Sept. 23, 2017
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Anson Stevens-Bollen

SFR’s 2017 Spring Poetry Search Winners

March 22, 2017, 12:00 am

Wow, Santa Fe. You are really into poetry right now. This year’s Spring Poetry Search blew us away with hundreds of entries that ran the gamut from short and sweet, long and funny to downright beautiful and moving. For a contest judge, we tapped Arthur Sze, renowned wordsmith and Santa Fe’s first-ever poet laurate. First published in the 1970s, Sze has won the Lannan Literary Award, the American Book Award and even made it to the finalist round for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize with his book, Compass Rose. In other words, poets, your offerings were deemed excellent by someone who absolutely knows a thing or two about excellence.

“I think the [poetry] audience is small, and it’s always been small, but it’s a passionate audience [and], in many ways, there’s almost a renaissance of poetry,” Sze says. “There are so many different styles and it’s not like there is one prevailing trend—there are so many talented poets working in so many different styles.”

Sze gravitated toward poetry for its sense of discovery and, he says, he often uncovers a feeling or insight about the world that hadn’t occurred to him as he reads or writes.

“The creative process is a mysterious one, but it’s about continual growth,” he says. “I’m as excited writing today as I was over 40 years ago when I first started.”

Sze’s next collection, dubbed Sight Lines, is slated for a 2019 release through Copper Canyon Press. “For the first time I’m looking into things in American history, our country and our context in the world,” Sze says of the recently completed manuscript. “One of the things I’m working with is how disorienting the world can appear to us but, fundamentally, like it or not, all things are moving together.”

Things converge, such as the following locally scribed pieces from you, our dear readers.

“I’m always interested in imaginatively forceful and compelling writing,” he says. “I was delighted to read the sestina by Caleb Thompson; he wrote in a particularly difficult form.”

Of course, whittling down the many submissions was no easy task, so in addition to three winners who are awarded cash prizes, you’ll also find honorable mentions plus a few faves from the SFR staff.

“Poetry is language at its most intense,” Sze says. “I love how so much can be said with so few words.”

1st Place

Whiskey and Blood

By Caleb Thompson

I sat at my desk cleaning my service pistol,
A Smith and Wesson. Outside, it was pouring rain.
It was the kind of a night for drinking whiskey.
Fitzpatrick was free now, out on bail for murder.
He was no fool; he knew I had the evidence
To put him away for good. He was out for blood.
Mine. My head ached badly; my temples throbbed, blood
Pounding in my veins. I needed a good whiskey
Shot. When the door opened, I reached for my pistol.
It was a woman, her dark hair wet from the rain.
Her husband, she said, was a victim of murder.
She said, if I came, she would show me evidence.

She was badly shaken; there was good evidence
Of that, her eyes wild, her face taut, drained of blood.
Tears glistened on her cheeks. Or were they drops of rain?
I took out the bottle and poured her a whiskey.
“Why not go to the cops,” I said, “if it’s murder.”
The phone on the desk exploded like a pistol.

I let the phone ring, and re-holstered my pistol.
She told me her story, to the drip of the rain.
She had married rich, a man named Astor, blue blood.
But lately he had started hitting the whiskey.
He was nervous, on edge, looking for evidence
Of intrigue. Dark thoughts flocked to him like a murder

Of crows. When he disappeared she assumed murder.
She had come home late Tuesday, delayed by the rain.
He left no note. There was no sign, no evidence
Of a struggle; no telltale trail of human blood.
No empty shells casings from his Browning pistol.
In the drive sat his Porsche, a Targa in whiskey.

When she stopped, my immediate thought was Whiskey,
Tango Foxtrot. “You said you had the evidence.”
“I do,” she said. “It’s right here.” She pulled a pistol.
“Fitz wants to talk, dick. Let’s take a walk in the rain.”
The nails on her hand were the color of blood,
The color of a crime scene, after a murder.

The puddled neon streets glowed, evidence of rain.
She’d fought like murder to hold on to that pistol.
She’d punched hard; my mouth tasted like whiskey and blood.

Caleb Thompson has lived in Santa Fe since 1996. When he is not reading Raymond Chandler novels, he teaches at St. John’s College.

2nd Place

The Fox

By Ioanna Carlsen

Fox, you said,
is written on the wall
of my bedroom—
and there it was,
low down on the wall,
between your bookcase
and the door.

I laugh now
at this relic,
the first word you learned
your first day of school,
and you slyly mention
that I got mad
when you did it

Thinking how fast
you grew into
a foxy
sixth grade eleven
I wish now
I’d let you fill
all the walls
with your childish scrawls.

But no. This is
This one word fox.
I’ll never paint it out
as long as we live in the house
this F O X—
who sits there
by the door

waiting for you
in capital letters
as, clever,
you worked your way,
up and out,
into the adult
your sister’s
already driving around in.

Ioanna Carlsen is a published poet whose work has been featured in several literary magazines and in her book, The Whisperer. In 2015 the book won second place in the New Mexico Press Women Communications Contest.

3rd Place

Night Yard

By Barbara Rockman

“It is hard to find the right way in or out”
-Brigit Pegeen Kelly

You can have which flower you want
though the penstemon will no longer ring its
bells if you pluck it.

Take the coreopsis. True, its green feathers
will rash your hands. Its bright suns shrink at
your touch.

And the roses, pale as antique linen
will fall into your cupped palm, break into frail
Close your hand or the breeze will rob you.

Dear sweetling, I call the black dog as we turn
our heads to stars.
3am, the flowers dead to us, garden disappeared
by night rebels
but our feet steady on invisible earth.

The Dipper pours her milk upon the dog’s back;
she’s suddenly star freckled and frisky.

Blessed the only way out of the ring of fire in
which we live,

one kindness here, one shared joke. Helpless we
and pace abandoned yards.

