Letter from the Poetry Editor

Courtney Bambrick

Letter From the [Poetry] Editor

Courtney Bambrick

This year’s Sandy Crimmins National Prize poems explore deep grief and remind us of the system we operate within—a system that will kill difference or defiance. Danger and comfort are braided throughout the poems in this issue; they twist around the poems creating space to both grieve and grow. Some poems tear back the bandage painfully, but do so in order to apply balm. Often in one poem, we find a voice crying out in rage, then finding clarity and direction. These poems feel necessary: we frequently look to poetry for comfort, but that comfort can be untenable in an atmosphere so saturated with violence as ours is.

This year’s contest was judged by M. Nzadi Keita, author of the poetry collection Brief Evidence of Heaven which elegantly considers the life of Anna Murray Douglass, first wife of Frederick Douglass. The winning poem “Elegy for Breath” by Carlos Andrés Gómez is, according to Keita, “unrelenting” in its presentation of the trauma. She continues:

This poem haunts our very own breathing with a question, both mournful and matter-of-fact: how much, in the U.S.A., does breathing inside a human black body redefine, from birth to death?  Focused on the long tradition of American citizens murdered by police, each stanza in this poetic montage answers in a different way.

Many of the poems selected as finalists reckon with the realities of racial, sexual, and religious violence. Of her selection of poems, judge M. Nzadi Keita says, “The stunning compassion, honesty, and force of witness in the [selected poems] reinforces and affirms.….how poets solidify our human bonds.” We need one another. These poets deftly, through a variety of styles and tactics, present humanity as broken, but—staggeringly, stubbornly—capable of healing.

Philadelphia Stories thanks Joe Sullivan for his robust and continued support of this contest. We also thank Nicole Mancuso, contest coordinator and assistant poetry editor, and Yalonda Rice, managing editor, who both exert gentle-but-considerable authority and keep us moving forward. Mostly, we thank the poets who generously share their work with us and we encourage local writers to continue to do so.

We will celebrate our winners at the LitLife Poetry Festival presented by Philadelphia Stories along with the Montgomery County Poet Laureate Program at Rosemont College, April 6. Attendees will enjoy master classes with Crimmins judge M. Nzadi Keita and poet Dilruba Ahmed, judge of this year’s Montgomery County Poet Laureate competition. A series of panels will discuss and reflect on a variety of ideas related to the place of poetry in our lives and the world. We will celebrate the winning poets of the Crimmins contest and the new poet laureate of Montgomery County in an afternoon reception which will be free and open to the public. For more information please visit philadelphiastories.org/litlife-poetry-festival.

 

WINNER OF THE 2019 SANDY CRIMMINS NATIONAL PRIZE IN POETRY

“Elegy for Breath,” Carlos Andrés Gómez (Forest Hills, NY)

 

RUNNERS UP

“All Objects,” Brittanie Sterner (Philadelphia, PA)

“Nine-Year-Old Suicide in Reverse,”Chad Frame (Lansdale, PA)

“How to Read Whitewater in the Mid-Atlantic Region,” Kimberly Andrews (Chestertown, MD)

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

“Post Rehab,” Claire Rubin (Oakland, CA)

“Phantom Limb,” Fran Baird (Flourtown, PA)

“Bruce,” Chad Frame (Lansdale, PA)

 

EDITORS’ CHOICES

“Imagine Sisyphus Happy,” R.G. Evans (Elmer, NJ)

“Tapestry Room,” Rebecca Levi (New York, NY)

“Neighborhood Report,” Julia Lattimer (Boston, MA)

 

FINALISTS

“Chugach,” David Hopes

“The Silence of Emma Gonzáles Teaches Us about Language,” Matt Hohner

“I wonder why they never taught us about Sylvia Mendez,” Mercedes Lucero

“Sestina as Kabbalah/Kabbalah as Sestina,” Leonard Kress

“Oceanic Moments Outside a Discount Superstore,” Hayden Saunier

“If none are strangers,” Brittanie Sterner

“H.O. Andrews & Sons,” Kimberly Andrews

“Poem about Death Ending with Reincarnation,” Carlos Andrés Gómez

“Edge of the Dance Floor,” Carlos Andrés Gómez

 

 

Neighborhood Report

Julia Lattimer

EDITORS’ CHOICE – THE 2019 SANDY CRIMMINS
NATIONAL PRIZE IN POETRY

Neighborhood Report

by Julia Lattimer

 

The day after we read the Leda

poems in class, I am smacked alert by

 

WOMAN RAPED AT KNIFEPOINT

            BY TWO MEN, ALLSTON.

