JMRL and WriterHouse Announce Poetry Contest Winner!


The poem, “Carolina Wrens,” by Mary McCue has been selected as this year’s JMRL-WriterHouse Poetry Contest winner. Laura Wallace was named runner-up for the poem “Aphasia.”

Congratulations to Mary and Laura for their beautiful works, and thanks to all who entered this year’s competition!

Both poems are published below.

This year’s judge was Luisa Igloria, Poet Laureate of Virginia and Professor of Creative Writing and English at Old Dominion University. To read her feedback on each poem, go to JRML’s blog.



“Carolina Wrens” by Mary McCue,

What they are saying this morning
of dew fresh grass
I do not know,

but I understand happiness
as the pair flutters
in and out of Stewartia branches—

voices so clear and bright
I’d swear the tiny white petals
opened a month early.

Hidden in a fork of the tree,
a thatched pagoda-like house,
leaves, twigs and milkweed silk
spilling from its lip.

For weeks I’ve admired the diligence
of these shy birds hopping from bush pile
to nest and felt blessed
by song and intent.

Living alone, one can believe anything.
I believed they belonged forever
like the morning glories
of blue, dark blue and rose,

those delicate climbers
that appear every spring
wrap themselves around
a reed, a pole.

But hours later, on a porch step,
only feathers and chips of bone.


“Aphasia” by Laura Wallace,

One morning a ragged fingernail scratches
deep within the brain a soft and lonely itch.

A yearning not to speak, not to need so strongly
to be heard or to divine the word that will relieve all
hunger, quell all war and cruelty, slake a planet’s
thirst for peace and oxygen, oxygen and peace.

This changes to desire for tea, just tea, it’s what you always do
but you can’t recall what tea is called, its early-morning sound or
meaning, in which disorderly cabinet it waits or how it’s made.
Instead you head again to bed and start to write until you read
what you have typed and it
is gibberish.

The smart and urgent residents prick and quiz religiously until you
finally reply in ways that mean as much to them as once had meant
to you: the will-yous, won’t-yous, can-yous, can’t-yous collected
over time before you learned this day that all a human needs when
questions come is yes or no. DNR? Okay?

They let you sleep or make you sleep and later on illuminate a scan.
A white spot sends out a beam from the sly cupboard where tea lives,
where words are stored in wild and looping canyons full of tiny jars
with golden lids and colors fragrant as continents of flowers.

You’d had no idea, really none, how a pilot might require
such skill and concentration.

You find no secret speech on peace or Paris or the planet but
when they say the stroke was small you can still go, joy roars
in your chest as loudly as the engines making snaking, filthy
trails that fall away below your feet. And though you know
there might be a word like love you’ve overlooked, you hope
you will remember it one morning
just in time.