Sherry Reuter
Oak Park, IL


A note to all finalists:

You are to be congratulated on your excellent entries to the 2011 Sarah Mook Poetry Contest. What trouble I had this year in deciding the winners! Because your work was advanced on all levels, my efforts took a longer time than usual to make the final decision.

Know that your poems were read with care and attention to detail. I enjoyed every one of them!

Marie Kane


This third place poem, "Meda Se," is a skillful extended metaphor (like the second place poem) that compares a card game to making the decision between attending college or helping the disadvantaged in various far-flung parts of the world. The pace of the poem is admirable and the use of the metaphor is continual and believable. The dilemma in the poem is handled with finesse, exact poetic language, and a generous spirit.

When the first section begins with the never-ending college application process, the reader expects the poem to follow suit (no pun :). The speaker establishes the card game and gambling metaphor immediately: "My fingers play roulette / with college applications." Next, the speaker says, "I count them like playing cards, / consider betting on Bradley / or some out of state place." The metaphor is even used with a verb; the speaker notes that "I can be shuffled into experiences / I never had in Oak Park." In a sudden reversal, the last two lines definitively state the speaker's preference and establish tension for the rest of the poem: "I secretly hope I will be rejected / from every single one of them."

So this is a poem that declares its meaning in the opening; now the task for the poet is to clarify and support that meaning so it becomes realistic for the reader. I am pleased to say that this poet does just that.

The second section introduces the speaker's mother and begins the conflict between going to college and aiding the disadvantaged. Also take note of the expert use of line breaks:

Mom spells logic with dollar signs
so she doesn't understand
that I want to sleep in the streets
of Ghana, or Bangladesh-anywhere
except for a dorm room.

The speaker wishes to "sleep in the streets" not a "dorm room," and rejects the mother's "dollar sign" logic, which highlights the poem's tension and the firmness of the speaker's decision. The speaker goes on to say that it is more desirable to "teach kids / to unfold notebooks / like pop-up poker tables" so that they could "learn / to imprint their frustration, their fear / on blank pages." One admires the altruistic stance taken by the poet, and the economic and delightful way it is presented.

In the following section, rejection from colleges (hoped for in the opening) is not what occurs; it appears that acceptance is the norm. Notice the continuation of the card game metaphor:

After every acceptance letter
I spread my fingers, study them
like dealt hands, wondering if
if they were meant to open textbooks.

So now the poem explores the added weight of making this decision after the speaker has been accepted into college; the determination in the opening is reduced to "wondering."

However conflicted this decision might be, the speaker refuses to back down from it. The next two sections demonstrate how help to the suffering might be given. Boldly writing of his or her intentions, the speaker asserts, "I want poverty to cling to me / like gravity, press itself / into my skin." It is with this dramatic declaration that the reader grasps the seriousness of intent of the choice. When the source of the title of the poem is revealed, it is done so with flair and casualness. If the speaker were to deal with this mission, then his or her hands would be

stained with
Dhan'yavada, Meda se: thank you's.
I wouldn't need a degree
to receive them.

Using foreign words for 'thank you' that the speaker might receive is an efficient method of introducing other countries into the poem. Those words would be something that "I could tell my mom" and demonstrate the completion of this dream.

When the speaker reminisces about a story from Sunday school, how "sister [sic] Laura / met a taxi driver / who only made $2 a week" by "rolling around Americans" to pay / for his daughter's malaria medicine," the desire is clear:

I want to find him,
deal him the education
I picked up from Oak Park schools.
He would be able to settle
into the knowledge
that this daughter would be
taken care of.

Although the steps to accomplish taking "care of" the daughter are unplanned, the speaker's determination and intent are clear.

In the next section, the speaker becomes more specific. A choice in college-"tapping kegs" is rejected in favor of "roll[ing] together / soot and smoke / dirt soaked clothes" and "loose children." Then the speaker could "hide them like neat stacks of gamblers' tricks / to restore respiration to people / defeated by curled winds and infections." The last line of this section deserves praise. In it, the end result is firm: "I want to watch children breathe effortlessly."

The last five lines of the poem occur in the future, once the vision has been realized:

When I come back to Chicago,
I can have the security
of knowing
I helped suffocate poverty
with the palms of these hands.

Traveling the world, helping others by "suffocat[ing] poverty," will give the speaker "security"; it is this action and result that is most important in the poem.

I would be remiss if I did not also comment on the poem's successful use of strong verbs and handling of the card game metaphor. Meaningful and precise verbs are the engines that charge a poem; of that, this poem is an excellent example. A few lines demonstrate: "Mom spells logic," teach kids to unfold notebooks," "…. to imprint," "…. poverty to cling to me," "stained with," "rolling around Americans," "roll together" and "hide" children, and "suffocate poverty." The extended metaphor is also mentioned in almost every section of the poem, and not to excess. Some of its applications are: "counted like playing cards," "pop-up poker tables," "dealt hands," "deal him the education," and "neat stacks of gamblers' tricks"-just enough to keep the reader's attention on the metaphor, and not too much to suffocate the poem with it.

In all, this poem is well crafted; it is personal without being saccharine, convincing without being dogmatic, and skilled without showing off. Many congratulations to this gifted writer.

Thank you for the privilege of reading your work.

Marie Kane
Final judge, Sarah Mook Poetry Contest