In celebration of National Poetry Month the Magazine presents the winners of its Alumni Poetry Contest.
Mark Strand, the Andrew MacLeish distinguished service professor in the Committee on Social Thought, spent much of January eating poetry. As judge of the Alumni Poetry Contest he read 400-plus poems written by 246 Chicago alumni. The poets spanned nine decades of degree years, from a Ph.B. earned in 1928 to a phalanx of 2002 grads. They wrote free verse, haiku, sonnets, even limericks (“Professor Mark Strand/Placed his head in his hand…”). They wrote of love, loss, libraries, and bookshops.
Four hundred poems, as Strand laconically puts it, “is a lot of poems,” and so, in addition to the three prizes—first place, $600; second, $300; third, $100—outlined in the contest guidelines, he chose two more entries for honorable mention.
What made these poems stand out? The first-place “Potter’s Song,” Strand says, “is a successful solution to the formal problem the villanelle sets; the repetitions and circularity of the villanelle very suitably reflect the poem’s content.” He admires the second-place “Pockets” because “it combines fastidiousness and wildness in an obsessive attempt to locate oneself—with the unsought-for result that one is nevertheless lost.” Of the third-place “Little Red Schoolhouse,” Strand says, “I like the simplicity, the rhythmical rightness.” And of the honorable mentions—“Unavoidably Detained” and “Lowdown Lovesick Blues”—the judge notes, “They came close.”
The clay has no shape as it comes from
I dig up what I use from a place that
Raw earth, when I start, is heaped into
This lump on the wheel goes around and
I will glaze it to look like a rainbow
It’s strange how my life—like
this bowl—should be bound
—Douglas Mandell, AB’72
Mandell lives in Fresnes, France, where he is a software engineer for EADS–Launch Vehicles. This is his first published poem.
You have a pocket, pockets, all over, front, back, side, outside, inside, and within these pockets are perhaps other pockets and within those still others, an infinite line of pockets, or maybe a circle that leads back to the original pocket, and you put your hand in your pocket and maybe you feel something in there and you realize that what you have is just not enough to give to someone else and so you’ll stay alone and your hands will be the only hands in your pockets which is fine because sometimes there are good things in these pockets, forgotten things, stale gum, a joint you never finished smoking, a stamp, lint you were saving, a paper clip, a vacation brochure, matches, some spare change (though never in the same pocket, or else it’d jingle against itself and you’d notice it, broke as you are), and of course the keys, which you have been looking for, which made you go through your pockets in the first place, and you finally find the keys and back your way out of your pockets, into the open air between your hand and the car door, you get in and put the key in the ignition, the car starts but as you back it out of the space it doesn’t seem like your car, though you drive it anyway towards home, which when you get there doesn’t really seem like your home, though the key works in the door and you walk in with your hands in your pockets, putting the keys in one of them though you don’t remember which, and maybe there are some people in your home playing pool or billiards or something, you don’t think you know them but they seem to know you, and they kind of smile but mostly look unhappy as they announce to you, sorry, you just lost the game you didn’t even know you were playing, please pay up, empty your pockets.
—Julian Cohen, AB’91
Cohen, who is vice president and group strategic planning director at DDB Chicago, writes screenplays in his free hours. He has previously published poems in Strong Coffee and Mangrove.
My father took me
The Schoolhouse then
Off to the left
Off to the right
I painted the trees
—W. H. Stevens, AM’76
Stevens lives in Crystal Lake, Illinois, and is an assistant public defender in the Cook County Public Defender’s office. His poems have appeared in Alewife, Bogg, The Lillliput Review, and The Rambunctious Review.
Look for my baby, she’s lookin’
That gal would look good in a croaker
When I give her the eye like I’m
And when I’m gone in those eyes
and those lips,
Think I’ve lost my baby to clothes
Come around, Baby, come out of that
Catalogues be the devil, that’s
what they are—
Only you know how you mess with my mind—
I’m suffering, Baby, come lie
by my side.
We ain’t got all night and that
—Kevin Lewis, AM’69, PhD’80
Lewis directs graduate religious studies at the University of South Carolina. His poems have appeared in Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature, The Christian Century, Anglican Theological Review, and Studia Mystica.
Paul Celan, Fadensonnen*
My father and his brothers hunt pheasants
of the homesteaders. Because it is 1946,
to listen to their speech, low German,
are no longer terrible. When the evening
a phone, and because something is abiding
—Jane Hoogestraat, AM’82, PhD’89
Hoogestraat, a professor of English and gender studies at Southwest State University in Springfield, Missouri, has published work in Poetry, Southern Review, DoubleTake, Slant, High Plains Literary Review, Yarrow, and South Dakota Review. *above the grey-black wilderness.
Paul Celan, Thread Suns
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