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.
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.
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.
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.
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.