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Better Than Starbucks 2018 Sonnet Contest Winner & Honorable Mentions

Congratulations to the winner of our contest, Susan McLean, and to the runners up!

The following are our top ten. We hope you enjoy these beautiful sonnets. - BTS Editors

The Other Woman


What makes you think your husband’s what I want?

Does he think that? He’s dumb as mud, if so.

To me, a man’s a fast-food restaurant,

just grab and go. Maybe that hurts to know,

but joints like that are everywhere—and packed.

It’s not a lifetime contract; it’s a meal.

I don’t do long-term.  Obstinates attract.

I’m bad for him.  He knows.  Big fucking deal.


Nobody has a long attention span

these days.  So, what do you do when you’re bored?

Binge-watch TV, drink white wine, find a man?

You want security, but feel ignored

and miss that fizz of come what may.  Guess what:

we all end up alone. You think you’re not?


Susan McLean is professor emerita of English at Southwest Minnesota State University. Her poetry books include The Best Disguise, The Whetstone Misses the Knife, Selected Epigrams (of Martial), and one chapbook, Holding Patterns.

Mantis Religiosa (Praying Mantis)


Raptorial forelegs clasped tight now in prayer

for grasshoppered morsels, for sweet moths to snare,

God grant me a cricket, a succulent fly,

carnivorous longings, dear Lord, ratify,

grant me stillness and patience, conceal me from foe,

on each leathered wing, Lord, your blessing bestow,

grant me five benedictions for each hunting eye,

each lightning-speed spiked limb, dear Lord, sanctify,

grant me sharp sight before me, clear vision behind,

may my prey be myopic, my predators blind,

God bless me with motherhood, grant me a mate,

make him mantis enough to embrace his true fate,

may our coming together be passionate and right,

pray let me not fail when it comes to the bite.

Jennifer Moore is a British writer from Devon. Her poetry publications include Mslexia, Other Poetry, and South. She is a previous winner of both the Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Contest and the Balticon Poetry Contest.

Cinema Park


The marquee’s dropped its letters to the ground

and feeds the yucca plants with movie stars

where crabgrass cracks the asphalt into mounds,

road gutted, inaccessible to cars.


Lost wind blows up the skirts of ticket booths

where families stuffed in pick-up trucks hid low.

Door speakers hang like guts of run-down dogs.

Our popcorn bags composted long ago.


Now jocks who fondled blushing cheerleaders

fall fast asleep, remote controls in hand.

So years flip by like pages wind can turn,

like snapshots hung on hooks to gather sand.


The screen, once sparkling white, peels back its skin

bares forth its silent, steel-ribbed skeleton.

Susan Lynn Zenker has lived in New England, Mexico, Miami, and El Paso. Her poems have appeared in Mezcla, The South Boston Literary Gazette, Strong Verse, Dreamers Creative Writing, and other journals.

Angel Wings


I come to Elizabeth Park to see him feed

from a bent lady’s palm—a Canada goose

whose outward-angled wings (from too much bread),

like deadwood twigs, are of no earthly use.


He’d watched his flock take to the sky, and heard

their honks grow fainter, fainter . . . this wild bird

now nibbling oats and corn from a trembling hand

which got him through last winter on the pond.


Their common bond is clear as cloudless days,

solid as the crystal-covered oaks:

this longing for lost friends. No one will praise

her nurturing. Some night, a coon or fox

may catch him, or the elements may get him.

Yet watch him sidestep when she tries to pet him.

Martin Elster, a musician with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, has poems in numerous journals and anthologies. He often writes about the creatures and plants he encounters in both urban and nonurban environments.



After defeat, in grief’s most hopeless hours,

With no resort remaining but the void,

The vanquished yet may turn to hidden powers,

Begging protection for a heart destroyed.

As crown or cross perhaps recalls some scene,

Bead by sad bead they may beseech the air,

As though in precincts silent and unseen

Lost angels could be helped by human prayer.


Each may, as if some hearing had begun

In secret parts where all the dead yet live,

Cry out to walls the innocence of one

Whom now no other aid is left to give.

And whether justice anywhere may reign,

None here can prove their witness was in vain.

Poems by Tom Merrill have recently appeared in two novels as epigraphs.  The last time he entered a poetry contest was more than thirty years ago.