 

At Commonwealth and Linden WOMAN

is pulled out of the dirty yellow street-

 

lamp light and finds her fingers pink

with fury against the cross-hatched metal

 

fence.              Leda is a gold day-lily, outspread

and resting in the purple summer heat. The poets

 

soften Zeus’s feathers, and hold her nape in their beak.

Inside her, they engender a civilization changed

 

into something irreversible.                But

in ALLSTON, The B Line will cross loudly over rust-

 

ed tracks in an hour, and the blade—indifferent—

lets WOMAN drop.


Julia Lattimer is a poet living in Boston, Massachusetts. She is an MFA candidate at UMass Boston and the Poetry Editor for Breakwater Review. She hosts a monthly queer poetry reading series out of a living room in Allston.

Tapestry Room

Rebecca Levi

EDITORS’ CHOICE – THE 2019 SANDY CRIMMINS
NATIONAL PRIZE IN POETRY

Tapestry Room

by Rebecca Levi

 

I decided to write my feelings big and hang them on the walls.

They didn’t fit inside me anymore, like that fever dream when

I was all I had for myself and it was already too much.

So I started picking apart Flemish tapestries, seventeenth

century, the thread faded in diagonal stripes, the greens pale-

skinned. Borrowed a loom. Practiced words like warp and shuttle. Nights I’d hear

clacking but by morning I’d wake to silence; the room’s acoustics

were always mysterious. It was quite a grand hall, the grandest

I could find, but it felt close around me. Like a den, or a Nap

Place. Lamps turned to dull. I learned to count time in rows of weft, not to

look at what I wove; feelings can’t be seen head-on till they’re ready.

I scoured my psyche for the strangest unnameable, wrapping each

round the bobbin. Got them all. When I pumped the treadle the fibers

throbbed together like piano strings, and I’d think of the insects

that died to make the reds. Afternoons I’d lie on my stomach, tap

my calluses on the tile; they clicked like tiny booted footsteps

in the steady shadows. It was like this a long time, till the thread

ran out. The walls trembled with new cloth. That day I looked up at last

at my thirteen-foot feelings, their snow-globe eyes, their whale bellies, hands

the size of my skull, and watched them dim behind the electric light.

 


Rebecca Levi is a musician, poet, and translator often on the road, often in Colombia. Her work has appeared in places like Columbia Journal, No Tokens Journal, and Your Impossible Voice, and she is a contributor to “If You’re Not Happy Now,” forthcoming with Broadstone Books this March. Her poem “December 31st” won third place in the 2018 Mick Imlah Poetry Prize at The Times Literary Supplement.

Imagine Sisyphus Happy

R.G. Evans

EDITORS’ CHOICE – THE 2019 SANDY CRIMMINS
NATIONAL PRIZE IN POETRY

Imagine Sisyphus Happy

by R.G. Evans

 

Does he whistle as he sweats and groans

the boulder up the mountain?

Does he ever think At least i’m not at home

where my daughter wants to die

trembling  there at the summit

just before the rock rolls down?

As he follows it, his mind might wander

to the time his daughter screamed

Sixteen years in this goddamn house

with your failed marriage as my roommate!

What did she know about what god has damned?

Maybe he smokes, letting gravity do its job

one step at a time. Eternity is eternity after all,

no room here for a goldbricking soul.

If one can imagine Sisyphus happy,

it isn’t hard to picture him grinding his butt

beneath his toe, cracking his knuckles,

and glancing at Tantalus in his lake

beneath the trees, bending as the water recedes.

And yet, Sisyphus wonders,

was that a wink he saw from his damned neighbor

when the fruit pulled away out of reach?

At least the bastard’s in the shade, he thinks

and shrugs his flesh into the stone.


