“Let us suddenly / proclaim spring”

We received nearly 300 poems for the 2011 Mountain Xpress Poetry Prize. If every poet submitted the maximum two poems, that means there are at least 150 poets in Asheville — not insignificant for a city our size.

The poetry prize is a celebration of poets and, more so, of poetry itself, specifically poetry in Asheville. We hope to introduce Asheville to its writers by way of celebrating their work, their writing. So, Asheville, “let us suddenly proclaim spring,” as Robert Creeley wrote, with the poems of the nine finalists and one winner of the The 2011 Mountain Xpress Poetry Prize.

The poems appear in alphabetical order, by last name.

The winning poem, “The Temple,” by Brian Sneeden, appears last, with an introduction by Keith Flynn, the final judge for the Poetry Prize.

By the Lake in Northern Michigan

By James Cox

In summer, on vacation,
storms began late afternoon.
Heat seeped from tree bark;
the world hissed.
It came first as it does to dogs,
the sensation of something impending;
electrons from a thousand yards
stirred then rushed centerwards.
The atmosphere cracked open.

One by one, house lights
spot the air; a hundred candles
in the countryside retrieve the crescent shores.
Yellow splatters stain the waves.
As night prevails, people turn inward.
Some great beast looms
outside the sitters’ minds;
a devourer with a brutal bite

that can shock a spine.
They play cards, drink wine
and read. Conversations
tend somber fires.
Fatigue sits in an armchair,
a bottle tipped to hand.
The black windows shiver.
Like dogs, children see things
that aren’t there.

Sourwood

By James Davis

Exotic lady of the forest,
Cascading pagoda shingles in her hair,
Flashes the copper red hem of her slip
Just to make the dogwoods blush.

As light recedes
She hikes her green shift
Past her hips, then off her shoulders
To stand true crimson, trembling
While breezes play through her hair.

Even the sober oaks whip into a riot of color.
In the frenzy of the dance
She scatters her leaves before the wind.

Sleep and Dreams

By John Eells

No crime, keeping watch for couplets or half-lines
to cut through the alley or gather at the street sign.
They arrive as I usher my daughter to bed,
as I doze by her side. And no surprise

to see them when I stay up after midnight…
but to find them at the trigger of a drive-by
is a hard rhyme. I have no wish to testify

when the shooter is close — when he is the son
of a neighbor; when I pass him on the sidewalk
on his way back from the Short Stop — then I think,

No! I didn’t hear a gunshot; I had a dream
that ended with a pop. I tell myself:
I never had the gift; I need more sleep;
no living poet would choose this street.

Two Weeks Deep Into the Dirty Laundry

By Jessica Newton

My beach vacation lies unexcavated.
Layers of swimsuit and short skirts
tell of biking to the shore

past marsh grass so green-yellow
it's almost, in the mouth, a tang.
Albino deer retreat under shade
of giant banana-spider webs and there
is warm wind on my thighs,
the rubber chafe of handlebars, my slow pace
at the back of the group.

The gay, crushed petals of a dress
I wore to dinner, where we faced your parents
over fish, menus opening and closing like gills.
And under the pile of clothes

your first sandals
which let your big, friendly feet out
exposed to fire ants and alligators,
the wide span of your toes gripping the sand,
the land you've known since birth.

On the bed now the clothes scatter
beneath the window's gray sky.
Our return has come to this —
sorting between vibrant and dull experience.
And I want this life, yes
to rise up like the egrets
from the mud, all grace and duty
stiff necks pointed in the right direction.

Coal Palace

By Randal Pride

This cool evening, I take my usual walk
up the neighborhood mountain to the top.

The twilight sky glows yellow-orange
behind a black-lacework of bare tree limbs.

Through an opening, I can see the long hazy range
of the Blue Ridge mountains fading into themselves.

On the streets below, scurrying little cars poke
their headlights into the gathering dark.

