“On First Seeing You,” Alyson Ark Iott’s strikingly beautiful poem of loss, is the winner of The Chronicle‘s National Poetry Month Contest. Ms. Iott, who has never had a poem published before, is a middle-school teacher in Springfield, Ohio.
More than 70 people contributed entries to the contest, which asked for poems inspired in some way by John Keats’s “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer.” One entry arrived from a poet stuck in Paris by the cloud of volcanic ash that menaced much of Europe for days, and another from a U.S. Army new-media specialist stationed in Afghanistan. Contributions came also from dozens of faculty and staff members, students, and others connected in some way with higher education. All were welcomed, read, and posted here.
Many of the entries were, like the Keats poem, sonnets in the Italian form—even two that waxed eloquent about Homer Simpson. “Oft’ I surfed the channels bored to death/And many infomercials did I pass—” begins one, while the other ends: “Homers here raise hog, not hell. But when they bowl/In leagues on Monday night, with ball on hip,/They’re known to utter epithets like ‘D’oh!’” But we also received a haiku—”Watcher of the skies:/Ain’t that a song written by/Peter Gabriel?”—and any number of poems in shapes of their makers’ own devising.
Many of the poems are very good, and it was with some trepidation that the four Chronicle editors who had volunteered as a jury convened. But it took no more than 10 minutes to agree that Ms. Iott’s entry deserved to win. It struck all four of us as extraordinary.
Because we enjoyed so many of the other poems, we also chose runners-up in several categories that we made up on the spot, and each of us also picked several favorites to highlight. These are listed below.
Ms. Iott studied poetry as an undergraduate at Kenyon College, from which she graduated in 2003. Although she originally planned to seek a Ph.D. in English or an M.F.A. in creative writing, she says, she “kind of fell into journalism” and spent the next several years as a newspaper reporter and copy editor, gaining recognition from the Michigan Press Association in 2007 and 2008 for her reporting on crime in the Detroit area. Now she teaches at a school she once attended, Rockway Middle School, where she works with fourth, fifth, and sixth graders who need extra academic support in mathematics and English. She met her husband of five years in a poetry class.
On First Seeing You
I’ve cried until the skin flaked red and dry
beneath my eyes. I saw your body curled,
pale fiddlehead, grown in a sanguine world
of bloodrich vines, pellucid, circumscribed
by my tipped womb. To my mind’s eye
your dead lips curved; your hands, like leaves, unfurled
and clenched again; the amniotic swirl
told me you lived. Most beautiful of lies,
please let me go. I have to see the death.
Your heart ash-gray, unmoving, like a bird
that died aloft, caught motion in your chest,
the pause made flesh. My body, undeterred,
built scaffolds, palaces; but at the last,
I bore you as the earth bears the interred.
—Alyson Ark Iott
Hear Ms. Iott reading “On First Seeing You”:
Runners-Up, by Category
Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: “On First Looking Into Comfort’s Joy of Sex,” by John R. Shea
Hey, Teach: “On Last Looking at a Student’s Paper,” by Drucilla Brown
Correcting Keats: “On Last Overlooking Yeats’s Villanelle: A Triptych of Fixéd Forms,” by Clifford Flamm
World Lit: “Untitled (in Tanka Form),” by James Roderick Burns
Lawrence Biemiller, senior writer: “Hip Hop Homer,” by Kim M. Baker; “For Walter Poole,” by Rosalie Murphy Baum; “Cherry Tree Kabuki,” by Katherine Gekker; “Judie, Susie & Ham,” by Christina Squitieri; “After the Silence on Darien,” by Winnona Elson Pasquini; “Carcassonne,” by Stephanie Bangert
Our thanks to everyone who entered.
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