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February 24, 2010
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Cover illustration by Skillet Gilmore
Join us at the reading!
The winners and judges will read from their work
Friday, March 26, 7 p.m. at Flanders Gallery
302 S. West St., Raleigh, 834-5044
Free admission, food and drink
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Special Issues » Poetry Contest
2010 Poetry Issue
In search of lost time
The offerings of
this year's poetry
winners have a
nostalgic or
regretful hue.
Two poems are
explicitly about
features of North
Carolina; our
winning effort
celebrates—in a
light, clever way
—the wild parrot
that once lived in
North Carolina
but vanished
long before most
of our ancestors
moved here. And
another poem
takes as its title
the oldest
mystery in North
Carolina—and in
the history of
America, for that
matter: the vanished settlement of Roanoke. Other poems also bring up memories: the hayfields of a
Midwestern childhood, for example, or an imagined medieval dungeon of language, complete with
"ledger, quarter bound in goatskin with moiré silk sides."
The diversity and strength of our readers' poetic efforts over the years in the Indy poetry contest is
inspiring. Our preliminary judges Brian Howe and Dianne Timblin reviewed—blindly—a flood of
submissions and came up with a short list for our final judge, Raleigh poet and teacher Christopher
Salerno. Once again, we're left marveling at the strength of this ancient, and essentially private, pastime
—it's a secret that gets revealed every year right about now. —David Fellerath
First place
"Carolina Parrot"
by Robin Kirk
When Audubon drew them (parrots
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gorging on cockleburs), there was
peace in the Carolinas, a few years
before the war. Parrots spring from the
print, pop-eyed, iridescent. A quiet man's
inside joke, since parrots aren't
nice. Parrot: thief, pest, interloper,
corn-stealer. At least, that's what
farmers told us, what farmers say
in the mountains where we saw loros,
raucous as teens, descend on ripe stalks.
Their infamy is global.
Or this: she jabbers like a parrot. He
parrots words. "At least the wolf
leaves us something. The loro
picks us clean." This, though, is memory,
when "parrot" is not feather and hammering
heart, but that insubstantial thing, a thought
in a story or what I tell you
about the image of a parrot, the sad
story of this Carolina bird last
seen in 1904, in a Florida bog, an immense,
green depth where there were no paths.
Call this the parrot's end, or when
we left our loros behind, on the world's
other end. So many times, we've left
what we know. When memory strikes,
it is exuberant, loud as a parrot, sharp as its
livid gleam in this too-soft land, yellow and blue,
in the quick, bloody bite of remembering.
Judge's Comments: In 1958, Chairman Mao declared sparrows enemies of the Chinese state. Huge
crowds spent hours keeping the sparrows from landing until the birds eventually died of exhaustion.
There's richness in the effort to drive out (from our lands or our selves) the undesirable (however
misguided). The emotional complexity of this poem covers that effort in a similar way, and finds
resonance. Parrots are aesthetically beautiful. But the Carolina Parrot, to the American farmer, was a
"thief, pest, interloper, / corn stealer." And yet, acknowledging this fact, the speaker in here laments,
internalizes the loss of the birds ("when / we left our loros behind"). This poem is a response to the
imbalance that can stem from eviction. We have our memory to prove it. The poem turns with the volta:
"So many times, we've left / what we know. When memory strikes, /it is exuberant, loud as a parrot,
sharp as its / livid gleam in this too-soft land ..." —Christopher Salerno
About the Poet: Robin Kirk is an experienced writer who has published widely—in nonfiction, that is.
She spent years reporting from South America on human rights issues and has published books on
Colombia and Peru. "I went to Latin America to work as a stringer," she says. "But I discovered that part
of my passion for writing had to do with injustice ... as a way to help people directly." A fluent Spanish
speaker, Kirk has lived in Durham since 1992, and she is the executive director of the Duke Human Rights
Center. Her poetic influences include W.S. Merwin, Wislawa Szymborska, Anne Carson, Richard Haas
and Sharon Olds, as well as her Duke colleague, the Chilean polymath Ariel Dorfman. Now that she has
children, poetry is a major writing outlet, something that can be productively pursued in 30-minute
increments. "Carolina Parrot" came about, she says, when she encountered Audubon plates of this bird,
which was indeed native to the Carolinas and points south until it was hunted to extinction.
Second place
"Cross-section of a Hayfield"
by Julie Greenberg
The hayfield is empty.
The wind shrieks in the window casing.
From the yard, the field is a field of teeth
and the sheets on the line, its playful tongue.
Neither is aware of the rabbits' game.
Hiding behind the shed, the white aluminum becomes
a sail. The wind tugs my hair. I wait
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until dusk makes the discordant house quiet.
That summer we found a rabbit
hidden in a corner of the hayfield.