Winter Boats


Becalmed in back yards, cold and mortified,

boats hold their breath until the day when stiff

blue tarps can be removed, when bows can glide

across blue bays.  For months, the sleekest skiff

looks clumsy, inconvenienced by its own

unfloated weight, bound to a rusty trailer,

as buoyant as an old shoe or a stone,

when she should be bound only to a sailor.

But he’s a summer creature too:  he knows

how briefly hulls and hearts are light, how short

the breathing season is.  It’s he who tows

her, come the fall, to this ignoble port

beside the shed; he leaves her high and dry

and heavy with a longing for July.

First published in The Cannon’s Mouth 50 (December 2013): 57.

Jean L. Kreiling, the author of two poetry collections, Arts & Letters & Love (2018) and The Truth in Dissonance (2014), is a past winner of the Able Muse Write Prize, three New England Poetry Club prizes, and other honors.

My Son

            for Steve, 1965 – 1991


You come to me out of the Vedauwoo

in this photo I snapped before your crash.

The picture glass reflects my front yard view

yet you are not aware of cars that pass.


I remember the soft gray tee you wore

while leaning on my Arizona tree.

You sailed along the San Diego shore,

then drove up north as if you’d always seen


those vast frontiers of hiking to explore.

I think of the small bottle of cologne

you left in Laramie with clothes you wore.

The scent of Gambler has become your own.


Why did you drive sleepless the whole night through

and leave me here with aching thoughts of you?

Sacramento Theater Company Sonnet Contest; 1st Prize $250, Poetry Now, summer 2015

Paula Ashley is a retired software engineer. She lives in Glendale, Arizona, with her husband and an abundance of birds that hang out on the solar fountains in their backyard.



“The sky acutest at its vanishing”



Some name it shadow. Some insist on ghost:

substantial blocks of wood chucked onto lathes

and spun at speed take on a different shape—

their core surrounded by ethereal


traces of bark and grain. A shade, at most,

a spray of patterned light that almost bathes

the turner as he gently tries to scrape

lit silhouettes of rough material


while all around him shavings, feather light,

move through the circulated air, and land

on powdered metal benches, and his sight

is blurred by floating dust. Even his hand


can disappear where air and grain converge

in arcane form before the wings emerge.

First published in the James Dickey Review.

W.F. Lantry’s latest collection is The Terraced Mountain. He received a PhD in Creative Writing from University of Houston. Honors include National Hackney Literary Award, Patricia Goedicke Prize, Crucible Editors’ Prize, and Potomac Review Prize. He’s editor of Peacock Journal.

On Admiring a Scythian Cup


The stag god on his golden knees looks up,

eternally positioned for the ax.

A hunt in progress swirls around the cup.

A lion licks its chops as it attacks.

In ancient barrow’s unearthed cache the skill

of ageless artistry speaks to the heart,

revealing both the urge to praise and kill

embodied in religion and its art,

the bridle plate, the pectoral, the sword,

the burnished mirror flashing in the sun,

the savage song but reverent whispered word

appeasement for the deed which must be done.

The gods die daily, man but once, yet he

creates to prove his own divinity.

Past winner of the Helen Schaible International Sonnet Competition and finalist in the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred competition, Nancy Brewka-Clark has poems in many anthologies including Independent Book Publishers’ Association 2018 bronze medal winner Two-Countries, Red Hen Press.

Tennis with the Net Down

(apologies to Robert Frost)


I’d bet that even some who like it found

it dull at first, each serve blasting the ball

so fast and short it seems to pounce, not fall;

returns all hopeless flailing—scratched-up ground,

or air. A match becomes a march around

the court, ace after ace, a breakless brawl.

You’d get more practice hitting at a wall,

true strokes at least, shots you could reach and pound.


But that’s what makes it tricky: how to use

what’s left to you—lines, rhythm, form—until

the game gets good. Try it. You’ll learn to run

as hard as ever for each point. You’ll lose

as often too. The net can craze you; still,

not easy, really, playing without one.

Michael Greenspan has long loved poetry. He is surprised and delighted—and a bit overawed—to join the ranks of published poets, and he promises not to bore his relatives too much about it.

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