“[when I died they found a nest of snakes in my intestines, their backs]” and “Somewhere beyond the curve of the earth, there is a ceremonial bamboo boat” disarmed me with their terrible beauty. These poems appealed to me initially by sound, then by language, and finally with meaning. While the first may appear more abstract than the second both of these poems have many layers. Delving into a difficult poem and finding that the effort opens its secret compartments—and here the compartments are all fastened by spring hinge—is extremely rewarding. That there is beauty in the terrible ruin caused by marine debris, that there is usefulness in decay after death—those snakeskin boots!—is something that may cross our minds when cultivating soil, but not often when contemplating the death of “everything that ties its shoes”. The surprises in these devastating poems make the reader think, and then think again. Like the ghost images that linger in the second poem, these poems linger within the reader. It takes a deft hand to create art that works on multiple levels. I look forward to reading more of the poet’s work.
In nature, fire destroys even as it rejuvenates. A paradox brilliantly and affectingly captured in “Color Has History”—the lyrical and bittersweet portrait of a young couple left to pick up the pieces after a wildfire sweeps across their cherished farm. As with fire itself, the language here is beautiful and intense. In the end, “Color Has History” is a love letter to a person and a place, as well as a testament to the ability of both humanity and nature to rise from the ashes.
“Love and Industry: A Midwestern Notebook” is an essay about the neglected industrial landscape and people of the Midwest, about finding the beautiful and even the sublime in ordinary wreckage that is part of our common ground. It feels like a piece that could have been sung by Paul Westerberg. It feels like Richard Hugo, post-punk. It claims, “A concrete loading dock doesn’t ask anything of you, doesn’t demand that you agree with its crazy stories or its lies—and that is love, after all.” That is beautiful, and in a world in which we are all trying to understand what love is and isn’t, this is a piece that reminds us that it is within and without. We have what we have and we better love that, including what we pass through, what we think of as ruin, the pockmarked cityscapes that are not empty. Lyrical and exquisite.
These winning entries and the following finalists will be published in Terrain.org Issue No. 31, launching in our redesigned format in mid-January 2013. Look for these stellar contributions then!
3rd Annual Contest Finalists
Robin Carstensen, for “Blue Marlin”, “The Long Return”, and “The Hold”
Lissa Kiernan, for “Whereas” and “Eclogue on Decommissioning”
Amy Ratto, for “Song for Pink Bloom and Passerine” and “Song of Collision”
Tina Schumann, for “Another Sunday”, Winter, Affirmation”, “Home Redux”, and “A Seasonal Accord”
Martha Silano, for “If You Could Be Anybody, Who Would You Be?” and “God in Utah”
Hope Coulter, for “The Hurricane”
Kristie Letter, for “Real Estate”
Joan Nichols, for “At the Dune Shack”
Langdon Cook, for “The Hawk Lady”
Jacqueline Kolosov-Wenthe, for “Tortoise”
Josh Shear, for “Awake in L.A.”
Marco Wilkinson, for “I Have Lived My Whole Life on This Boat (Kerala Backwaters)”
Congratulations to our winners and finalists, and many thanks for the wonderful submissions and support we received for this contest! And special thanks to our judges Suzanne Frischkorn, Skip Horack, and Christopher Cokinos!