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> IBPC Poem of the Year, May 2006-April 2007, Judged by Mark Doty
post Jul 4 07, 07:17
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May 2006-April 2007
Judged by
Mark Doty

Poem of the Year

by Catherine Rogers
Submitted by

Second Place
The Western Ghats, 1959

by Bernard Henrie
Submitted by
SplashHall Poetry

Third Place
Wolf Dreams

by Laurie Byro
Submitted by
Desert Moon Review

Honorable Mention
The Song of Bob

by Margaret Ruth Porter
Submitted by
Salty Dreams

Judges Comments and Winning Poems

Poem of the Year


The richness of this subtle poem lies in its emotional ambivalence. Those first three words establish the situation of the poem -- the speaker is waiting with great apprehension for the results a medical test; when the results come, at the beginning of stanza two, he or she goes out to the dirt which seems now not a place of burial but of opening and renewal. This suggests that those dreaded test results didn't bring bad news after all, though this relief comes with the knowledge that we will all enter the soil sooner or later, to be part of "all I have yet to become." But ending the poem on the promising, transforming word "become" suggests that there are other ways to view death than the terror of the first stanza, a perspective we're much more likely to entertain when our test results are negative!

This poet works with polarity in an accomplished way, as these lines demonstrate: "seed-coats crack in rain,/ how root-hairs uncurl, blind..." That's a marvelous passage because of the tension between the affirmative content and the hard consonants of the diction; this play between opposites mirrors the way the poem thinks. --Mark Doty

by Catherine Rogers

After the test, I waited and thought
of its cold hug under the shoulders,
its weight on the chest, blackness
packing the mouth, the nose, the eyes.

When the call came, I went out
and knelt in the dirt, watching
the worms and pillbugs work
leaf-decay to loam. I lifted

a handful, smelled green
earth and thought how hard
seed-coats crack in rain,
how root-hairs uncurl, blind

and sure of finding. Dirt clung
to my hands as I rose and let go
a shower of clods that hit
my boots with soft thuds
and broke into pieces all
I have yet to become.

Second Place
The Western Ghats, 1959

A richly drawn landscape informed by feeling. That first stanza swiftly creates a vivid panoramic view, and it makes such a difference that it's "my" city, which makes the place feel loved and deeply inhabited. It's isn't until stanza two that we understand that we're reading a love poem -- for both a person and the place -- and the poet here chooses details in a way reminiscent of Cavafy and his beautiful poems of memory: the lipstick tube, the bed against the window, the gold slippers are lovely and ordinary, and fraught with erotic memory and a sense of loss. The sentence-making in this poem is graceful and confident. --Mark Doty

The Western Ghats, 1959
by Bernard Henrie

Indolent dust drifts over the roofs and drains of my city.
Barber shops and a lip of rose water, soiled boxes
stacked with rendered fruit, faraway, the chug-chug
of a bus leaning forward like an animal hunting water.
Mumbai half shut down, alcoves falling into darkness.

One electric bulb coming on in a rooming house,
heat resting in hallways and squalid yellow rooms.
Your suitcase carried away beyond the dry hydrant.
A forgotten lipstick tube opened and never closed.
Our bed against the window, draped mosquito netting,
your discarded slippers gold as aquarium fish.

The language of your underpants cater-cornered
in a drawer, your forgotten bra hanging on a hook.
Your eyes looking over the androgynous city for rain,
monsoon held in abeyance beyond the Western Ghats.
Your red lips flung like coins into the face of a beggar.

Third Place
Wolf Dreams

Appealling sexy and strange, it's a pleasure to read these images of transformation, which create a vivid physical sense of an animal body. --Mark Doty

Wolf Dreams
by Laurie Byro

I wasn't sure what he wanted of me; the ice
in winter birches had made the forest slouch
into spring. All that winter I peeled

and sucked papery bark for the sweet taste.
I recognized him from his red tongue,
the furtive runs when I entered his dream

and we crawled along the forest floor, repenting
the dark. I had nothing to bargain with,
no deal to make him human. The night

was filled with briars and salt. In the summer
the air became thick with honeysuckle, slick
with mating. Beetles droned in messy beds

of clover. We slunk along, weeds stroking
my belly. I hadn't yet decided which life
was better. Grass combed the plume of my tail.

The nights were crystal sharp. I waggled
my slit high, what was left of my breasts pushed
into a pile of decaying leaves. Who cared

how many and how often, I was not entirely his.
Eyes of owls glittered in the sleep of trees, tree frogs
sang in a green-robed choir. The moon clamped

its yellow tooth into my shoulder. I took the whole
night inside. What was to become of us? I had
packed away my white Juliet cap and veil for just

such an occasion. I held him like a warm
peach in my palm, longed for his juice to run
down my chin. Most nights I didn't care about

the names they gave me. I held my fingers
out to him, felt the tug as my ring fell off, carried
my limbs down to the entrance of his den,

planted a birch just outside his home
as a token of my loyalty. I was free
of the chains of consequence. I gave birth

to his amber-eyed bastard who without hesitation
he devoured. When he becomes old and says
he always dreams of me, I shall make myself

a meal of him, savor his voluptuous tongue,
and suck all the bitterness from his bones.
He will not make such promises again.

Honorable Mention
The Song of Bob

A delightfully odd sensibility, blurring the identity of the speaker (who is presumably a neighbor) and Bob's dogs, so that all are barking their love for Bob the prison guard. A goofy, engaging voice here. --Mark Doty

The Song of Bob
by Margaret Ruth Porter

(for Fred Tarr and the Radio Room)

The love affair with stangers began
with morning glories between us, Bob
went to work at the prison at 6:30
as the birds performed their last songs.
He quieted Sarge, Berry and Coco with biscuits
before he left with his radio
on, yet they started barking before
he reached the first stop sign.
I want to be his wife forever they thought,
I thought and we kept barking,
as we chased his car for all time in our minds.
Bob talks to his ex 1500 minutes a month,
he doesn't seem to mind the cost of his past tense.
Why didn't you just stay married? I am
pretty too behind this fence made of chain-mail.
Twenty-one years is all he says
from the screened-in back porch where he keeps
his old partners, ex-police dogs, his detritus.
It is as if 21 years is the official
Americana. There must be one
hundred morning glories from me
to Bob, outflanking the trees
choking them slowly. Bob wants me
to be his wife forever, waiting in my war
torn house next door so he can get home
from prison to say goodnight and wake up
again to say good morning all over.
I am the last sweetheart in town.


Mark Doty is the author of seven books of poems, among them School of the Arts, Source, Sweet Machine, Atlantis, and My Alexandria. He has also published three volumes of nonfiction prose: Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, Heaven's Coast and Firebird.

Doty's poems have appeared in many magazines including The Atlantic Monthly, The London Review of Books, Ploughshares, Poetry, and The New Yorker. Widely anthologized, his poems appear in The Norton Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry and many other collections.

Doty has received the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Whiting Writers Award, two Lambda Literary Awards and the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction. He is the only American poet to have received the T.S. Eliot Prize in the U.K., and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim, Ingram Merrill and Lila Wallace/Readers Digest Foundations, and from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Doty lives in New York City and in Houston, Texas, where he is John and Rebecca Moores Professor in the graduate program at the University of Houston.


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