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Wheeler Light for 'Life Jacket'.

The runner-up is: Daniel Duffy - 'President Returns To New York For Brief First Visit'

Wheeler Light currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Life Jacket


summer camp shirts                            I couldn’t fit in then

are half my size now                           I wanted to wear

smaller and smaller                             articles of clothing

I shrunk to the size                              that disappeared


of an afterthought                               in a sinking ship body

too buoyant to sink                             too waterlogged for land

I became                                              a dot of sand

silent as dusk                                      becoming night


my first time sailing                            I capsized

and almost drowning                          in oversized clothing

I sat the captain’s seat                         I couldn’t fit into

till I sunburned                                    my entire body


lobster body                                        kids called me

with claws showing                            more names

than I can recall                                   the skin and the cells

the burning only                                  have themselves


beach bodies are                                  naked and brave

to be sought after                                I told myself

instead find treasure                            to look in the mirror

inside the self                                      until I saw the sea

Judge Rosanna Hildyard's commentary:

Many of the poems this fortnight experimented successfully with innovative form. For example, the ‘transition poem’ as used by PC Vandall is a difficult feat to pull off. Using the same form and words as Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Night Dances’, Vandall reworks the word order to subvert the original’s meaning. Vandall picks up Plath’s particular, concise description in this poem, and carries on with the intriguing ambiguity of the poem in this response. With lines like ‘the white space of your eyes, / the drenched smell of calla lilies’, Vandall’s response is more suggestive of romantic obsession than parental tenderness.

Anne Walsh Donnelly’s simple list of instructions ‘Your Guide To Becoming A Writer’ is a blackly funny example of a comfortablly familiar form, while Daniel Duffy’s series of poems inspired by landscape paintings work together as various forms which make a coherent poetic narrative. His poem ‘President Returns To New York...’ is a parody of the social column or political circular – with a crafted rhyme scheme, it works as both poem and prose.

The winning poem, Wheeler Light’s ‘Life Jacket’, shows what a good poem should be: a balance of matter and form. It is a poem about the humiliation of having an ill-fitting body, about the modern alienation from physical being, a universal preoccupation. In a world where our lives and work are largely based in the intellectual realm, our bodies are both us and not-us, and this poem shows exactly how that confusion feels:
I capsized
in oversized clothing
The poem is an immaculate image itself: ten squares of four lines on the page. But the poem is equally instantly effective aloud, with its clipped lines, lack of punctuation and subtle consonance refusing an emotional reading. It is terse: not a word is wasted, for example in the uncomfortable comparison of the speaker’s ‘sunburned / lobster body’ with ‘beach bodies’, a few lines later. The resentful comparison is all inferred through apposition: this is the epitome of the maxim show, don’t tell. Language is restrained in amount and stylistically, accurately reflecting the speaker’s internalised pain. It is beautifully controlled.
Here was the shortlist of 14 poems:

1.   Anne Walsh Donnelly – 'Your Guide To Becoming A Writer'

2.   Beth Brooke - 'I Miss You Today'

3.   Bill Garten – 'Recover'

4.   Carol Stewart - 'The Eleventh Hour'

5.   Carrie Magness Radna – 'Resentment'

6.   Daniel Duffy - 'President Returns To New York For Brief First Visit'

7.   Emily Sage - 'Arabesque #1 Debussy'

8.   Kerry O’Shea – 'Artwork By Hillel'

9.   Lou Heron- 'The Eternal Spring', 

10.                Maria Castro Domiguez – 'A Better You'

11.                Nazariy Telyuk  - 'Smoking A Cigarette'

12.                PC Vandall – 'After A Poem By Sylvia Plath' 

13.                Simon Lewis – 'Searching For Peter Shirtliff'

14.                Wheeler Light - 'Life Jacket'


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