R.G. Evans’s books include Overtipping the Ferryman (Aldrich Poetry Press Prize 2013), The Holy Both (Main Street Rag), and The Noise of Wings (Red Dashboard Press). His debut album of original songs, Sweet Old Life, was released earlier this year and is available on most streaming services. www.rgevanswriter.com.

Bruce

Chad Frame

HONORABLE MENTION – THE 2019 SANDY CRIMMINS
NATIONAL PRIZE IN POETRY

Bruce

by Chad Frame

Chad.Frame

Outside, it’s scarcely my sixteenth

winter, pacing the drive, unsure

what’s led here—hours of typing,

the heyday of dialup chatrooms,

 

a torso photo, a phone call

to calm my jangling nerves—me out

the door, you on your way to pick

me up. Only the sparse, dead trees,

 

thinning hair on the hilltop’s scalp,

are watching when your car rattles

to a stop, your cracked face an old

catcher’s mitt slowly catching fire

 

within, spewing cigarette smoke.

Terrified, more of backing out

than anything, I creak the door

open and climb inside. We go.

 

Later that night, I am retching

in the bathroom when my mother

comes home from work. I do not tell

anyone there are parts of me

 

that will never shake free, never

be grown out of or eased into,

will never be the same again,

because they do not come from me.

 

This day I have learned to swallow

more than you, more than pride or Coke

straight from the two-liter bottle

to cleanse the taste—the hardest thing

 

to swallow is the idea

that there will be no second chance

at a first time. Persephone,

trapped in winter, aching for spring,

 

must realize because she swallows

her captor’s seed she can never

feel the sun, her mother’s plain face

bearing the promise of flowers.


Chad Frame was the 2017 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County and is a founding member of the No River Twice poetry improv troupe. He is also the poetry editor of Ovunque Siamo: New Italian-American Writing and co-founder of the Caesura Poetry Festival. Chad has been published in various journals, including decomP, Barrelhouse, Rust+Moth,and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, as well as featured on the radio program The Poet and the Poem hosted by Grace Cavalieri in association with the Library of Congress.

Phantom Limb

Fran Baird

HONORABLE MENTION – THE 2019 SANDY CRIMMINS
NATIONAL PRIZE IN POETRY

Phantom Limb

by Fran Baird

Fran Baird

I trash the bird feeder,

scatter the seeds away from the house.

As the exterminator predicted,

the scratching in the crawl space goes away.

The birds return for days,

stare up into the air, fly around

the empty space like lost migrants,

then disappear and don’t return.

My son calls from his chaos.

I am drawn once again

to hover around his sadness,

as if I still could care.

This time, when I return home,

something in me is missing.

 


Fran Baird was born in North Philly, the youngest of 12 children. He has studied in workshop with poets David Ignatow, Cathy Smith Bowers, John Drury, Jamey Dunham; and currently with Leonard Gontarek. His poem “Neshaminy” published in the Schuylkill Valley Journal in 2009 was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His first chapbook, Painting With My Father, has been published by Finishing Line Press in 2019. Dr. Baird conducts a poetry workshop with long term incarcerated men at Phoenix Prison (formerly Graterford) as part of the Prison Literacy Project of Pennsylvania. Ten poems from five poets from this workshop were published in the Fall 2017 Schuylkill Valley Journal (V45).

Post Rehab

Claire Scott

HONORABLE MENTION – THE 2019 SANDY CRIMMINS
NATIONAL PRIZE IN POETRY

Post Rehab

by Claire Scott

Claire.Scott

they taught us to pray     mother    to our lord

jesus for strength to refuse

 

the call of meth of vodka of vicodin

to call our sponsor eat three

 

meals a day fresh berries    mother

& broccoli run a mile each morning

 

they say keep a gratitude journal

pages filled with purple ink

mother     mine is empty

 

midnight visitors to keep money

coming to keep me in needles

mother     & crystal meth

 

mother     I can’t wait any

speed no longer

rehab has ruined

 

I pour another glass, fill a syringe

drinking darkness as jesus

dances on the cross


Claire Scott is an award winning poet who has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has been accepted by the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Enizagam and Healing Muse among others. Claire is the author of Waiting to be Called and Until I Couldn’t. She is the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry.

