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English Winning Poem What’s your Place?

March 2, 2014

By GennaRose Nethercott

Departures

In our hometown
no one spoke of it.

Not while pulling carrots
from their umber beds
to stack and sell at market.
Nor as we shoveled grit
from shop basements
after the flood. Sometimes

teenagers in smoke filled cars
would cough careless
dreams of getting out
of this nowhere town
as they drove in circles

between the empty lot
and the rotary. I remember
us back then, careening
around corners, chewing
on the ends of slim jims
with the radio rattling
the dashboard. But even

then it was rarely mentioned.
No pomp and circumstance,
no absence directly addressed.
You were there until

you weren’t. Every so often
a photograph would surface
of some girl we had known
in high school, playing banjo
on a doorstep in Arizona,

dust in her hair. We would nod,
note how it’s true, no one’s seen
her for a good two or three
years now, and we would study
the photo for a while,
like staring through a ghost.

When it was our turn,
we slipped out quietly.

Some left for the redwoods
and never came back. Others
of us floated in and out,
visits growing less frequent
until we simply faded,
like lace curtains washed pale
by the sun. Those who stayed

kept on buying Black & Milds
from the Indian grocer, carried
on tilling their father’s land,

and talking of the crop,
the accident on Canal Street,
of voting day—anything
but the ones who left.

© GennaRose Nethercott

Report of the final judge

I read all the poems on the long-list three times over, and in different order.

All told singular stories of place: from a broken down caravan in the UK, to a burning ghat in Bhutan; from homicidal traffic in Phuket, Thailand, to a picnic on a fortress island off Helsinki – reflecting favorably on the competition’s international participation.

I was drawn to three poems in particular that told the story with more feeling than basic adornment or description, and where the poet’s presence invited me in to share the experience.

My certain choice for the winner is ‘Departures.’  It tells of an anonymous rural ‘hometown’, a ‘nowhere town’, where some of its youth have gone far away, perhaps to some place more exotic, doing something more exotic:

    …Every so often
    a photograph would surface
    of some girl we had known
    in high school, playing banjo
    on a doorstep in Arizona,

while others either ‘floated in and out,/ visits growing less frequent’ or simply stayed on. The tone is elegiac, wistful, unadorned, authentic.

My suggested runners-up are: ‘The Caravan at Holme’, and ‘Flames of No Masks’.

Norbert Hirschhorn