We wander as if we had a destination but the
accordion folds, roads and green ranges
creased so often, trace no scenic byways.

Do not ignore beauty’s markers: the dog at the
dark door,
the lover who sleeps through your going out
and your coming in.

Barbara Rockman teaches creative writing at Santa Fe Community College and in private workshops. As workshop coordinator for WingSpan Poetry Project, she brings poetry to victims of domestic violence. She is author of Sting and Nest, which received the National Press Women Poetry Book Prize and the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. A new collection is forthcoming from University of New Mexico Press.

Honorable Mention

The Definition of Tragedy

By Robert Wilder

The Definition of Tragedy,

the Chinese exchange student
is when “something precious is
broken in front of you
and you are forced to watch until
every last piece is ground to dust.”

No one said anything in class after
all the American students having
been fed
Western definitions from Cliff’s
Notes versions of Odysseys and

As the teacher, I am required by
pedagogical law
to fill silences with open ended
questions or affirming hums,
sounds to cushion sadness and
atonal beats of the human heart

but that day something had already
broken inside of me
something fragile,
like an ancient vase from some far
off dynasty.

Now I remember: That wasn’t the
assignment at all—
I wanted the students to write
about the opposite of tragedy,
not tragedy itself, because every-
body knows the sad stuff already.

In needle-perfect English, the
Chinese exchange student
“The opposite of tragedy must be
held close or kept whole by love.”

I reached out with my arms to
illustrate her point
but managed only to knock a
dictionary onto the floor
which startled almost everyone

except the Chinese exchange
who was too busy
dreaming of home.

Robert Wilder lives and works in Santa Fe.

Lungs of the Earth

By Gabe Gomez

For Hilary

According to the bulletin board the Amazon is known as the lungs of the Earth
Where tenured tucum palms are meaningless
Save their spiny bark and industrious fiber
The place, and I‘m quoting, is full of life

We begin to forget this moment as it begins
Our disappointing sleep on planes bookend the hours apart
Reading into things you’ve photographed and eaten
In seven seconds, something new will begin

We dream of echoing folding chairs
Over parquet floors of Versailles or mom and dad’s
Its own moment cracks the sky
And its collusion with sense

How it will travel from the lungs, exit the lips,
Then slip quietly into the ears to confuse
Consequence of order, vertical lift, recycled air
The science is soft but alarmingly good

We dream of ourselves as puzzles and quarks
Your face takes shape in the curtains
We are its sun-bleach stains
Safety webbing in the glass

A crane afloat in my breathing
You land in its fiery wind
Ignite the atmosphere
Then sleep beautifully, if not, sheepish to the
Violence shared by the markings
Left on our bodies after coming home

Gabe Gomez has two published collections of poetry: The Outer Bands and The Seed Bank. He lives in Santa Fe.

Staff Picks

The SFR staff also painstakingly pored over the nearly 300 submission to choose a few of our favorites. These are the works that stood out among many stellar others.

Letter to an Amateur Anthropologist

By Margaret Wack

Do not only take photographs
of beautiful women. This is your impulse,
the eyes naturally gravitate
to the sweet milk skins, the awkward
and elegant curve of bone.
Take photographs of everything,
you are not an artist

but a historian: remember this,
the way the hair emerges
from a leg, infinitesimal,
the way flesh accumulates
against your hands.
Study delicate black pores, gasping
and gentle, dark windows
into the body’s mechanisms. The mouth

flushed and curving, teeth sturdy
like a horse’s, something to love.
This is important, the diet, the habits,
the peculiar dialects invented or assumed.
At what frequency was language
spoken, sung, whispered. What was worshiped,
what gods were prayed to, what
rituals. What dreams.

Take photographs. The way the bleary eye
is asleep still, the sunlight across the bed,
the weird, warped flesh. Round hands,
smooth jugular. In action: making breakfast,
converted to still life. The myths, the history,
each delicate and convoluted
story with meaning
or no meaning. Write everything down,

each colloquial phrase, docu-
ment the coughs and hiccups,
messy excretions, blood, tears.
This is after all a science,
with primary sources: x-rays, so intimate, bones
sloping gently inward, the heart palpitating
slightly too fast. The colorful brain is alight,
is ablaze, unable to save itself from itself
or from diagrams of anatomy, numbers, facts.

I admit you are a specialist, devoted
but nearly irrelevant: this is important,
the way we held hands by the reservoir,
when I am gone there must be
someone to tell everyone
exactly how I was, someone to remember
beyond remembering.


By Andrew John Wilder

Father pulls me from the mud
Left by a lake shrunk by drought,
And I follow him back to our fishing rods.

We step in together, the caked mire on my legs
Diffusing as we wade to the place
Where the river mouth cuts through the shore.

Lazy brook trout, ready to spawn,
Glide in the cool mountain water
That feeds their lake,

Called Cabresto after the rope and halter
Of the burros the Spanish needed
To climb the steep trails that led there.

Dad casts the line for me,
The way he always did, when I was
Still shorter than him.

When a fish is hooked, he hands the rod to me,
And I play the trout clumsily
Until he nets it deftly from the water.

I hook its gill to a stringer hanging
From my belt and let the fish rest in the water
By my leg. Dad casts for me again, and again,

Until my stringer is heavy with trout,
Females bloated with roe and tired males
Whose jaws are beginning to hook and rot.

When he’s caught our limit,
We turn and wade back to shore,
Where a boy still struggles in the mud.

An Alternate Route

By Miles Merritt

Nature (unlike some
huge metropolis)
treats us like adults:
we must discover all
its glory by ourselves.
Imagine how disheartening
if wandering inside this
intricate wood we came upon
small placards reading— TURN LEFT for Quaking Aspen.
SLOW DOWN: Strawberries


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