How To Read Whitewater in the Mid-Atlantic Region

Kimberly Andrews

RUNNER UP – THE 2019 SANDY CRIMMINS
NATIONAL PRIZE IN POETRY

How to Read Whitewater in the Mid-Atlantic Region

by Kimberly Andrews

kim0817_080-16

Here’s the gift, the undetermined, toothy space in which it bubbles

up crazily, thrashing around and telling you incessantly about

 

the nature of possibility: these terrible courtships, in other words,

you’ve had with rivers, their greenish syntax letting all the silk

 

slip to the floor. Susquehanna, Lehigh, Youghigheny, their stolen

clauses, the low trees trailing their fingers as if to say there now

 

river, there now. And in the little canoe, you sound out each line

in turn. This is the side of you that is full of eagles. The story

 

unfolds in several keenly observed parts: eddies in their indecision.

Standing waves like stacks of letters, each signed fondly.

 

Undercut rocks against which the water boils low and smooth,

dangerous in the same way that simplicity is dangerous—

 

You read for answers because the painted ceiling above you

demands a key to its own reflection. You read for the sluice

 

because you are normal: you ask for directions, you are

standard in that finally, you favor the tongue harbored between

 

the wide-set molars, the sunlight bouncing off of a body

shaped like allowance, like the valleys you dare to call your home.


Kimberly Quiogue Andrews is a poet and literary critic. She is also the author of A Brief History of Fruit, winner of the 2018 Akron Prize for Poetry and forthcoming from the University of Akron Press, and BETWEEN, winner of the 2017 New Women’s Voices Prize from Finishing Line Press. She lives in Maryland and teaches at Washington College, and you can find her on Twitter at @kqandrews.

Nine-Year-Old Suicide In Reverse

Chad Frame

RUNNER UP – THE 2019 SANDY CRIMMINS
NATIONAL PRIZE IN POETRY

Nine-Year-Old Suicide in Reverse

for Jamel Myles

by Chad Frame

Chad.Frame

 

A candle unsnuffs, its smoke drawn back in,

its guttering, finger width flame relit.

The bright blue JanSport rises from the floor

and hooks its straps around your slight shoulders.

 

You dart backwards down the carpeted stairs.

The door unslams. The yellow bus backs up

around the cul-de-sac. Your eyes unclench.

The children suck words back away from you.

 

High-fletched F, its bulbless semiquaver.

Lofty A, its slopes unassailable.

Selfsame, cliquish GG, backs turned to shun.

Surprised O, rolling, caught up in all this.

And T, the final, burning cross of it.

 

That morning, unknowing, your mother smiles,

untousles your hair like wind smoothing grass,

and sits. Inky clouds of coffee billow

past her pursed lips like possessing spirits.

 

All Objects

Brittanie Sterner

RUNNER UP – THE 2019 SANDY CRIMMINS
NATIONAL PRIZE IN POETRY

All Objects

by Brittanie Sterner

Brittanie.Sterner

Here are feet on the floor of a plane over Omaha:
Here are swatches of ground turning into ground
Here is voice mail from an unknown number
Here is every computer-generated test
Here is waiting with glass
Here is middle-night
Here are foreheads touching here are hands in space
Here is rope
Here is the braid that makes the rope
Here is a death one day
Here is another death
Here is another death
Here is perched investment
Here are plot equations from above
Here are characters for land and love
Here is unstoppable weather
Here is a bowl of ocean
Here is food digesting
Here is top of the bottom
Here is morning, again
Here is wake with a ship on the tongue
Here is a mouth of fog
Here are rotaries of birds
Here beads traffic in rosaries
Here graves imitate trees in rows
Here is orchard
Here is fruit clung and hatched
Here is a basket
Here are hands applied over Omaha, braiding highways
Here lawns cropped in rectangles
Here tillers in bunches transit
Here an accident that didn’t make news
Here clipped migration
Here is lamp on a timer
Here letters spell electricity
Here is the room after leaving
Here is the light going off.


Brittanie Sterner has been writing poems since childhood. She holds a BFA in poetry from Emerson College and an MS in arts administration from Drexel University, and her storytelling research has been published in the Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society. She currently serves as the director of programming for One Book, One Philadelphia, a project of the Free Library of Philadelphia.