Guy Mead wins 2024 Xpress Poetry Contest

Guy Mead

Over 40 local poets submitted works to our 2024 Xpress Poetry Contest. This year’s competition asked writers to pen an original, previously unpublished piece that explored the theme of our shared humanity.

This year’s judge, Brit Washburn, is an award-winning poet and the author of the poetry collection Notwithstanding and the essay collection Homing In: Attempts on a Life of Poetry and Purpose. She was tasked with choosing the top three poems.

Washburn selected “What Can Be Spared” by Jerry Nelms as this year’s third-place finisher. “I love a poem that begins with a question, as this one does in its title,” notes Washburn. “Its opening statement, ‘She didn’t ask for much,’ immediately endears its subject to me and I am listening. … If, as has been said, poems are intimate letters to strangers, this one invites us to be friends.”

James Murphy‘s “The Sun Moves North” placed second. “This spare poem employs plain speech to offset its demands on the reader’s imagination,” says Washburn. “I’m not exactly sure what is happening … but the clarity of the speaker’s voice earns my trust, and I give myself over to experiencing the poem’s imagery. … Like all good poems, this is one to be experienced, not dissected.”

The contest’s top prize went to Mars Hill resident Guy Mead, for his poem “The Waitress and the Carpenter.” Mead notes that the poem was inspired by a true story about his wife, Sue, and himself.

“It is good to have a space set aside from your work life — a space for play, a peaceful place to relax and contemplate,” Mead says. “Play and love are important activities, but so is work. The jobs in the poem are physical and tiring, but there is a sensual, enjoyable side to them. It is an important part of any job to find its humanity. I mean really find its humanity. Is this poem about work? Is it about sex? Not really. It’s about smelling the unexpected. It’s about opening up moments in your workday and reveling in their tiny joys.”

Washburn adds: “At the heart of the poem is a mixed metaphor (‘They exhume themselves from the clenched fist of their clothing’) that somehow manages to do the work of two: invoking both the soul-crushing and almost violent nature of labor, after which an exquisite vulnerability  (‘And stand naked before each other’) is introduced, along with sensory detail and just shy of sing-song rhyme that lull us, like the subjects of the poems themselves, into a kind of intimate submission before the final line seals the deal. So much to admire here. A near-perfect little poem.”

Congrats to this year’s winner and runners-up. And thanks to everyone who submitted to the contest!

The Waitress and the Carpenter

by Guy Mead 

The waitress and the carpenter
Work hard all day
The work has nothing to do with them
Or the betterment of anything
they come home tired
Out of square & hungry
And if they chance to find the strength
They exhume themselves from the clenched fist of their clothing
And stand naked before each other
and squeeze the soft moment
He finds she smells like the blue plate special
And she finds he
smells of heart of pine
She is homemade pie
He is turpentine
The fine dust of sanding blocks & sifted flour
Coats their lips
And they kiss the workday away


The Sun Moves North

James Murphy

by James Murphy

The sun moves north
or my chair moves south.

After the first thatching
to force dirt
into spring.

The creek is making
my window stay open.

The wood burns out
the last sign of heat.

It doesn’t work like this.

There is an overlap
of spring and all the others

We share
light and water.


What Can Be Spared 

Jerry Nelms

by Jerry Nelms 

She didn’t ask for much.
Only for what could be spared.

A soft voice in the street.
Suppress the scream.

My few ones and her bag of coins
bought us coffee, biscuits, a warm booth
and time at the corner diner.


Pay to pee.
We know the game.

We sipped, nibbled and talked about
what got us there
what could be different and
what’s next
until only coffee stains and biscuit crumbs
proved our existence.

Lights dimmed. Closing time.

We walked out
hand in hand.
The night air was fresh
without the chill of solitude.

Two souls walking.
Two breaths merging.

We don’t ask for much.
Only for what can be spared
for lives too thin
to be seen,
for voices too soft
to be heard.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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.

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.