"The Other Side" Contest Winners / March 2015 (Issue 27)

"The Other Side" Poetry Contest Winners: Why We Chose These Poems

by Vinita Agrawal

First Prize: Arian Tejano's "When A Ladyboy Loves A Foreign Man"

 It was easy to award this poem the first prize. The expressions in this piece are incredibly original and refreshing. I was amazed at the sensitivity with which the poem had been penned. It creates a full arch of love—the first hello, parting, coming together again, roping in introspective reflections about a relationship that gnaw inside as time goes on. There is an element of vulnerability to this writer that is irresistible. "When she says she loves him, she doesn't want to lose her illusions." That line says it all—the determination to keep the flag of love flying no matter what other realities intervene... It is heart-rending to note that such a resolve germinates from a deep understanding of commitment—rejection, indifference, pretense and complete surrender. If you can rope in all that into a single poem and not make it sickeningly sentimental, then you certainly deserve an award!

What I really really like about this poem is that despite its emotional content, it's not ephemeral. It sails through the aches of a lifetime and still manages to collect precious moments—to treasure and cherish in days when nothing might remain. Ladyboy—along with "the sixty-four skills of seduction," you mastered writing poetry as well. We will remember your name!

Second Prize: Arup K. Chatterjee's "Karvat"

 "Karvat" is a poem that brilliantly weaves a completely alien cultural ethos into the canon of modern English poetry. The poem is like a length of gossamer lace, and every time it passes over your eyes, you view something forbidden and exciting. Non-virtuous and rife with sexual imagery, the poet makes the poem more elegant than it might otherwise have appeared by sheer expertise of craft and mesmerising use of language. There are times when one wonders—how did that decadent image sprout before the eyes? But Chatterjee's lines are too cleverly interwoven to dissect the exact cause of such wanton imagery—at least not in the first read. His interpolations of Urdu words in the poem might make it a tedious read for someone unfamiliar with the language, but in this instance, I felt they gave the poem an authentic sheen and added a veil of intrigue to this licentious man-woman encounter—an encounter definitely on the other side of honour and sanction but perhaps more amorous for that very reason.

"With a gateway of an alloy of calcium from my thighs, And Portland stone, and certain mysteries." Yes, we certainly heard the drums in this one, Fernando!

Third Prize: B.B.P Hosmillo's "Subjections"

 Full marks to this poem for its original perspectives. The poem is especially representative of the given theme "The Other Side." Written like a prose poem, it defines ordinary things, freshly. When Hosmillo calls a mirror "perversion's permanent target" and says "I can't be alone unless I burn memories" or declares that he needs to write a "sorry note" to his bruises then something hits home. Some aggrieved sensibility finds a place to nest. That is the kind of breathtaking impact the poets lines had on me. Everydayness took on the glaze of something new, and while the world stayed the same, a new parallel world sprung up beside it. No wonder they say that poetry is a way of saying old things in a new way! This poem is brimming with arresting phrases.

"I'm done masturbating and I feel extremely tired not because of pleasure, but because it has just shrunk into a thought."—subject me to such honest, dry-as-bones confessions anytime! You've cleared an invigorating space in the mind for newfangled views on existence.

Highly Recommended: Lachlan Brown's "Blended Learning"

 This is an interesting poem. It braids imagination and observation in an abstract but unique manner. A blend of learnings, as the title suggests. Lachlan Brown gives subheadings to the stanzas in his poem. This goes with its overall content—where every verse is about something different but enriches life as a whole. The poem meanders from poetic economics—"the streaked pavement, an icon for these next few decades, introducing, aspirational living where everybody gets a car"—to the other end of luxury's spectrum—embracing frugality and simplicity: "Under the Great Wall I will rest in an abandoned, farmhouse, just two rooms collapsing slowly, into the clear cold, single bricks falling from the roofline." We understand what the learning is all about. Written with great care and thoughtfulness, the poem balances sentiments and pragmatism and puts before readers some fine life lessons born out of the ethos of the poet's surroundings but universally appealing to readers across the globe.

High Recommended: Ken Jackson's "A Corniche In China"

 It was delightful to find that the theme "The Other Side" was interpreted quite literally by Ken Jackson! His poem was a marvellous tour of Provence, France juxtaposed against his real and immediate surroundings of Qingdao, China. I have to confess that I had to look up the word "corniche" in the dictionary. But once I did, I could easily recognise the longing for the cliffside sidewalks along the river Rhone, a yearning for the familiar snack of fish and chips and chilled beer. Places define our sentiments ... and the wharf of Qingdao certainly did that for Ken. It brought back the aches and memories of a familiar place. And it also kicked in the reality that pulled him short of getting swept away with nostalgia. "And there is surely no harsher re-entry into China, / Than a face-plant, on the sidewalk, by a squid stall, / At the edge of the Yellow Sea."

A wonderful, enjoyable poem about what's real and what's an illusion.

Highly Recommended: Aditi Rao's "Befriending The Dead"

 The poem begins with a powerful first line—"you took a continent with you when you died.'"

Aditi Rao shares the personal experience of her visit to the tomb of a friend who lies buried in a foreign continent. The journey is vividly described and interknitted with the emotions of the cemetery's caretaker and another fellow visitor. A common sense of loss binds the three together and erases the chalk lines between what is foreign and what is familiar. Time becomes a seamless sheet covering murdered aspirations. Perhaps there is political blight involved somewhere ... Aditi's poem seems to indicate this vaguely. She does well to blend her observations of an alien culture into the soil of the heart. After all, the latter has no geographical boundaries. Here repetitive use of the word "tomb" keeps the tone of the poem intact. Lines like "Where one could stop, once one died, the work of accommodation," stood out in the poem.

Highly Recommended: Brian Ng's "At My Grandfather's Funeral"

 The poem impresses with its clever use of words and short and succinct narrative. It is a tightly leashed poem describing a scathing recognition of artifice somewhere in the grimness of a funeral. Brian Ng takes an almost detached bird's eye view of his grandfather's death rites. The distance from which he looks upon the ceremonies taking place around his grandfather's dead body is almost scornful. He says in the end: "His sheen devoured a street I knew, him I knew not," hinting at his alienation from the deceased. Definitely "Filial Kitsch"—Brian's perspectives may be dispassionate, but his sardonic observations clinched it for a special mention.

Highly Recommended: Carissa Ma's "The Unfinished Word"

 In this tender, heart-rending poem about a baby that's lost its twin, Carissa Ma paints gut-wrenching pictures of the insecurities the little one endures after its sibling crosses to the other side of death. She writes: "And before the poodle, there was Ruth, the twin. / with a free toothy grin, who / learnt to say 'We' before she knew 'You.' "Some things in life are inseparable and yet circumstances force them apart. This poem is of one such instance ... eloquently written and meaningfully conveyed, it pierced my heart in the first read. The anguish of parting from his soul sibling is experienced by the little one who cannot express his bereftness in words but only clings to familiar things in a state of anxiety. Given the theme, it was natural to expect many poems around death. But this one took the cake ... "Dust to dust to dus to dus ..."

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