For three summers we looked for the dry bones.
Among the lines, white butterflies drift,
affixing their eggs to the raw leaves.
A traffic of wings and scepter legs.
In fall, summer is still felt on ankles sharply.
The hayfield insists on being held.
At tractor's start, the crows rise on a series of caws.
A new black ring for the gentle haze and a
proper christening for the field.
A constellation of alfalfa blooms explode in measured intervals.
I plant my tarnished coin beneath a stem.
Nowhere else have I felt this sure of distance.
The sun is setting and heavy dusk
brings her rolling up the walk.
The hayfield waits.
Judge's Comments: In "Cross-section of a Hayfield," the play of time across place ripples through the
poem, stanza by stanza, season by season, mirroring the light and wind that bathe and trouble the
hayfield itself. Exquisite details—of butterflies with "scepter legs," of "a field of teeth," of the setting sun
"rolling up the walk"—break through the hush of these stanzas and dazzle. Yet there is mystery here too,
palpable and urgent. Near the "discordant" house, the speaker hides behind a shed; a rabbit hides in the
field. Then the ritual search for "dry bones." From this emerges a habit of measuring, of counting
whatever can be counted: seasons, years, intervals of bloom. And then a single line of iambic
pentameter ("I plant my tarnished coin beneath a stem") bears us resolutely to the cross-section's core:
"Nowhere else have I felt this sure of distance." To be certain, the speaker knows the physical
measurements of this field. But other dimensions of distance—the remove of time, the intractability of
isolation—are equally familiar. —Dianne Timblin
About the Poet: As her poem suggests, Durham resident Julie Greenberg has some familiarity with
farm country: She grew up in Dubuque, Iowa, and attended the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where
she studied English, Spanish and history. She also studied writing at the famed writers' workshop.
Although she's an Iowan, she didn't grow up on a farm. "Dubuque is different from the rest of Iowa—it's
not flat," she says. "But my father lived in the country," she adds, which aided her familiarity with the
ecology of the wheat field. "They're kind of creepy places," she says with a laugh. Greenberg is presently
in her second semester of her master's degree studies in library sciences at UNC. She cites among her
favorite poets Robert Haas, Eugenio Montale and Michael Earl Craig.
Photo by D.L. Anderson
Click for larger image • David D. Marshall
Third place
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"The Lost Colony of Roanoke Island"
by David D. Marshall
Springs follow runs
To brooks and rills
In a land of ancient ferns
Stones made smooth
As shallow riffles melt
Their inconsistency
(Pines drum where stars
And waters meet)
And a river to the sea spills out
Of a forest into the sky
Vapors against a rising tide
The brack of bone
Against the ebb
Of a cerulean sky
(The crack of
A distant star)
A horse stands over its rider
In this moment at the edge of time
In this strand of river and sea
Where wind sweeps back
The brackish waters
Black and white
(While waves drum out the loam
To sand and spray)
And pebbles smooth
The red ebb
Of a flowing sky
The sun-dried sea grass
Brine-cured bleeding brown
Into the sandy white
("Where is the horse gone?"
"Where is the rider?")
Voices drown in the silt
Of this lost Arcadia
Beneath the painted signs
Lapis eyes raised
In supplication
Now house saddled crabs
(That flit and pause and weigh
Some imagined concern)
Judge's Comments: There's a certain point where an historically based poem can turn into a Wikipedia
entry. Too many facts leave too little room for mysteries. Luckily, "The Lost Colony of Roanoke Island"
isn't very interested in facts. It's more like a diorama. There are only calm, composed vantages ("The
crack of/ A distant star")—that pierce a misted world, somehow at once tranquil and unstable, where
pines drum, skies ebb, a horse stands over its rider. There's little speculation, only a couple hesitant
questions and a continual, focused circling of the enigma. A colony could easily vanish into such deep,
clear lines as these. —Brian Howe
About the Poet: With this prize, David Marshall has published his second poem; his first was in his
native tongue, Spanish. Born in Panama, Marshall moved to the States when he was 18 years old. Now
the holder of dual citizenship, he operates an international trading company while living in Carrboro with
his daughter, who also lives with her mother, a medical student at UNC. Marshall earned a law degree
from UNC and is finishing up a master's degree in public policy from Duke; his résumé also includes two
decades in the U.S. Army, including post-9/11 stops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also wrote a regular
column for the Chapel Hill News while a law student. Of his winning effort, Marshall says: "The creative
process is kind of weird. A lot of times I don't know what I'm writing or why I'm writing it. I have an
image in my mind ... and I try to figure out where it's coming from. I think the poet Rilke said 'never
write about expansive themes...' I try not to do that. I know that whatever universal theme there is is
going to be grounded in something. As it was developing, I realized what I was describing was an early
experience I had when I first came to the United States, when I took a trip to the Lost Colony island ... it
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was magical to me that these colonists from another world landed here and were subsequently 'lost.'
