In the richly idiomatic english language, several expressions use the word “occasion,” but the ones most appropriate to this contest have always been a matter of “give” and “take.” Many objects, events, or circumstances give occasion for poetry, but poets have the verbal facility to take the occasion and fashion a readable poem. They most easily rise to the occasion, using language that is true to the occasional motivation, be it extraordinary and explicit or ordinary and implicit.
This year’s contest attracted a record number of entrants—510! Long-time poetry editor Barb Carter and I read them all, reducing this daunting number to a long list of 25, which we submitted to Ed and Kim Jernigan, the founders and funders of the contest. Each of us compiled a top-ten list and arranged a meeting to fight for our favourites. It turned out that there wasn’t much fighting; an unusual unanimity prevailed. Helped by a spreadsheet created by the only engineer in our midst, we chose the winner, Dagne Forrest, and the two runners-up, Simon Peter Eggertsen and Linda Hatfield. There were also nine honourable mentions, all of whom are published here.
The submissions featured almost every poetic form imaginable—acrostics, ballads, ekphrastic poems, elegies, odes, ghazals, pantoums, sestinas, and villanelles, in mostly free but sometimes rhyming verse. The tones of the poems were celebratory and sorrowful, censorious and sarcastic, ironic and idyllic, mock-serious and dead-serious—the list could go on. Giving the many entries the attention they deserved required both pacing and patience. Barb and I read more than a few entries so generic in their sentiment and subject matter that they could have been occasioned by almost anything; others were so abstract and abstruse that the occasion they were describing was difficult to discern. Fortunately, we were occasionally (pardon the play on words) stopped in our tracks by a very good poem, whose language was effective and affective, whose images were apt and original, whose poetic devices were deftly employed. Poems that made the most of the incredible range of occasions that humans are heir to and that poets, I’m happy to say, can’t stop writing about.
Runner up Simon Peter Eggertsen’s “Ah see it all wit’ mih own two eyes—sixteen questions in a long Caribbean sentence” is based on his two-year stay in Trinidad. His description of Maracas Valley is lush with imagery of local flora and fauna, appealing to all senses—sight, sound, smell, taste, and texture— but central to the poem’s appeal is the poet’s attention to the people who live and work there, his continuing wonder at what he experiences condensed into sixteen direct and indirect questions in a long, never laboured sentence.
Runner up Linda Hatfield’s “Mondays with My Dad” will appeal to and possibly appall anyone who has visited a loved one in a long-term-care home, especially if they, in the not too distant future, may be the ones visited rather than visiting such dreaded institutions. Each week, the speaker visits her father in “a place called Bethany/where some say the (nearly) dead/ can be raised by the miracle of visitation.” Confronting yet again the sad reality that he no longer recognizes her, she wheels him down to the cafeteria, where “supper is served/in blobs of muted hue,” and “Like a penitent bird, his mouth opens” as she feeds him, in a sad ceremony she calls “a strange Eucharist…a communion of souls/without words/without blessing, on Mondays with my dad.”
Winner Dagne Forrest’s “Abecedarian with Sharpened Vision” is intriguing for many reasons, the most obvious being its form, a variation of the acrostic poem whereby each line begins with a successive letter of the alphabet, here executed unobtrusively except perhaps for the forgivable division of “e-xpectantly” to begin the twenty-fourth line. At first, the occasion for this poem is not clear but then in the eighth line we learn that the speaker’s father has died and that his corneas have been “implanted in a stranger” so that his “sight lived on.” The poet yearns to see the world with new eyes, as sharp as those of the hummingbirds that visited their feeders at the cottage. Like these tiny birds, which “see in all directions at once,”she wants “recall sharp with/ such peripheral vision, to overcome the/ quicksand nature of memory/my father’s lost recollections.”
Time-consuming as the judging was, I was pleased and honoured to take on the task of preliminary reading for the first time. And I thank fellow reader and editor Barb Carter, grateful for her usual insight, empathy and sound judgement. To bring this introduction to an end, I return to the idiomatic theme, considering that the most apt expression of all is “a sense of occasion,” which applies most pertinently to the motivating moments these poets so convincingly recreate.
I trust you will enjoy the moments of thought and emotion these poems will no doubt occasion.
“Year of the Tiger” by William Ross
“The Love Song of Grindstone Marsh” by Lisa Borkovich
“Last Fly of Summer” by Linda Hatfield
“Volodymyr Zelensky at Westminster Hall, Day 349 ” by Natalie Hryciuk
“elegy for a groundhog” by Alexander Hollenberg
“Having a Day” by Ken Victor
“Kiss Me Again Like The Second Time” by Susan Atkinson
“Consider the Ear” by Jennifer Frankum
“A Mother’s Will” by Janice McCrum