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Top 10 Winning Poems from the 2016 WD Poetry Awards

Read the top ten winning poems from the 2016 WD Poetry Awards.

Writer’s Digest would like to congratulate the winning poems from the 2016 WD Poetry Awards. For full coverage of the 2016 WD Poetry Awards, check out the July/August 2017 issue of Writer’s Digest. For a complete list of winners, click here.

In this online exclusive, you can read the top-ten winning poems from this year’s competition.


by Jamison Cole McLean

In the swirls of green smoke,

There was a cello.

And we danced broken steps across

Cobblestones to the twisted rhythm.

This is how I fell in love with you.

We were swallowed by the mountain’s jagged teeth,

And the ash painted us like snow

As I carved caverns in your walls,

Read the inscription on your chest.

This is how I feel in love with you.

I fell asleep beside you to the lullabies of babies crying,

Crying for lives they would never know,

That we could never give them.

This is how I fell in love with you.

You introduced me to your ghosts: dogs and shadows.

Now, late at night, they haunt me too

Except there is a farm boy and a gangster that follows them.

This is how I feel in love with you.

I woke up to your eyes like the green flash carrying souls out of this world.

But you wouldn’t let me leave with them.

You stapled me in place with flowers and a spoon

And the sound of your voice creeping beneath my slitted lids.

This is how I fell in love with you.

You taught me that broken bread still bleeds,

And life’s pound of flesh sometimes weighs more than a pound,

That bridges are for crossing, not for jumping off of.

This is how I fell in love with you.

When I sing, I still expect you to answer,

And when I trace roadmaps of scars, I still expect them to lead me somewhere.

I expect them to lead me back to you.

Because this, this is how I fell in love with you.

How to Destroy a Village without using an Exploding Donkey

by Simon Walsh

Take the furnace pond and its hook-shy pike,

restock it, put a barbed wire fence round it

then rent it out to the South Norwood Angling Society:

Clear the reeds and brambles and open up the sound

of tires swishing on the tarmac ground.

Get rid of the slaughterhouse –

lifeblood of all the local louts –

with its thousand year echo across the valley,

and put in a cul-de-sac with its silent keystrokes

of nimbies cheating on their taxes.

Retire the cricket club,

taking with it two dwindling pubs,

and let every merchant banker and his brother

surround the green with their relocated mothers.

Set off once a week to a discount SuperSaver

giving a cheery wave to the fishmonger and the baker;

see life as the trifle you bring back from the deli,

there’s the cream on the top, then the sponge and the jelly.

Stop the annual bonfire because it’s getting out of hand,

oppose anything that gets out of hand –

boys who don’t stay put in houses,

girls in barns with hooksy blouses,

loud motorbikes, darts night, death metal,

satanic rights in the abandoned chapel;

consult the Domesday Book and unforgive trespassers

and report all signs of life to English Heritage.

A Long Marriage

by Suellen Wedmore

is an old shoe, stretched in the toe, discolored, patchy in places, but comfortable. It smells, perhaps, of kelp harvested from a Cape Cod beach, or a pot roast, steamy & sweet, garlic gentled to a transparent paste. You slip the shoe on after coffee in the morning & watch yesterday’s ambitions rise from your footfall like clouds, swirl enticingly in the air & vanish into a brittle linoleum floor. Or there may be somewhere you’d like to go—to interview a sports star for your local paper, perhaps, or, more likely, to feed the crows hovering above the un-mowed grass—but the Papasan chair in the corner of the sunroom is warm, alluring, with a footstool the precise height for a worn sole and run-down heel.

Choose your footwear wisely. Passion is a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo high-top sneakers: love is tattered laces & conditioned leather. Darned socks.

Always Look

by Christian Schoon

He leaned up against the rust-kissed pipe corral

The lines of his face, a map cut into scrap leather

Bad roads, lost cities, hard going

“See that?” he said, pointing at the six horses

All standing in the iced-over paddock

Four stoved up thoroughbreds (last race run and thank god)

A coffin-headed cob

A wide farm-chuck of a ewe-necked paint

Each horse rooted, still as dead trees

All noses aimed one way

Every eye cocked as one

All ears pricked as one

All those nostrils, flared and filled as one

All attention compass-north and steady

Over the nearby slough

Over that to the barb-wire fence

(the fence that needed fixed, you can tell the old guy’s thinking)

Over the fence to the windbreak cedars

A dozen eyes and ears and nostrils

Fastened on target, fixed, unflinching

Six hearts, beating, all the blood in all those mighty hearts

A hidden creek of blood, a night-river’s flood

The beating hearts of horses

Horses looking

For that wolf, that panther, that two-leg with a rope

Deer, dog, barn cat, rabbit set to bolt,

Tin can glinting, bale twine trembling,

Worst of all the nameless shape

The shadow no horse could explain or dream or ever once imagine

“Always look where the horses look,” the man said, and spit.

Counterpoint for Ella

by Susan Gunter

“I didn’t mean a word I said.”

No, not a word,

for language is only

a closed system of phonemes,

except when Ella oscillates

between G and E,

words cross-pollinate.

“If I hurt you, I’m sorry.”

Your lies are like the thorns

on the yellow bush roses

you dug at the mine,

as you leave me alone

with asps and black widows.

