The final judge of the Binghamton Poetry Project’s first contest was Joseph E. Weil, an accredited poet and assistant professor of undergraduate and graduate fiction and poetry at Binghamton University.
Weil has had several volumes of poetry published and has presented his music and poetry at multiple venues. He has read on PBS and NPR, been nominated 10 times for the Pushcart, won two NFAAA awards for outstanding teaching in the arts, and is the 2013 winner of the Working People’s Poetry Competition from Partisan Press. He is also co-editor, alongside Adam Fitzgerald, of the online poetry magazine, Maggy, and fiction editor of Ragazine.
Weil has selected… Drum roll, please…
“How The Mind Works” by Anita Alkinburg Shipway as the contest winner!
Shipway describes herself as a life-long educator who enjoys helping people express themselves with poetry. The poem stems from a story told to her by her late father-in-law. Shipway said her father-in-law “understood depression, but he could not fathom the total removal of the source of family income. Cows can go to auction. The farm can too. Things can be done. People can help. Why would that not be clear?” She said it took years for her to craft this into a poem.
How The Mind Works
I knew a farmer once, not an old man.
He kept a dairy of cows.
He knew his obligations,
and fed them
and milked them and
carried out their manure.
He did not shirk his responsibilities
Even when he felt so bad,
That his legs would hardly move,
That his eyes were dim.
No one was a hired man anymore.
His wife and children “had other interests.”
He simply could not rise to do it.
A cow is a living thing and must not go untended
So, he shot them dead,
Every one, standing in her stanchion,
And then he shot himself.
Weil said, “What strikes me about “How The Mind Works” is both its containment of incident and its larger background story. In this small, unsparingly tough-minded poem about the loss of one dairy farmer, all the heartache of a forgotten way of life is called into play: to work, to keep one’s obligations, and most importantly, to understand that living things must be tended. This poem, told in simple, but carefully crafted words, [has] no “varnish” to make life any prettier than it is. It reminds me of John Ciardi’s assertion that “the pretty is never the beautiful;” this is a beautifully stark poem with not a trace of prettiness clinging to it. This is a poem that remains fiercely committed to seeing the truth. That truth has both great compassion and unflinching poignancy.”
For the runner-up, Weil selected “Drunks Text to God” by Elyssa Diamond.
Diamond is a freshman at Binghamton University aspiring to study English with a concentration in creative writing and human development. She said she believes poetry should be shared with the world.
Drunk Texts to God
Where did I find this number?
Maybe on a crumpled napkin at the bar, under
My holy wine. Or was it vodka Sprite?
They’re kind of the same thing, right?
They both make me a little more like Jesus Christ.
Your son may have turned water into wine,
But I can transform my blood
Into a substance strong enough to make even you drunk.
I don’t know much about your drinking history,
I don’t think you ever mentioned that in your auto-biography,
But I have the feeling you can handle your liquor.
You and I should get a drink sometime.
You are a guy, right?
The feminist in me really wants to call you she,
But I just can’t see you that way.
You have a shield, and a long white beard,
And maybe you could be like the bearded lady,
But then why would you put her in the freak show?
Now I really want to know what you have “down there.”
Not like I’m coming onto you.
I don’t even know if you have a “down there,”
Or a corporeal form,
But you are the father of anything that has ever been born,
So I’m assuming you had to get around somehow.
How exactly do you save people?
I’m not saying that I need to be saved,
But I think this is a legitimate query.
I have this theory that you don’t work your magic
Until after death, because otherwise you and I would have met
A long time ago. Where were you in high school
When I was sneaking cigarettes between class?
When I was throwing my empty bottles just to collect
The shattered glass?
Where were you tonight?
When I was four drinks deep into my –
I guess it was my vodka sprite.
Oh, you must have been there.
That’s where I found this nu
Do you really love me?
I learned in Sunday school that you do,
But it seems hard to believe
Because I far as I can tell,
You don’t even know me.
You say you love your fans,
Yet you only interact with the holy elite,
Leaving all of us little people bowing at your feet.
You are just like any other celebrity,
But not even Kanye has gone to war
Do you even exist?
Please forgive me for questioning my faith,
But if I have to wait this long for a response
How do I know if you’re even listening?
I know that there are a lot of people,
A lot of requests, a lot of bickering,
But aren’t I important, too?
If I’m not to you, then to whom?
That guy I met at the bar tonight?
Oh, wait, that was you.
I think I am sober now,
And I know that you are not God.
Perhaps I should apologize,
But I am not going to.
I don’t remember much from last night,
But I know that the sight of your obscured figure
Was the closest thing I have ever sensed or seen
To the holy light.
And you, too, gravitated towards my darkened shape
When I was nothing more than a blob, not even a face.
Maybe I am also God.
If you ever need someone to be there,
Feel free to shoot me a prayer sometime.
I’m probably just as helpful as an invisible thing
Who may or may not be in the sky.
I can assign you Hail Mary’s if that’s what you need,
Or if you want, I can just read, and nod,
And never respond.
If you want, I can be your God.
Weil said, “”Drunk Texts to God” is inventive; a cheeky and superbly wrought variation on the theme of drunk dialing (and drunk texting). It moves from “text” to “text” with great humor and understanding of human foibles, but also our struggle to address some power outside ourselves.”
Thank you to Joe Weil for judging this contest and providing our poets with such great feedback, and thank you to everyone who submitted their poetry to the contest.
A special thanks to RiverRead Books for generously donating the first prize $25 gift card and a beautiful journal for the runner-up. Shipway and Diamond are in for an awesome treat. Check out RiverRead Books’ website and like them on Facebook to for updates and events.
Stay tuned for next semester’s contest and as always: keep writing!