Sidney Lanier Poetry Competition

12th Annual Sidney Lanier Poetry Competition Results

Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 Sidney Lanier Poetry Competition!

First Place: “Ode to Inherited Ties” by John Davis, Jr.

Because all fashions return, I keep them
suspended from silver hooks behind the closet door.
They sway and trail: oblong pennants of a lost contest.
Too broad and fatly patterned for the present,
one day they will be bound again when times tire
of thinner, quieter strips or empty collars
gaping like unfed mouths gasping their last.

In the final picture the church took, grandfather,
you stare straight ahead in a deacon’s dark suit
anchored by striped blue cloth held fast
in a pointed double Windsor aiming
toward your servant heart – that same
ordained organ you passed on to me like so
many other kept orders in Sunday silk.

Second Place: “Highway Respite” by Roe Sonye Sprouls

I thought that they would grow
up and relieve me of the daily
do. I thought I was done digging
the nest, hauling around fertilized
eggs, dragging my hard shell up
some beach in the dark to deposit
my pirated booty.

But my mother reminded
me during a recent rant
on the phone that I was more
possum than turtle: Clinging
to her belly fur and tail, choosing
to play dead with her on the double
yellow line of some highway,
rather than hatching alone to make
the mad dash to open water.
I look behind me through the review
mirror and see my child’s car following,
full of an emptied apartment, full
of a tormented heart, full of burs,
parasites, scrapes, and importance.
Which animal carries around all that I wonder.

Third Place: “Creating Believable Characters: A Master Class” by Gina Malone

I mean, if you think about it, She can be anywhere, God can,

And so She might have taken a class with the Writing Teacher

Who says Make your characters suffer. Threaten them

With death. Challenge their views of themselves, of the world.

Pull the rug out from under their feet so they hit the floor hard

And sprawl there afraid for a time to stand up again. Hold knives

To their throats, guns to their heads. Watch them cringe. See

What your characters do then, what they say. Make them real

By making them suffer.

God is

The quintessential storyteller after all, is She not? who has created

Characters, setting, conflict, tone, storyworld

And perhaps the Writing Teacher said to God as he did to me, waving

The pages of story in my face, Nothing really happens

To your character. She’s just sitting there comfortable

On the pages, isn’t she, taking up space, wasting

Your readers’ time. Make something bad

Happen to her.

Yes, I think it must be so—

That God and I had the same Writing Teacher, a short,

Smirking little man who was about to come out

With another metaphysical novel in which, I’m sure,

He made unspeakable things happen to his characters,

Tortured them with all the meanness he could muster,

Pinned them down squirming to the pages.

So when God half-raised Her hand and said… uncertainly,

A pandemic maybe?  the Writing Teacher was gleeful.

Perfect, he said.

Honorable Mention: “Invisible” by Tim Jones

I have a cloak of invisibility
sewn from the fabric of nothingness.
It allows me to be seen,
when I want to be
or pass through crowds so quietly
that you’ll search nearby security cameras
before believing in my presence.
I didn’t buy it. I didn’t find it.
It was a hand-me-down,
already broken in, comfortable.
All I had to do was agree to never stain it
with public acknowledgement.
Talking about it is a sure sign
one doesn’t deserve it’s safety
in the polite pale ether of choices
to appear solid, make eye contact,
have a bad day or walk through
neighborhoods, unremembered.
It wraps me in common humanity
and lets me walk past cars in silence
without the sound of doors locking.
My jeans can be torn beyond suspicion
that my credit score is the same.
Salespeople don’t ignore me,
but security guards do.
It doesn’t protect me from bullets,
but it also doesn’t invite them.
No one ever follows my vehicle
to make a report.
I don’t check my rearview mirror
to see if I have entered
the valley of the shadow of death.
I can count on just one hand
all the moments when I worried
I might not make it home at night.
I wear a cloak of invisibility.
I’m not supposed to mention it,
but I will probably be forgiven
even if I write a poem about it
and that’s the problem.

Honorable Mention: “Cemetery Stanzas” by Nancy Swanson

I lead my class, with their notebooks and reluctance,
to the graveyard near Clemson Football Stadium.
Children, marked by stones with hand-carved names
and dates, rest with the infant grandson of John C. Calhoun,
his slaves in unmarked graves, and Coach Frank Howard.
All must sense trees burrowing into the niches, footfalls
of students on their way to parking, the roars of orange
and white faithful who gather each glorious fall, and
maybe a young body who lies across them, listening.

The interstate passes near an isolated graveyard
where we steal an hour before we are due home.
It is the first time we touch. You present me
with flowers plucked from a stone, and five years later,
with a smooth, white anniversary pebble.

Cemetery Trail passes though the McCall family
site, dug and filled and tended for two centuries
before cars followed highways to the mountain.
Weather and years have erased names and dates
from stones hikers pass on a two-mile moderate
or hunting the yellow-topped geocache concealed
further on.

Mama, swallowed by a white sweater, sits in a folding
chair set before our father’s urn, holding her purse
to her chest. We all miss her exit four years later, avoid
a speeding ticket because her ashes are in the back seat,
and regather, orphans, on the same green field.
The drugs took him a month before their first anniversary.
Because he always wanted to be a tree, she had him buried,
whole, at the foot of a giant live oak. The next Valentine’s
Day, she slept between the branches and him until dawn.