In the middle of them all, sits a coal-fired power-plant
bordered by a pristine, tree-rimmed lake.

Bathed in its own creamy light, and glittering
on the mirrored moat-like water,

I imagine it a faerie princess palace with its two belching dragons
chained to the garden wall.

Life and Death

By Andrew Procyk

I lit my first cigarette in years today
Off of the same metal, coiled lighter
In the 1996 Honda Civic
That I passed to you so often
So that you could light your cigarette
Before I lit mine

I lit my first cigarette today
Remembering everything they can destroy
And remembering how the two of us would joke
About how we were killing ourselves
When we would pass that lighter
A match
A candle
Or some other small flickering flame to one another
Sometimes jump-starting one cigarette
Right off of the other
Offering up tobacco smoke
The devil’s incense
To the god of the moment
For the sake of controlling flame with our breath

I lit my first cigarette in years today
And it reminded me
Of all the time I’d spent
Dying with you

Dying in your room
Wind caressing lavender curtain wisps
As we passed smoke from our lips
That was carried out your window on the morning breeze
After nights of passion that left us on our knees

Then ironically snuffing out our sticks of death
In the crystal heart-shaped ashtray
On your nightstand

We were one step closer to death
Above Appalachian streams
As we made Carolina dreams
And flicked the ashes to the current and watched them sail
After mountainside romance we would exhale
And we couldn’t quite tell
What was the smoke
And what was our breath

But they both faded in the crisp mountain air
As did our oneness over time

Dying under perfect-sky lunar eclipses
As we shared Merlot and tobacco kisses
Beneath serene blackness in vast expanse
The constellations of the heavens left us entranced
As we blew our grey clouds upward
To mingle with the overshadowed moon

Death with every cup of coffee at the Waffle House
Death with every fast-food conversation
That helped us discern the meaning of the world
Death out the window of every road trip
Death on the way to your childhood school in Quincy
Where we broke 100 mph for the first time
On that dreary, foreboding, tree-lined canopy rode
Death on snow covered mountaintops
Death in poppy adorned valleys
Where you nearly disappeared between the blooms…
In the same state
Where we bought our first carton together

Dying, when we promised our love for one another wouldn’t
And dying along with our time together
While seated on the edge of my bed
In the back room of that humid Tallahassee apartment
To the words of the song on the radio
That I can still hear in my mind’s echo
“When I’m without you,
I feel as hollow
As a bone”

Leaving us to look back on our path together
Only to find thousands
Of nicotine-stained butts
As reminders of almost
Every
Moment

I list my first cigarette today
And it reminded me of the time I spent dying with you
I lit my first cigarette today
And it reminded me
That the time I spent dying with you
Was some of the only time I’d ever spent
Truly living

Taking a Bath in Frida Kahlo's Tub

By Jesse Rice-Evans

There were too many bodies
lolling in the water and it was getting
too cold to watch the corpses
bubbliing grotesquely, the set for some horror-film
in my bathtub.

By now the water is cool and goose pimples
foxtrot across my breasts, still frosted
with the strands of stranded foam, lost
when the waters receded.

But there is a plant between my thighs now,
a boat in the water, and instead of leaves, a bird
in a tree.

How I yearn to sunbathe next to
the man on the volcano erupting Chicago
or New York – he looks hard. The bark of a good man
is solid, his chest like the trunk of an oak.

My right foot, cracked by the inattentiveness
of others. I see this, too, in my face on winter
mornings when I’ve let my fingernails grow too long.

Corpus unum

By Jessie Shires

Rain
shrugged off ancient wooded flanks
regroups
settles into the nearest crevice
rushes
to find more of itself.

The mountain knits
around this rolling purl
a guiding web
shows the assembled rain
the way down.

If I stepped into
this shining stream
touched
my belly to
its belly
I might dissolve
undone by cold rock and
the persistence of water.

The net of my body
would open.

These round stones would
pass right through.

My bones unlaced,
skin and everything else
bare to the sun.

