Not knowing what to expect when we put the call out for submissions to the 2014 Utne Poetry Contest, we were pleasantly surprised to receive more than 50 entries. Styles and length were all over the board and included haiku, sonnets, lyric poems, and homemade nursery rhymes. Topics covered included love, loss, and nature.
In all, the high quality of the submissions made the selection process a difficult one, but it helped to remember the intent of this contest; it was never to decide who among Utne readers is the best poet, but rather to give everyone who’s ever engaged in the “act of looking” an opportunity to share their observations. With that in mind, we present our favorite observations.
Readers were invited to vote for the their favorite poem and the poem with the most votes earned the author a selection of poetry chapbooks and the opportunity to share more of their work in the April 2015 issue of Utne Digital. Voting was closed on Jan. 31 and the reader’s selected Ellen Santistevan’s Untitled as their favorite poem, which you can read below along with the other finalists.
Thanks to everyone who submitted a poem and to everyone who voted for their favorite!
Untitled by Ellen M. Santistevan
though you are absent i
still feel you sharply
an invisible touch sensed along
the edge of my tongue
behind my neck
along my arm. it
circled my breast,
floated along my hip
in my longing
perhaps it is that i feel you
even more distinctly
because no other senses distract
me no sigh, no chesty rumble
nothing seen or tasted
only imagined words
from distant lips
The Quiet of Winterby Kirsten Hunt
Feel the tone of time passing.
A clear note drifting endlessly over snow mounded hills.
Sweep your eyes up and down as you follow the beckoning call of winter and time.
Shake off the settled summer winds heavy with pollen, and buzzing energy.
A bitter and lifeless air fills the lungs with nothingness creating space.
Rejuvenate with the absence of life and movement.
Take solace in the quiet stillness of winter.
Focus on the great vast white distance in front of you.
Create in your mind enough space to gaze and move forward.
Become inspired and allow the great pause of time to embrace you.
Fill your heart with the warmth of your thoughts and words.
Colliding Worlds by Brunella Battista
Edible mountains of clouds
Bleeding into thick ice:
This flight above and inside
Body of Earth
As we fly into her next
The same breath
That we inhale
How blind are our hearts
And our minds.
Hope by Jeanne Bertolina
When soulless corporations – with no hunger, no flesh, no tears,
no families – are called human by the highest court in our land.
And when real humans – unique, self-aware sparks of divine life –
are reduced to disposable, interchangeable, insignificant cogs in the
machines of commerce, I am tempted into bleak, inconsolable grief.
But then I look up at the moon, and remember that the sun
is always shining. Will we see the light before it’s too late?
Abandoning despair – I hope, I hope!
Moon in the black night
Is proof that in the darkness
Light still rules the sky
Untitled by Kathryn R. Robertson
Leaves begin their dance
Freshmen crisscross between them
Another first day
Wellspring by Grace Hallett
So few know her depth
Of love and strength and passion
Of knowledge and faith
They travel the path
Of smooth stones, shallow water
So they do not know
They fear the deep well
The shadows, the mystery
The endless giving
They pass by quickly
Turn their head, avert their eyes
Do not make a wish
Careful not to see
Reflected on her surface
Their truest image
So few know her depth
This wellspring of truth, of life
Never running dry
No Measure by Lynn Snyder
Dear friend from when we were growing,
How can I know you now?
Time and strange company
Bend habits like wire.
I have no measure
For my memory of you.
Butter by Victoria Goodgion
Death is a tall man with thin skin like tissue paper,
Persistent five-o-clock shadow,
And a pin-striped suit.
I met him over a piece of toast, untouched,
Burnt in the middle and curling at the edges,
Its brown crumbs in a spray across the white table.
Scattered remnants are bouquets for anorexics.
He picked at them and licked them off his fingertips.
Blood seeped from his tongue to stain his face and hands—
His teeth glistened between crimson lips while he made his offer:
Beauty for death.
Control for starvation.
It took me all of three seconds to consider
And then I slid my toast across the table.
The butter dish sat between us, disconsolate.
When Death departed, I stared at the butter
Until it took on the form of a monster.
I flung the porcelain dish across the room;
Death claimed it as a token of my affections.
After six months of courting,
Endless muffins and chocolates and chicken offered up as sacrifices,
He stood beside my bed
And smiled down at me, thick blood spurting from between his lips.
The sickness with whom I shared a bed,
My predatory lover,
Left with a nod of his translucent head,
And we were alone, Death and I.
He took my hand.
He wept when we were ripped apart,
And screamed for our unfulfilled contract.
I owed him a soul.
I could not pay him so I paid myself,
In chicken and muffins and chocolate,
In sandwiches and soup,
In oatmeal and rice pudding and the chili my mother made,
Red and hot and filled with beans,
Northern and wrong and scornful and all mine.
My bed was empty except for me.
I ate toast again.
The butter dish sat on the table, unbroken and often used.
Phantom Admirers by R.F. Thistle
How proud my Phantom Admirers aren’t!
With praises so subtle, kudos so refined,
I scarcely hear sublime applause
Echoing through … the empty auditorium …
Quiet! My name’s been called, so delicately,
To life’s indiscernible stage …
I’m summoned for Intangible Honor:
An Unnoticed Life exposed.
My hand is weary … shaking ghostly hands,
Hugging specter-strangers, family, friends:
Missing memories shall warm my sleep tonight!
My discreet award is crystal-clear:
Wait! I shall make room on my crowded mantel, bare:
Surely there is honored space for one more imperceptibility.
Encore! Encore! The absent critics rave!
My spirit-audience calls! Shall the curtain never fall?
I strut and fret my hour, my time is running out,
And I shall exit gracefully, but with a sly flourish.
Alam by Carl Mayfield
Insisting on his last name, he said 12
years of hard work in New York was
wiped out on September 11, 2001,
when someone pointed at him and
said Afghanistan. He landed in New
Mexico, a few feet from me. We
worked together, hourly wage peasants
gathering a paper money harvest for
a guy in a castle we never saw. Alam’s
sense of humor had not been removed
and we wondered out loud if life was
news to the universe, laughing at that
one, glad that we weren’t paid on our
intellectual prowess. We refrained from
tossing any bombs, sharing a belief that
people weren’t meant to be confetti.
have you heard the one
about two people
A Work Week’s Worth of Instructional Poems by Rebecca Bridge
How to Give Hugs They’ll Remember
Realize that your arms are just parentheses and between
them there is no other synonym. There is simply the one word
and it means everything.
How to Be Dirtier than Gum in a Sandbox
Walk around in the world perpetually thinking about the fact that
the ground really always has the best upskirt view.
How You Can Begin Your Biography
Start by blinding all of your old photographs you have hanging about.
They’ll recognize the lies you’re telling and anyhow, they’re so preoccupied
with blame that you’ll never get far with them staring. Next, type, “It was a good life.”
How to Remember Like a Bear
First set one paw down in the grass. And now the next one.
How to Be Thin as a Lie
Don’t eat, but when you do eat, don’t swallow, but when you do swallow,
don’t enjoy it, but when you do enjoy it, don’t mean anything by it.