Rattle is proud to announce the winners of the 2017 Rattle Poetry Prize Readers’ Choice Award:
Chichester, New Hampshire
The 2017 Readers’ Choice Award was selected from among the Rattle Poetry Prize finalists by subscriber vote. Only those with active subscriptions including issue #58 were eligible. “Bobby’s Story” earned 16.4% of the votes and the $2,000 award. Here is what some of those readers had to say about their choice:
All the poems are winners in their own right, but I kept coming back to this poem by Pappas for how he examined each part of Bobby’s persona, deepening the story of the jungle fighter with each scene and turned the true speak of this character into poetry and how then Pappas introduced each character to reveal another side of Bobby. It was “like” an American tragedy that goes on every day in the “life” of vets, and keeps being played out with no one paying any attention. He gives Bobby a proper burial in this drama/poem through the voice of Ron who buys Bobby flowers as Bobby did for his buddies. Thanks for writing this, Jimmy. You got me.
I think this poem captures very well what an actual vet’s experience is, not something conjured up either political party to suit the latest fashion for policy. The fragmented style mimics the lives and minds that have been forever star-bursted by the burden of the dual life they lead.
It’s ambitious and a fine piece of storytelling.
In the end, I’m choosing “Bobby’s Story” because it lives up to the writer’s promises: it isn’t fancy, it is good, it doesn’t rhyme, and it makes Bobby unforgettable. Poems can “rattle” for all kinds of reasons. This one does because of its subject, a fully human human being. It’s hard not to vote for that.
To read these poems, pick up a copy of Rattle #58, or wait until the end of March, when those poems start appearing online at Rattle.com.
Jimmy Pappas was the winner, but this year’s voting was as evenly divided as ever—each of the remaining poems received 6–12% of the vote, and all of the finalists had their own enthusiastic supporters. As always, it was an interesting and informative experience reading the commentary. To provide a taste of that, here is a small sample of what our subscribers said about the other finalists:
On Barbara Lydecker Crane’s “Love Refrains”:
I love the form of the ghazal, and Barbara has done an excellent job writing within the form, but in a very natural, unconstrained way. The voice is consistent throughout and yet what it says does not get tiresome or redundant; each couplet builds on the previous one in a very organic way.
Love comes in all shapes and forms. This is so interesting for one can see the left hand with a lock of hair and the right hand with the brush, a slight tug maybe, then a lesson on love speaks with out words. It’s active and visual.
On Kayla Czaga’s “Girl Like”:
I think what appeals to me most is the way the poem embraces both the self and the other—at once, it turns out, when you get to the last line and its turn on “a girl like you.” So the poem is both autobiographical and universal (even for boys, I think!), and it seems to me, with its zinging lines and insistence on honesty, a quintessentially Rattle poem. Kayla Czaga made me see what it’s like to come of age now. The same as it was for me, decades ago, and then not. I love it for showing me the not part so vividly.
The speaker in the poem portrays the cruelty of admonitions masquerading as wisdom, and the deepening of despair that scoldings must engender. This is the quintessential failed pep talk. It is filled with satire, tragedy, pain, anger, and loss. What’s not to love?
On Emari DiGiorgio’s “When You Are the Brownest White Girl”:
We live in a world where the skin color of a person is different than the next person, yet the perception who we are as humans hiding under a “brown” or “white” skin is no different one from the other. With the simplest language, Emari captures the poetic essence that no matter what color of skin, “brown” or “white,” or in between, we are human. Anyone disputing that assertion, Emari is ready to fight and defend her right to be human.
I found myself reading it aloud to my wife and entering into a rich discussion of the various ways we each have been discriminated against because we were too much this, not enough that … and we all have felt that way at some time or other.
On Rhina P. Espaillat’s “How Tiresome”:
I love poetry that speaks to the universal struggles we will all encounter in our lives. To express this connection we all share in fewer words requires real poetic talent. To deliver a message with precise, unfamiliar language in such a poignant manner is the mark of a great poet. This poem leaves all the others way behind.
