Grand Prix Poetry Prize – Kentucky Poetry Society
1st Place: Linda Bryant “Justine Introduces Sex, Faulkner & Godzilla”
A portrait for a beloved teacher, this poem is sure of itself from the first line. Its subject, Justine, is dynamic as the voltas of each line break. She is god-fearing but not afraid to teach youngsters about sex, as taken with the high literary likes of Faulkner as she is with low-brow horror films. Justine has range, and so does this poem. Its speaker is honest and not afraid to admit when they are “completely baffled” or “didn’t get it.” This poem poses no such problem—as clear as Justine’s
whispered imperatives to the speaker, the final line, “try reading it a forth,” beckons to us to begin the poem again and again, traveling back and forth with the speaker from Eastern, Kentucky to Huntington, from memory to memory.
– Joy Priest
Justine Introduces Sex, Faulkner & Godzilla
By Linda Bryanta
Wearing a hand-sewn pencil skirt, red
plaid & belted with a strip of neon
green leather thin as a baby garter
snake she commandeered a Sunday
School class that Methodist kids
craved. Even the Baptists
wanted what she had, not to mention
the squeaky-clean Church
of Christers. She gave frosted double
fudge cookies for memorizing
psalms & whispered the word
intercourse when explaining Joseph
& Mary’s family after Jesus. She’d drive 10
miles to Huntington so we could watch
monster movies, Curse of the Sea Creature,
The Crawling Hand. Once a month
she hauled my sister & me to the county
library, another 20 miles down
the two-lane. She discreetly checked
out Faulkner, just for me,
As I Lay Dying. I held it gingerly
like a bible. I was completely
baffled & didn’t get it. She whispered
that Faulkner once advised a desperate
reader who’d tried Light in August
three times to try reading it a fourth.
2nd Place: William Brymer – “In the aftermath”
William Brymer “In the aftermath”
When we enter this poem, we know that some sort of storm has taken place. It is unclear whether it is an existential disaster, accumulating clutter over the years like neglected trauma, or a natural
disaster, like the tornadoes that tore through Western Kentucky last December. What matters is the exquisite attention the poet pays to a scene of “aftermath.” The poem moves us through sheer description: “the orange petals / of a broken flower pot,” “on the oil-stained concrete, a dead bird,” the “chill breeze blowing the loose strands / of vinyl holding together the patio chair,” before asking us to say “goodbye to all that, again and again.”
– Joy Priest
In the aftermath
By William Brymer
The house is a wreck, dirty clothes on the floor,
dishes on the little tables on both sides of the bed.
There’s dust in all the corners, and paper everywhere:
crumbled receipts on the kitchen counter,
a stack of flyers for a lost pet that was never found —
her bowl, speckled with dried food,
sits beside the back door.
Outside, it’s no better: plastic grocery bags
snagged in the bushes, the orange petals
of a broken flower pot by the mouth of the garage.
Within, on the oil-stained concrete, a dead bird,
a sparrow, once, deduced from the hieroglyphics of feathers.
Never imagined the ordinary days
would be the best ones.
Or that we’d learn to accept so much.
The chill breeze blowing the loose strands
of vinyl holding together the patio chair — it says
goodbye to all that, again and again.
3rd Place: Chloe Cook “Because I am a daughter, I am a moon”
The power of this poem works through its quiet precision and quirky logic. The speaker is a daughter, and therefore a moon, thinking about her dad, but she “know(s) he wants suns.” The poet “tell(s) the truth of him / in languages he cannot speak” because the fugitive language of poems often eludes our loved ones when we need to be honest to ourselves about them. Here we are shown the imagination of longing, textured through the kind of invisible listening only a daughter can do when she is “just enough light snaking through the curtains to be of notice.”
– Joy Priest
Because I am a daughter, I am a moon
By Chloe Cook
I imagine my dad in his youth: tan, elastic,
a man of quiet motion (like blinking underwater).
I’ll only tell the truth of him
in languages he cannot speak.
I know he wants suns, weekends filled
with brown Stagg bourbon.
Call it endless endless, say it grey.
Cup it, tight.
Across the country, I still hear his snores,
the ribbit of tongue against uvula
I think that’s where he knows me best: a fluster of noise,
just enough light snaking through the curtains to be of notice.