Milk-thin light tracing
tributaries of vein and nerve
cleaves tissue and breath
rimming every cell
with a tiny aurora.

When my body is old
as the mountain is old,
steeped and worn
skull ripple-smooth
you will find me grinning
teeth like pebbles
tongue washed away
with a
mouth full of silt,
mouthful of song.

Sestina

By Tamsen Turner

inhale. waiting, drinking. he’s coming over.
brushing teeth, wash hands orange from cheetos
take a shower. it’s dirty two male roommates and the plastic
is covered in scum. pull on underpants, bra frothy
with lace, wonder if discomfort is worth it, change shirt
four times, discarded three hit floor.

exhale. stare at his head as it watches the tv. the floor
could drop out and he wouldn’t notice. he’s so over
awareness, probably couldn’t tell you the shirt
he’s wearing if you blindfolded him. he idly kicks a cheetos
bag and stretches. pour and offer another frothy
coors light. cup is red, white inside, you know, plastic.

he clears his throat. i tell him i understand, am flexible, plastic,
without speaking. i know what this is. the couch is low to the floor
we are suddenly lying down, whispering frothy
lies, drunk. we know how, we have done it over and over,
just with other people. like choosing funyons or cheetos,
differing sizes, shapes, flavors, brand of shirt.

sigh. we’re peeling clothes. he goes for pants, i concede shirt.
games and not even memorable, alcohol a plastic
coating over the world. i hear crunch of cheetos
underfoot walking into the bedroom…time to clean the floor
i could now almost stop and clean, and this could be over
right now. i could stop before it gets frothy

but i do not. wish it was the fifties and we split a frothy
milkshake, instead we do a line and he ties a shirt
around his sweaty forehead. beyond being hung-over,
tomorrow will make ghosts of us tonight, caught in a plastic
bag and floating. falling and we hit the floor,
shocking some part of my brain. am i hungry for cheetos?

coughing, days later, go to the store to buy cigarettes, tampons, and cheetos.
the sky the blue was blinding and a few flighty, frothy
clouds sat in the sky. overwhelming wish to never again see ceiling or floor,
walls, constraints. a feeling of strangulation the collar of my shirt
he walked toward me down the street and i froze, a plastic
lot’s wife. we knew what we did not ever have was now over.

i walk on a floor sticky with beer and gritty the crumbs of cheetos,
i am an egg over easy, whites beaten until frothy,
stiff peaks, starched shirt. doll plastic.

Sleep and Dreams

By John Eells

No crime, keeping watch for couplets or half-lines
to cut through the alley or gather at the street sign.
They arrive as I usher my daughter to bed,
as I doze by her side. And no surprise

to see them when I stay up after midnight…
but to find them at the trigger of a drive-by
is a hard rhyme. I have no wish to testify

when the shooter is close — when he is the son
of a neighbor; when I pass him on the sidewalk
on his way back from the Short Stop — then I think,

No! I didn’t hear a gunshot; I had a dream
that ended with a pop. I tell myself:
I never had the gift; I need more sleep;
no living poet would choose this street.

Keith Flynn on why he chose “The Temple,” by Brian Sneeden, as the winner of the 2011 Mountain Xpress Poetry Prize:


I have judged many contests over the years, and the traditional manner for a final judge is to be given the very best of the bunch, and then choose from these fine offerings as best you can, using your own aesthetic philosophy to bear on their contents.

In this case I was given about forty finalists and quickly found that "The Temple" had a maturity of purpose and structural facility that elevated it from the other entries. Poetry is distinguished from other writing disciplines by its music.
Music is rhythm and movement, and a poem's movement is dictated by the sounds of the language and sentences moving one into another to create momentum as the poem tumbles down the page. "The Temple" is successful because of its inherent use of images interlocking one into the other to form a distinctive chain or narrative. The imagery, though hardly subtle, leads the reader to new and interesting discoveries, like this beautiful opening image: "I have wanted a body that, / like a cathedral bell / can survive many years / with one glowing note / still resounding beneath / the skin."

