poet to construct an engaging, high-speed lyric about bodies, gender, memory and time.
This vivid, physical poem pays scrupulous attention to the experience of giving a lover a haircut. The “silvery splinters” of shorn hairs indicate that this is a mature relationship, with a different pace and flavor that young love, “riveted as we are, my dear,/ the smell of your scalp remains between my/ fingers, like the ink of Sunday’s paper..” Good love poems are hard to write, and this one feels genuine, unsentimental, and completely tender.
This compelling poem describes how the speaker came to love wild sumac, a plant once regarded as an indelicate weed, and uses exacting, musical language to help us see its beauty: “I admire their form,/ how they use the body they’ve been given/ for charitable function: as fuzzed flames hold…” In the great American tradition, this close observation of the natural world brings yields a moment of aesthetic and spiritual education.
This fresh evocation of the country in autumn is sparked by inventive description – for example, “the typeset punctuation of migratory birds.”
it is brave to write in fragments
Built solely of inconclusive couplets that nearly all begin with the word if, this poem artfully – and with a minimum of gestures – suggests a relationship that was, or might have been, and might have continued, maybe, and is missed.
Bruce the Spruce
This poem of childhood memory captures one of those quirky details we never forget – in this case the Christmas window of a department store burned down years ago, seen here with affection, a gentle humor, warm irony and a bit of a shiver.