Thanks to all the poets from all over Canada who entered our Summer 21 Poetry Contest. Today, the 21st we take great pleasure in announcing and congratulating the top three winners:
Drum roll please……
- 1st Place: Marg Kropf – Coming of Age
- 2nd Place: Les Robling – XXI
- 3rd Place: Reva Nelson – Twenty-one and Done
Before you read the winning poems and why we chose them, here is what the contest asked for:
Compose a 21-line poem in any form, where the subject matter evokes some aspect of the number 21. Your poem does not have to actually contain the words “twenty-one”, although you are welcome to do so. The title is not considered one of the 21 lines.
Winner: Marg Kropf – “Coming of Age”
COMING OF AGE
They reproach, these stops and starts
Of children’s feet
My measured tread
Along a dusty street,
Along the hopscotch lines
So crazily bent
Around the jagged cracks
In the cement.
Children dash against the sun
And I can see
That they are at some game
And unaware of me.
Their looks cry out,
“Too late. It is too late!
You are the traveller
Who can pass this gate
But once, then vanish
In an angry sun.”
I feel old, old,
Tomorrow I will be twenty-one.
Judges’ Comments on “Coming of Age”
On the cusp of full adulthood, our narrator is acutely aware that a return to childhood is not an option. The imagined admonishments of the children symbolize the vanished years, and their imagined taunts sting. The children can brave dusty streets and jagged cracks in the cement; indeed, they can dash against the sun. Fearless. And, of course, there’s an underlying reminder to any reader beyond the age of 21, that this too is no longer attainable. We’re reminded how, at our own age of twenty-one, we felt about aging; how each year passes and leaves us feeling old, old, immeasurably old.
On first reading, the ending comes as a surprise, despite the title, because the poet so accurately captures the heavy feeling of being old that we can imagine a much older narrator. In the first lines, are images and connotations of heaviness and age, of a life measured: feet and treads, numbers and prescribed routes in hopscotch, lines and roads that point to journeys made and the nod to the children’s rhyme “Step on a crack/ Break your mother’s back,” as well as the sensory details that feed the emotion: dusty, crazily bent, jagged cracks.
At the first turn, the mood lightens as we witness the children and their imagination game. Here the movement is fast and sunny and loud. And then the final turn back to the narrator, I feel old… setting us up for the kicker last line.
The poem is further supported by an intriguing rhyme scheme and rhythm that hearkens to the unbalanced feeling of the narrator, especially with the extra penultimate line that throws the scheme off just before the final statement.
2nd Place: Les Robling – XXI
Just one topic comes to mind,
Bill Twenty One, cruel unkind.
A misaligned, nasty law,
No matter how it's written down
Causing many a facial frown,
An act around a social flaw.
Banning ethnic dress and symbol
Crosses, hijabs, turbans and all,
Casts a pall on a nation
Denied the right to free choice;
Discrimination all should voice
Not rejoice this indignation.
What a year, what a frightful age,
Covid pandemic, nature's rage,
A rampage across the land -
Fever, dry cough, tiredness,
Painful death from this virus
Undesirous deadly hand.
Yet, covid will be slayed, soon now;
But this Bill lives on, somehow,
Twenty one, merde, disallow
Judges’ Comments on “XXI”
Roman numerals in the title create curiosity about the poem to come. Rhyming couplets and metrical structure are tough to pull off in a poem without it reading like a greeting card. This poet wisely avoids a simple AABB scheme and opts to vary the rhythm and tone with an AABCCB for three full stanzas and then ties it nicely with a triplet stanza at the end.
A clever use of internal rhyme again keeps the greeting card
element at bay: down, frown, around; choice, voice, rejoice; tiredness,
virus, undesirous. And enjambment of some lines further helped to keep the
rhyme from calling attention to itself because the content spans the lines and
carries the reader with it: Banning ethnic dress and symbol / Crosses,
hijabs, turbans and all, / Casts a pall on a nation
This poet is to be applauded for risking a topical and controversial subject, as good poets have done through the ages. In many ways this poet pulled it off. Reserving personal opinion, however, and merely presenting facts and images and possibilities so that the reader comes to that opinion on their own, would make this even stronger.
3rd Place – Reva Nelson – Twenty-one and Done
TWENTY-ONE AND DONE
When my son was eleven
I was imparting some motherly wisdom
On choices and values
He questioned why
I was telling him this
Since his values were in place
“I’m done, Mom, you’ve told me
You don’t need to tell me again.”
“What do you mean you’re done
Are you a Christmas turkey?" I asked
By eighteen I thought now he’s done
Off to university and safe
But many new challenges emerged
And I wasn’t done either
At twenty-one I thought now he’s done
And I am finished parenting
Not so, not done
Now, years later, my grandson is turning one
I see that no one is done
Not even me
And parenting is infinite
Judges’ Comments on “Twenty-One and Done”
There is a solid progression here with touchstones of ages 11, 18, 21 and beyond and back to 1. The last full stanza brings us full circle to the wisdom our narrator gains. As much as she wanted to impart wisdom to her young son, she (and we readers) are reminded that gaining wisdom is not something that can be measured in years. Indeed, our grandmother narrator is still gaining wisdom.
Use of actual dialogue in this poem gives the reader insights into character without having to describe or filter the view. A touch of humour lightens what could have been a dry delivery, given the prosaic style. While this narrative structure offers a useful parable, and a recognizable theme to engage readers, a stronger sensory engagement through use of poetic devices or form or use of the senses would bring the reader closer to the poem on an emotional level.
So there you have it. Congratulations to the winners and indeed, congratulations to everyone who entered. As all writers know, submitting is the hardest part.