2014 Academy of American Poets Winning Poetry
English graduate student Jonathan Maule has just won Cal Poly’s Academy of American Poets Contest for his poem “Repurposed.” He will receive a $100 award from the Academy.
Judging this year’s contest, Walt Whitman award-winner Greg Glazner said that Maule’s poem is “a moving study of brothers” and that it’s “written vulnerably and unflinchingly, with painstaking attention to detail.”
The judge noted that the poem has “an admirable command not only of detail, voice, and arc, but of humanity as well, showing us how perspective deepens, in the end, into responsibility.”
1st Place Winning Poem
Camping on BLM land just North of Lucky Peak,
my brother leaned against the stainless roll bar
in the back of my pickup, held a
double-barreled beer bong as high as he could.
Two at a time, the others twisted red and white irrigation nozzles
and chugged through acrylic tubes.
One of the younger ones botched it up,
pulled back too soon and shot a piss-colored fountain
all over the cracked plastic bed-liner of my truck.
We drank Keystone, and blasted metal.
My brother lost his virginity that night, in a tent, with a blond.
Or in a truck, with a brunette.
He rubbed butter on the bright red funnel to cut the foam,
poured beer after beer, held his hands above his head,
reveled in the double bass
while the others dragged a felled tree to the fire.
I sat him down and told him about getting high—
what it would feel like in his lungs,
how long it would last, how to hold it in,
the correct way to breathe.
I showed him the pipe—
a three-inch length of galvanized steel with
a threaded elbow at one end, a repurposed
sink aerator for a screen, the whole thing
wrapped in black hockey tape. Sitting by the man-made
lake at the center of the apartment complex,
we sparked bowls and laughed
when he singed his eyebrows.
“Don’t worry, if someone comes, just throw it in the lake;
it’s so heavy it’ll sink to the bottom.”
He held the pipe loose, like he was weighing it,
considering the depth of the water.
He calls again asking how I’ve been.
He’s drunk and I’m not.
He says the bastard locked him out,
changed the locks while he was at work,
He says it’s been bad since June,
says he didn’t see it coming.
I listen as the story bleeds into other stories.
I pinch the phone between my cheek and
my shoulder while I hang damp laundry on
a ratchet-strap running the length of the crossbeam above my bed.
The mattress sinks as I step and stretch,
reach up and hook another hanger,
he talks about a homeless woman with cigarette burns peppering her arms,
says she needs a place to sleep, a place to get clean and forget a few things,
his voice, hallow like the shrunken shirts hanging over my head,
sounds more and more like my own.
First honorable mention goes to English graduate student Lauren Henley for her noir-ish poem “Cool Hand Luke,” which takes its title from the Paul Newman movie and expresses the way romantic love can offer hope in dark days.
Cool Hand Luke
It is July inside & it is July outside
I pick up J.M. at midnight from Shin’s Sushi Bar
The rotting narrow stairs
One thinks of stealing water even though you have water
At two am after sex the July moon turns on the town lights firecrackers
There are still divorce papers to finish more court visits my ex haunts
At 3 am I whisper sweet things open polar sea meat locker
4 am & there is no more borrowed Ambien so we talk movies
- Lauren Henley
Wine and Viticulture major Madeleine Mori earned second honorable mention for her atmospheric poem "Sa-I-Gu," which, based on the LA riots, renders the tensions and dangers of urban life, especially for shop owners.
The thin red crime threads are cut,
I swab shelves of Soju and Goldschlager,
The windows broken, the new guns cocked,