First Prize: Blackout
This one had me from the very beginning due to the deliberate pacing of the lines and the way it progresses superbly from a state of despondence to one of bewilderment. There is also that palette of images used to paint the night sky, like "The void stretched out like cold rumors / broke slowly like glaciers" and the "greasy blackness" as it spreads "like oil spill". Finally, there is a serious message here for all of us in seeing our own puny reflections dwarfed by "the primeval glow of gods / breeding in the night sky" – how we are ultimately forced to reconcile ourselves to that tremendous vastness that exists around and beyond us. Ultimately, it was this piece of gradually accumulated wisdom at the end that made this poem our first place winner.
Second Prize: Schizophrenia
I'm normally impervious to these quirky prosy-poem types, but when each sentence adds a layer of psychological depth to the narrative, then the overall effect can be powerful indeed. What also complements the simplicity of the monologue is the very clever use of time as a framing device, and the grandfather's growing despair as he "weeps sitting on his rocking chair, as he counts one painful second after other" adds a level of poignancy to the narrative that was unexpected but gives it that much needed extra dimension.
Third Prize: Wagah-Atari
The inclusion of the words "my dear" in the opening line reminds me of Auden's "Refugee Blues". Auden used this term of endearment as a refrain to signal a sense of helplessness in his narrator, and one can immediately feel a similar tension gathering in the poem's first stanza. What also works well is the sound quality of the poem, with the "stomp of steel toed / hooves" threatening to drown out the more moderate voices calling for greater tolerance and understanding. Note the hapless pair on either side of the crossing who can only "whisper / subversive verses amid a jingoistic pandemonium". That neither person can fully reach out to the other strikes a chord here, what with nationalist forces increasing in this part of the world, and we are forced to recognize that we will need to continue relying upon these small acts of the imagination if we are to find common ground with our neighbors.
Highly Recommended: Miss Min's Magic Monday Morning
This one was great fun to read, and the combination of magic and music would have made it a winner on another day. As it is, Gogol's "The Nose" makes a welcome reappearance and the "soft click, at first, right between her cheeks / where bone locks into bone to form her face" opens a sequence of tidy poetic descriptions that culminate in the guilty appendage being passed around "an astonished panel / of movie stars, pop singers and fashion models". Those lines are pretty hard to beat, and finding a way to reference current flavor of the month Kim Jong Un was also a feat that we felt couldn't be sniffed at.
Highly Recommended: Everything Is In Place Except Me
This is another heartfelt piece, and the sensation of loss and remembrance is simply but diligently maintained in the final stanza. What I particularly like about this piece is the narrator's struggle to come to terms with their situation; unlike everyone else they can only "exist on the intersection of two thresholds, / Reconciling with yesterdays to drown today's aching certitude".
Highly Recommended: Portrait in a Fujisaki Apartment
It's those small, intimate moments that register here. The closeness of mother and daughter, the everyday routines that take on extra resonance. What also helps make these moments more precious are the as yet unrealized dangers of modern life, like the temptation to "jump / in front of a train, or walk / through the suicide woods" which make a well-timed intrusion in the second half of this poem.
Highly Recommended: Missing
Again, what works well in this poem is its earned simplicity, the way it utilizes a digression in meaning to switch from one reality to another. What is "Missing" here is constantly changing, and it's that ambiguity that gives the poem its energy. Those lines spoken by the narrator – "The things I have lost, how they turn / into the monsters I keep waiting for" – beautifully transform what we thought were objects into a person, and it's that and the lines at the end that make this poem worth reading over and over again.
Highly Recommended: Aunt Esther
First of all, the poem makes use of some great images, ranging from "the weight that presses / strata of rock into timelines, / rings the widening waists of trees" to the "heaviness of rain falling into streams / filling underground, rising to this surface". It's also that gradual filling out of character, the relationship between the narrator / narratee, and the still haunting presence of that narratee, which help us as readers break though "the silence of the past" and really connect with the poem.