Though the abiding image of the speaker's body, in its various transmogrifications, is the central spire holding the poem in place, the crispness of the phrases resonate, pulling the reader through the poem's single poignant thought and anchored perspective in a series of tercets that touch on a timeless variety of comparisons. "The memory of / Crete, sitting in the cave / where Cybel taught Heracles / how to hold a woman’s heart – / slowly, like the song / of a white crane –/ I wanted a body that / could sit like a growth / of quartz, patiently waiting /on nothing in particular. "

These perceptions concoct a mood, in a style reminiscent of Robert Creeley, whose poems always seem to be alive, even when our backs are turned, nosing through the dark to find their intended reader. Charles Olson's essay on Projective Verse longs for a poetry that asserts itself in the blank page's "open field," declaring that, "the voice is greater than the eye." But since poetry is also language with a shape, the eye of the reader must be lead by the poem's various sensations operating out of the field of vision like an underground river.

"The Temple" is just such a spring, teeming with details. But this poem operates like a painting, and gives you everything, even as it gives nothing away, showing the body's final denouement in an image that allows Mother Nature the final say, as it should be, knowing that death does indeed have full dominion over the beings of this planet, and that the acceptance of this dominion can actually lead to transcendence, lending a portal into the poem's quickly gathering stillness: " … the mountain sweetening / his insides like/ a blood orange /until, at last, fully / ripened by stillness, / the earth eats him." And thus the circle is closed, like the lid on a box clicking shut.

The Temple

By Brian Sneeden

I have wanted a body that,
like a cathedral bell
can survive many years

with one glowing note
still resounding beneath
the skin. I have wanted

a body that, like kudzu
would not stop growing.
The old men at the coffee-

house nursing tin thermoses
with wrists now brittle and
dry – they should be great trees.

Warrior-colored oaks firm
as ancient samurai, their hard-
earned muscle still frightening.

The morning I hiked
from Tenant Mountain
to stand barefoot

on Shining Rock, I felt
naked. The quartz humming
like a chapel full of whispers,

I could have come from
any century. The memory of
Crete, sitting in the cave

where Cybel taught Heracles
how to hold a woman’s heart –
slowly, like the song of

a white crane – I saw flashes.
Kingdoms. Courtyards of shadow faces
projected into my mother’s womb.

The afternoon I stood
and watched the sun darken
behind Cold Mountain, night

forming like a burn,
I wanted a body that
could sit like a growth

of quartz, sacrificing nerves
for a skin that echoes,
patiently waiting on

nothing in particular.
I have wanted a body that,
like Valmiki’s, could sit

nine years in the Himalayas,
ants building their mound
to the crest of his bald

head, watching thoughts form
slow as seasons, the
mountain sweetening his

insides like a blood
orange until, at last,
fully ripened by stillness

the earth eats him.

SHARE
About Webmaster
Mountain Xpress Webmaster Follow me @MXWebTeam

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

2 thoughts on ““Let us suddenly / proclaim spring”

  1. Elsie B.

    Great job Xpress, for mounting an inaugural poetry prize and hosting it at the Masonic Temple. All round, I think it’s been a big success.

    However, I must say that I think the way you printed the poems in this week’s paper was a bad idea. Instead of being given their proper place in an article, the ten poems were tossed among the calendar section with only a tiny mention at the beginning page.

    This poor presentation of the winning poets’ work contrasts with the carefulness you’ve shown so far, and does nothing to inspire more poets to enter next year.

  2. Tisha

    I was very moved by Andrew Procyk’s “Life and Death.” The imagery is very evocative of seeing my mother die from COPD. I wish every smoker would realize the deadly consequences of cigarettes. My mother began smoking before the risks were known. Why, why, why do people today still start smoking?? Thank you, Mr. Procyk, for a beautiful and tragic story.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.