“I didn’t mean to lose my head.”

This word or that,

sharp keys or flat,

Ink Spots or spotty ink—

we’ve been yoked

in a slow dance

for so many years.

Ella says “I’m sorry,” while I say “Let’s split.”

Language has logical structures,

but that’s not poetry or love.

Poetry is when the early sun slides

in slats across the bed,

and love is when,

after her golden song ends,

our eyes remember

that last resolving chord.


by Kate Hutchinson

Oh, gorgeous, of course the demons

found you on the road less traveled.

The clichés of gig life have followed you

to this bar where a bad hip and bad credit

outpace your backbeats and rim shots.

Your beret, backward à la Roger Waters,

no longer rests upon Dionysian curls

or adds a jaunt to your wink. Aged beyond

your peers, you lean against the wall

and try to count the days, joints, beers

or blues since the last time nothing hurt.

You learned long ago there’s no

salvation in placing blame. Now,

atonement comes just four nights a week,

on the worn-out stool behind the drum set,

the battered heads thinned like you

to transparency. Now, there is only sleep

or numbness—and the thrashing beat that

pulsates through the crowd and repeats,

a hundred hearts pumping life into yours.

Sonnet for a Certain Thursday

by Heather Wood

Is it the gray sky a nor’easter’s improving

And wind-weather porch where outside Dad stands

Packing his pipe that I find so moving?

The winsome assembly of chairs? Or Gram’s hands?

A wild-borne assortment of late-harvest flowers

And cranberry linens bid welcome and stay.

A scale-tipping turkey roasts amber in hours.

The scents—multi-storied, from oysters to sage—

Repattern themselves, run from warm corners,

When neighbors arrive and dogs rush in from play.

Fruit pies and new babies glide past with glad owners;

The kitchen’s in concert, the floor’s a ballet.

All this swirls in the gravy and shines in my spoon.

Years pass like long naps but this day ends too soon.

Dmitry Meets Feozva

Love and the Periodic Table

by Kelly DeMaegd

What if you were a genius,

moving printed cards around

a fine, polished table,

arranging cobalt before copper,

listing atomic numbers,

isolating elements,


boiling points,

heat of fusion,

formulating Periodic Law

when a woman approaches

bearing an Imperial Porcelain

bowl of svekolnik, garnished

with slices of hard-boiled egg,

wedges of crusty rye.

Would you glance up, pause,


the cool, pink creaminess,

find a place

for her in your life?

Perhaps between

zinc and arsenic

where two

vacant, adjacent squares


for the thrill of discovery.


by Brian Kirchner

I hope:

These words are steel, bits of ink and carbon burst

across the page in shattered shards each one sharp

as a blade spinning hurling through the brain,

slicing cutting dicing in ways

you don’t even see don’t even feel don’t even know about

until you see your own blood leak out.

These words are surgeon’s steel forged so sharp fine and flat annealed

to strike precise the target in their sights the incision made

the flesh opened up made septic exposed

to whatever pours in from the atmosphere without and within.

These words are grenades, bombs in the hand chucked over the wall

no matter how tall, how deep how wide the handy shrapnel bombs arc into

the inner sanctum the heart of the matter the matter of the heart to burst

and blow apart, to blast and fragmentate, to rearrange and remake and re-create

the notions made flesh so fresh so alive we strive to incorporate

these flying new ideas burst so roughly through our even tougher mental state.

These words are glass, spattering sharkteeth keen, mean, this ain’t no dream,

man, no paradise lost just a window smashed to smithereens,

a jagged hole launching spikes to take flight and bite

through tissue woven strong against the entry of the light.

I fear:

Maybe these words ain’t nothing but scrapes and marks and chickenscratch

scattered this way and that.

Impotent eggs, they’ll never hatch.

Hieroglyphs on the page: Where’s my Rosetta Stone? Must have left it at home.

These words lie still, play dead, they don’t roll over.

They don’t bark on command.

These words are safe. They won’t bite the feeding hand.

Play dead? They are dead.

They decompose into bones, dry sticks etched on shredded wood.

After all: These words? Could be they’re no damned good.

Spheres for Blue Coffee

by Alexej Savreux

There ain’t no wrong key!!

Smoke that reefer, blow that smoke, take that benzedrine.

Why? Cuz there ain’t no wrong key!

Oh, my! Cats beware, you’re in for some fun in this hallowed town o’ mine...

I done seen bee-bop on down the square and on Vine.

And there ain’t no wrong key.

I’ve travelled this great land of ours.

Searched this wild soul o’ mine.

And babe, there simply ain’t no wrong key...

I been stuck in psych wards,

I been played Hell down the line

I been hardcore, I been on a ledge, struggled with this role of mine.

Seen the red rivers and unrelenting engines of time.

And I’ve heard the ghettos and slums and desperations of the mind.

But baby, don’t worry, we ain’t on trial, ya know why?

Because you be who you be, in this grand World of rhymes!

Chaps and chicks, be forever slick

and free, cos in life...there ain’t no wrong key.

In life there ain’t no wrong key; it’s about how you put the notes together, B.

Ain’t no wrong key.

Ain’t no wrong key.

Ain’t no wrong key.

Ain’t no wrong key.


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