We received an overwhelming response to this year’s JMRL and WriterHouse Poetry Contest judged by former Virginia Poet Laureate Ron Smith. We’d like to congratulate winner Erin Wells for her poem Nevertheless, Isabella Gibbons Reads  and co-runners-up Cynthia Woodring Spanda” and Robert Simmons There Is a Time in Summer.” We hope you enjoy the winning selections. 

Nevertheless, Isabella Gibbons Reads
By Erin Wells
Winner of the 2018 JMRL and WriterHouse Poetry Contest

. . . if any white person . . . teach any slave to read
or write . . . such person shall be fined . . .
The General Assembly of Virginia, April 7, 1831

What you will not see behind the curved walls
in their quilt pattern patches unless you give
a careful look, or even then, behind the rows
of columns around fine houses, the great lawn
stretched in morning sun and those in great
haste across it, what possibly you cannot see
are pinches of seeds in my apron pocket.

When I bed them in the dark dirt warm enough
in April and smelling of rain, roots grab hold.
The plain hulls show what they hide. Stems,
new shined leaves, white or yellow blooms,
and fruit, come summer, all alive in hard bits
of nothing in this small plot allowed me.

They want to spread—mustard, mint, gourd,
a bush of peppers curled with dangerous heat.
The bean will pull itself up from the ground
on poles I lash and lean together for strength.

In my pocket, a paper folded to fit my palm,
rows of names on it, what grows here.

Gourd, mint, mustard, bean. Or Isabella, one
letter borrowed from mint, two from mustard,
three from bean. Secret, except William
knows, though we live apart, though another
owns him. Wed, but we cannot live as one.
Sun rises and sets on the long nights.

You see it move in its slow, unhurried way
across the high arch, with shadows thrown
from these walls, these houses and columns,
a time for roots to attend warmth, for water
dipped on rows, to make something of it.

(Gibbons lived as a slave at the University of Virginia but secretly taught herself to read and write. After freedom, she established what would become the Jefferson School for other freed persons.)

There is a Time in Summer
By Robert Simmons
Co-Runner-Up in the 2018 JMRL and WriterHouse Poetry Contest

There is a time in summer
when the sky is cloudless
and scents of pine and lotion
hang in the languid air.
At the lake or at the ocean
among bronze and youthful bodies
displayed on pastel blankets
or moving in slow motion
along the distant shore,
all cares dissolve in vapor
like puddles from a rainstorm
which poured the night before.
From a jukebox on the boardwalk
a melody approaches
gently like the water
licking the sequined sand,
while off on the horizon
minute objects
appear and disappear.
There is a time in summer
when all things far and near
whisper of eternity
like a conch held to the ear.

By Cynthia Woodring
Co-Runner-Up in the 2018 JMRL and WriterHouse Poetry Contest

It’s the pause,
no, the moment,
right before you eat
the ice cream.
You cannot feel it

Before the deep kiss,
the downward rush,
the pulse of please
fill me.
No hungry gnaw,
or white-knuckled grip.

A sudden sighting,
a beloved friend,
a turquoise sea,
the Golden Gate
Before the exclamation mark.

A glistening
before the idea,
a heart swell
before the first note,
before the
How beautiful!

When the last remaining lover
steps forward,
shockingly innocent,
when the great blue heron
takes flight over the flat marshland,
do not move.

*Spanda is a Sanskrit word meaning glistening. The Tantrics content that spanda is so subtle you cannot actually “feel” it. It is a moment of complete openness that is meant to guide your life and the place where liberation arises.