Como Park writer Joel Van Valin’s poem “Fairy Tale” is the winning entry of the 2017 Park Bugle poetry contest.
Our judge, poet John Krumberger of Prospect Park, chose a first-, second- and third-place poem and two honorable mentions out of the 29 entries.
“In the way it combines playfulness with seriousness, the poem ‘Fairy Tale’ can be compared to the work of the Metaphysical Poet,” Krumberger said, “as it both subverts and invigorates a clichéd form by introducing an unexpected twist of plot. The reader is challenged to consider his or her elusive notion of happiness.”
Van Valin, who lives with his wife and “a few assorted pets near the entrance to the State Fairgrounds,” works as a writer at a small software company. In 2015, his novel The Grand Dissolute, a time-travel novel set in St. Paul, was published by 5 Prince Publishing. His poetry has appeared in the journals Talking Stick, The Avalon Review, Rochester Post-Bulletin and (forthcoming) Knockout.
What does he do for fun? “My hobby is Whistling Shade, a semiannual literary journal I’ve published since 2001,” he said. You can learn more about him at his webpage, www.whistlingshade.com/joel.html.
Krumberger chose St. Anthony Park writer Garvin Davenport’s “Souvenirs,” as the second-place winner. “The poem ‘Souvenirs’ accumulates interesting, accurately observed details the way a narrative poem does but then surprises us with what the poet sees and how the poet then connects this to the name of the city in the poem,” Krumberger said. Davenport’s poem “Winter’s Edge” was last year’s second-place contest winner.
Third place went to “Night Windows,” by St. Anthony Park writer Sarah Clark. “I like the sparseness of the poem ‘Night Windows’ and the closing image of walls separating a lullaby from someone’s grief,” Krumberger said.
Two poems received honorable mention, “Something There Is,” by Dave Healy of St. Anthony Park and “Poem” by Andrea Blain, also of St. Anthony Park. Van Valin will receive $50 for his first-place win.
The prompt for this year’s contest was the word “walls.” Contestants were not required to use the word in their work and the poems were judged anonymously. Here are the three top poems, two honorable mentions and a poem by our judge. You can find all the rest of the entries here.
Krumberger’s poem “Breakfast at Colossal” was the first-place poem in the Bugle’s 2015 contest. A psychologist in private practice in St. Anthony Park for 26 years, Krumberger has published a chapbook and two full volumes of poetry, the latest one Because Autumn, was published by Main Street Rag in 2016.
After their fairy tale has ended, how do they dream our prince, our young princess as, arms entwined, they share a lovers’ sleep? He has brought her through the dark forest to the gray-walled castle and now they have won a welcome bed. Still, there’s that wind on the casements always a fugitive, and the hiss of a guttering candle calling elsewhere . . . Perhaps in her slumber she’s a married doctor in suburban Cleveland with two kids. Perhaps he is a taxi driver, prowling the New York streets.
—Joel Van Valin
I’m off the Metro and onto the 980 bus, West Falls Church, Virginia, the last leg of my tourist day. I’ve seen the Bill of Rights, the Presidents, museums and monuments of war, all verified with itemized receipts in a plastic bag of souvenirs laid out across my lap. Not yet time to pull away for Herndon, where son and grandson wait to meet my bus, our driver steps down to stretch his legs, and take a smoke. His weathered face and paunch remind me of rumpled D.C. taxi drivers I used to see out here. They all spoke English then, and lots of it; between old National and your hotel, they could give the real inside on any bill or beltway scandal. “Hey, Joe,” our driver calls across the lot to a younger man also in transit uniform, like our driver a little hefty, wearing a small black stocking cap. Joe waves back, smiles, calls something I cannot hear, then unrolls a small brown rug, lays it carefully on the sidewalk, takes off his shoes but not his cap, bows, palms open in supplication, kneels, touching forehead to cool November pavement while golden oak and fiery maple leaves swirl across the asphalt roadway like letters of an unknown alphabet. Our driver boards again and puts the bus in gear. Where exactly are the falls, I’ve always wondered, and the church that named this place? Who knelt here first in powered wig or sweaty homespun to pray or take the sacred bread? All I’ve seen these twenty minutes are revolving lines of diesel buses and a man called Joe whose words I cannot hear, but who with perfect grace kneels in West Falls Church to pray to his God— which may just say it all.
Six houses of walls and one city street stand between our house and his- between living and not. That summer my son was born I read his wife had died. In dark silent nights that summer his windows would shine; all rooms less empty, keeping company, more alive. Six houses (all asleep) and one street away I cradled my son, freshly breathing, for midnight soothing. My house dark, his bright. So many walls between here and there that work to trap one small lullaby.
Something There Is
If we build it, will they come? If we built it, how high and long? High enough to shut out the sun? Long enough to enclose our fear? Will one be enough? Will it ever be enough? Can a partition admit contrition? Can we safely hedge our bets? Who will watch o’er this rampart? Who will help us unlearn long division? Can we call them out without walling ourselves in? When our progeny orbit this lonely planet how many Great Walls will they see? Hand me another brick. I can still hear a heart beating.
Donard is the highest peak in mountains called The Mournes along the east-edge of the North, on Ireland’s other side. One climb to the top follows the bed of a creek up the mountain’s grainy slope. Another route traces a well-worn path of smugglers from the Newcastle coast. A third inanimate climber’s guide is a wall built for cattle and sheep —or rather, against them: to guide them like ghosts through inevitable mist and the water’s glide to the flooded Silent Valley. These days the wall, kept to right or left, will take you upwards by tracks less steep through fans of heather and clouds of gorse. The living granite’s weave of warp and weft your stony sail to steer a course to the shoulders of Mourne from its belly. Ulster has been no stranger to fear or force and borders line her beauty-beggared face But this long wall tracing peak to peak speaks less of prison than holy sweet release And less of war than earth-hewn, heart-high peace.
Como Zoo and Amusement Park, St. Paul
for Walt Whitman
I search for you here, where horses elude and pursue; while the calliope organ strains its steamy heart; while the air over-ripe with the day’s remainders, and the protests and bargainings of children fill the unwashed blue of an April Sunday. The roller coaster starts its descent with a sound like marbles spilled on a floor as I see the same faces you saw, convinced as you were that we are all immigrants with varying shades of newness, black, brown, yellow, pale, it doesn’t matter; the road to the America you sang about begins here with the cycle of the carousel, on the benches where we lick ice cream, hearing the same music, breathing the same air, waiting in line, no one of us outstripping the other, for the Ferris wheel to lift us into that sweaty heaven just beyond the trees.
You can read the rest of the poems that were entered here.