2021 JMRL-WriterHouse Poetry Contest

2021 JMRL-WriterHouse Poetry Contest

The challenges surrounding the current pandemic may have continued into 2021, but JMRL and WriterHouse were very happy to once again offer the annual Poetry Contest for Adults this past March, which took place for the sixth time this year.  

A team of judges selected finalists from all the entries, which were then judged by the esteemed Luisa Igloria, Poet Laureate of Virginia and Professor of Creative Writing and English at Old Dominion University. We are pleased to announce the winner and runner-up here and share their words for others to enjoy.

The winning entry was “Carolina Wrens,” written by poet Mary McCue, who will receive the prize of a $200 Visa gift card. Poet Laura Wallace was chosen as the runner-up, for her work “Aphasia”; she receives the prize of a $100 Visa gift card. Luisa Igloria had the following to say about the selections:

“Carolina Wrens”

The poet observes such a careful economy of language and image in this poem, yet doesn’t sacrifice any generosity of attention. Birds call through the branches with “voices so clear and bright” as if to illustrate the promise of persistence. But the season might have arrived too early for nesting, for “song and intent.” At the end of the day, there are only “feathers and chips of bone” on the porch. “Living alone, one can believe anything,” says the speaker; but though the world might not exactly last, at least there are these small returns. 

“Aphasia”

What would we do with no access to even the most ordinary of words, without the ability to communicate in speech? In “Aphasia,” the poet captures a beloved’s struggle with a disorder which has damaged their ability to process language. Though the faltering brain can still “illuminate a scan,” there is such ache and yearning here along with the hope that “you will remember … one morning/ just in time.”   

Please consider these comments as you read the poems below (note: formatting attempts were made to be as close to the original as possible):

“Carolina Wrens” by Mary McCue,
Winner

What they are saying this morning
of dew fresh grass
I do not know,

but I understand happiness
as the pair flutters 
in and out of Stewartia branches—

voices so clear and bright
I’d swear the tiny white petals
opened a month early.

Hidden in a fork of the tree,
a thatched pagoda-like house,
leaves, twigs and milkweed silk
spilling from its lip.

For weeks I’ve admired the diligence
of these shy birds hopping from bush pile
to nest and felt blessed
by song and intent.

Living alone, one can believe anything.
I believed they belonged forever
like the morning glories
of blue, dark blue and rose,

those delicate climbers
that appear every spring
wrap themselves around
a reed, a pole.

But hours later, on a porch step,
only feathers and chips of bone.

“Aphasia” by Laura Wallace,
Runner-Up

One morning a ragged fingernail scratches 
deep within the brain a soft and lonely itch. 

A yearning not to speak, not to need so strongly 
to be heard or to divine the word that will relieve all 
hunger, quell all war and cruelty, slake a planet’s 
thirst for peace and oxygen, oxygen and peace. 

This changes to desire for tea, just tea, it’s what you always do 
but you can’t recall what tea is called, its early-morning sound or 
meaning, in which disorderly cabinet it waits or how it’s made. 
Instead you head again to bed and start to write until you read 
what you have typed and it 
is gibberish. 

The smart and urgent residents prick and quiz religiously until you 
finally reply in ways that mean as much to them as once had meant 
to you: the will-yous, won’t-yous, can-yous, can’t-yous collected 
over time before you learned this day that all a human needs when 
questions come is yes or no. DNR? Okay? 

They let you sleep or make you sleep and later on illuminate a scan. 
A white spot sends out a beam from the sly cupboard where tea lives, 
where words are stored in wild and looping canyons full of tiny jars 
with golden lids and colors fragrant as continents of flowers. 

You’d had no idea, really none, how a pilot might require 
such skill and concentration. 

You find no secret speech on peace or Paris or the planet but 
when they say the stroke was small you can still go, joy roars 
in your chest as loudly as the engines making snaking, filthy 
trails that fall away below your feet. And though you know 
there might be a word like love you’ve overlooked, you hope 
you will remember it one morning 
just in time.

Thank you to all the entrants for participating in the contest, and congratulations once again to the winners!

One thought on “2021 JMRL-WriterHouse Poetry Contest

  1. I am curious to know how many poems were submitted and how many were selected as finalists for consideration as winning and runner-up entry. I remember reading the number of poems submitted last year at 90 or so but I am not sure of that. Did our pandemic inspire more poets to submit entries this year than last? And, will it be possible to read other poems that were selected as finalists?

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