—Evelyn Ann Romano
How illuminating and thoroughly human, a less chatty and more grounded rendering of the theme than found in a poem such as Plath’s “All the Dead Dears.” Not to mention it is flawless sonnet composition replete with irony and deft use of symbol to evoke the resentment of the living toward the departed, the sense of abandonment and growing isolation. An early stanza break tempts one to believe the volta occurs early, but the real turn is buried near the end of line 9 where resentment and alienation give way to something less than serenity but unmistakably accepting, an almost intolerable willingness to re-engage through the freshly living, to risk all. A great sonnet that could be called definitive.
On Troy Jollimore’s “Upgrades”:
All the finalists were strong but I appreciated the honesty and humor/irony conveyed by the narrator’s understated, self-effacing account of a series of evolving desires and/or downgraded personal expectations as he comes to terms with mortality, existential violent threats that pervade the current geopolitical climate, and “upgraded” impersonal technological innovation that will supplant nature and undoubtedly lead to no consensus. At the end are we back at the beginning, more therapy to help us accept our own downgrades, if we survive the upgrades that long? It begins as if it’s a man’s poem but it speaks to everyone by its conclusion.
Grave concerns voiced with ironic humor illustrate fundamental absurdity without diminishment. The reader is free to newly associate and regain perspective. This is poetic medicine.
On Nancy Kangas’s “I Like Her”:
I liked the surprising approach of the poem’s speaker who did not need to be liked but was willing to express how desire can overcome acceptable pleasantries. It was a bit creepy, but I could also relate to it!
I like it a lot because it takes me inside someone’s—OK, a guy’s—head in a way that captures how the brain—OK, my brain, I guess, or The Guy brain—processes things: part interior monologue and part associative ramble that meshes how a person’s interior thought patterns and language can interweave with images that reveal those thoughts (and one element of human nature) in surprising ways. So even though it may reveal more than a guy would like about how guys often think, I like “I Like Her” and think it should win the Reader’s Choice Award. ‘Nuff said.
Ron Koertge’s “Two Week with Pay”:
I loved the way the rhymes sometimes dart out at you, sometimes hide behind the sentence as it rushes by on its way to its inevitable end.
The poet paints a scene that goes from relative tranquility to horror at the speed of light. We poetry teachers often describe how a great poem should surprise, but we forget to describe at what incredible speed that surprise should come. Something else is going on in this poem, which I love. The horror described is commonplace, and that fact helps portray the adult travelers in the narrative as overreactive dim wits. This truth feels right and liberating at the same time.
On Kirk Schlueter’s “Pain Is Weakness Leaving the Body”:
This image of a nine-year-old lashed to a plow is powerful and unforgettable, and the poet gracefully transitions into the impact this burden had on future generations, including himself.
Kirk’s poem does for me what I read poetry for (and what I go for when I try to write it): it connects me to feelings and emotions in a physical way (literally, in my body). In this sense, reading poetry can be more impactful than therapy, as it has a chance to reconnect head and body and make a person whole again. After a page and a half of exquisitely executed setup, Kirk’s poem started to dig its hooks into me about the time he got to the line “face is a mask you never take off, // and only men broken on the earth’s dark axis / let their trials conquer them?” and it kept me fully attached until the final line.
—David de Young
Alison Townsend’s “The Beautiful Particulars”:
I have read it several times, and a revelation and connection occurs each time. The picture comes clearer, and the pull of familiarity to ancient dead cats, and mothers lost very early in life is heartbeat and tear- eyed strong, and everything she says shines with the Light we all hope to see at the end. There is cleverness, too, this is a primer about how a poem can happen, so suddenly forming, poring out of your imagination, senses and memory, while you find yourself bereft of paper, and you tell yourself to hang onto to this thin thread which is about to turn into liquid ink blood. I love the way she included the whole process that can happen, and DID work the word “synchronicity” into the poem. There is a lot going on in this busy, informative, beautiful homage to memory, poetry, creating, love and loss and light.
“I don’t want to write about sadness / or try to fit the world ‘synchronicity’ / into a poem,” wrote Townsend: and sure enough she crafted an auditory/visual landscape that transcended sadness, each line’s rhythm contributing a brushstroke to the audiovisual scene. The poem jingled, gently, in the fringes of memory long after the reading of it finished. Somehow, it was what we so often try but not often achieve: an experience, one that is greater in dimension and magnitude than the sum of its parts. You were whirled away into the reality of the poem until the paint in the museum you never visited somehow smelled of some familiar home.