What does 'lost' mean?"
Honorable mention
by James A. Hawley
On the eighth day, we settle down to work the crosswords, noodle
the acrostics, search for all the possible anagrams in "Overcoming
Problems", inscribe the names of all the people in all the villages
& where they live & how much they earn & what they owe & what
they have & what they haven't. This is called "qualitative easing."
We keep the ledger, quarter bound in goatskin with moiré silk sides,
in the cellar, along with the jars of pickled antecedents & shrunken
headlines, seek the meaning of "dungeon" in the Old Norse "dyngja,"
a pile of manure, a woman's workroom, a place of stench or sacrifice.
We cut a bream into serving portions—solay! Another typo at the
printer's shop & de Morgan's theorem which states that the denial
of a conjunction is equivalent to the altercation of the denials & the
denials of an alteration is equivalent to the conjunction of the denials,
Shakefork. We are damaged goods & we know it, relegate in our new-
found homeliness, tierced in pairie sable, gules & azure. The control
towers have been mistaken for observatories.
Judge's Comments: How often is finding a lump actually a good thing?
Not very. But this small poem is rare in a number of ways. It's filled with
exotic textures both linguistic—the Old Norse "dyngja," the gules and azure
—and tactile, rustling with "goatskin" and "moiré silk." It cranks up just
after creation and winds down somewhere after the fall. Along the way, it
sweeps up word puzzles, ledgers, typos and theorems in a babble of
human noise. "We're damaged goods and we know it," a state to which
"Lump" responds by unleashing vigorous post-lapsarian energies. Solay!
—Brian Howe
About the Poet: James A. Hawley is a repeat winner from last year's
contest, in which he took third place. The Wake Forest resident, who has
lived in Arizona, California, Central America, New York and Chicago, has
since published more poems, including one written in Nahuatl, the present-
day form of the Aztec tongue. Hawley lost his job at a sign company last
summer and has since been using his non-job-hunting time to send out
more poems and apply for writing fellowships. "The longer I beat my head
against these various walls, the more I realize that the writing is the easy
part," Hawley says. "The hard part is getting this shit into print, and one can spend a helluva lot more
time trying to publish than the actual writing. And here you get into the whole capitalistic production and
marketeering aspect of the biz, which I abhor and revile and for which I have little patience or talent: If
you don't schmooze, you lose. I will add that that's the nice thing about the Indy's contest: It's all
anonymous and the choices are based solely on the merit of the work." Hawley's recent work has been
published in spinewriters, The Salt River Review and a British journal called The Delinquent.
Final judge
Christopher Salerno is the author of Whirligig and a new book, Minimum
Heroic, selected by Dara Wier for the 2009 Mississippi Review Poetry
Award. His poems can be found in journals such as: The Denver Quarterly,
Boston Review, Colorado Review, Jubilat, American Letters and
Commentary, Carolina Quarterly, Octopus, Free Verse, Asheville Poetry
Review and The Bedside Guide Anthology. He is co-curator of Raleigh's
own So and So Series, and co-editor of So and So Magazine. Currently, he
teaches writing at North Carolina State University. He won first place in last
year's Indy poetry contest.
Preliminary panel
Brian Howe, an Independent contributor, is a Durham-based journalist,
artist and poet. His poetry and sound art have appeared in such outlets as
Fascicle, McSweeneys.net, MiPoesias, Effing, Cannibal, Octopus and Soft
Targets. He is the author of three poetry chapbooks, including This is the
Motherfucking Remix (with Marcus Slease; Scantily Clad; 2008). He's given
readings at series spanning the Triangle (e.g. Durham's Minor American
and Raleigh's So and So) to Brooklyn (e.g. The Stain of Poetry and Burning
Chair) and points outlying. He is a member of the N.C.-based Lucifer
Poetics Group and he edited a portfolio of their work for TheFanzine.com.
He maintains his multimedia project, Glossolalia, at glossolalia-blacksail.blogspot.com.
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Photo by D.L. Anderson
Click for larger image • James A.
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Photo by D.L. Anderson
Click for larger image •
Christopher Salerno
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Photo courtesy of subject
Brian Howe
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Dianne Timblin lives, writes, and edits in Durham. Her poetry has
appeared in Phoebe, Rivendell, minor/american, Fanzine, Foursquare and
other journals. Recently, she contributed to Kate Schapira's collaborative
book project TOWN, which has just been published by Factory School in its
Heretical Texts series. Among her various writing and research projects, a
recent favorite was writing about Hessler Court, the last remaining wood-
block road in Cleveland, Ohio, for Forest History Today, the magazine of
Durham's own Forest History Society. She currently works as an editor at
Duke University Press.
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