Rattle magazine, issue 54: Runner-up poems for annual contest

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Issue Number 54 of Rattle magazine arrived several weeks ago, and I first read the section of poems that the editors nominated for the runner-up prize in their annual poetry contest. Of the ten poems they selected, not one convinced me that it deserved a second place award; a third place award, maybe, but not second place. The problem in the quartet of poems by Ellen Bass, C. Wade Bentley, Rhina P. Espaillat, and Emily Ransdell is largely in their endings. I admire Espaillat’s poem, in particular, for the persuasive dexterity of its trochees in the second stanza, but the very last line of the poem is an easy exit, and the poem’s finish falters. Ransdell’s ending almost convinces, but leans too heavily on the image’s potential symbolic intonation. Slightly more figurative language might well have pushed Ransdell’s poem over the finish line for a silver medal. For the first two-thirds of its narrative, Bass’s poem might well be the best of the ten that the editors selected, but the ending left me wanting a return to the present tense. The look back, in lingering indefinitely as the conclusion to the poem, seemed to verge on evasiveness. Perhaps this is the first poem of a sequence of poems, in which case the ending would suffice. My vote will go, therefore, to C. Wade Bentley’s “Spin,” which was the more successful of a pair of poems with complementary concerns about absence and presence. The other poem was by Ingrid Jendrzejewski, which was composed in alternating lines in a kind of musical round of scientific inquiry and the intimate curiosity of one’s mortal reproduction. Jendrzejewski’s poem was a more than worthy effort and deserves publication, but not a prize, although she may well garner substantial awards in the future.