Ars Poetica 2022: 1st Place

Jennifer Martelli


I’m trying to write a poem about a boy who hit me,
but I write about curved things: the horns
of a beast, or roads or moons or fingernails
or the letter J or the love of that letter or
the curve of the strange patio in the backyard
of my childhood home where everyone’s name
began with J or sounded like it did, or how
I love a disaster movie. In one, the moon
comes too close, fills the sky, and the waves!
They curve higher than skyscrapers—flood city grids
and death comes by drowning. Violence is old.
Violence is quick or is slow, is never not
angry or hungry. Can’t be fed. Violence
is the horns of beast: the antlers, the rack,
the velvet buds on the forehead that portend
a disgruntled nascent thought, a boy’s idea of love.
Last night, instead of writing about this boy,
I read a good poem: the speaker pulled the curved
lips of her own vagina and light poured out
from inside her. I want that poem, that right there,
a buried thing: plug-in nightlight beaming over me.

–> Jennifer Martelli


Judge’s Comments

1st Place: Nightlight

“Not only did this poem pull me in viscerally and emotionally, but it stayed with me and asked me not to let it go. The impetus to write about the experience, especially trauma, head on, but the poem gently takes us by the hand and reminds us of where the light glows, where light refocuses experience for us, and, in some bright and magical way, heals. This poem about the act of writing also foregrounds the importance of reading, and how we speak to each other and heal each other as poets across time and space—again, in a visceral and magical way, as the speaker in this poem who read about a poet creating light from within herself, how she was the nightlight. And the speaker, likewise, becomes a light through this poem. Not only the beauty of the message of this poem but the gorgeous imagery. I could live in this poem. How it not only describes but conveys experience via compressed imagery, how it asks us to imagine and then re-imagine a thing (violence) by watching instead everything it touches. I love too how this poem foregrounds the importance of women’s bodies and experiences.” 

–> Jennifer Givhan


Riddled with Arrows 5.4:

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