Back on February 1st our brand-spanking-new little magazine launched our very first contest. We hoped to get the word out about our publication and have a bit of fun in the interim. What followed was a bigger response than any of our judges (Camille Griep, Stephen Parrish, and Wendy Russ) had expected.
Here are the numbers:
Total Words: 79, 311 (That’s 37 words average per sentence.)
Our three judges read carefully (and blindly) through these entries, weighing both the beauty and economy of the words within. For those interested, Camille Griep will be discussing sentences, submissions, and other miscellany in her upcoming column, Get A Griep. And, so, without further ado:
Bathos is what happens when a great orator looses his tongue upon a galvanized crowd, petitioning the heavens for glory come down like fire and hail, setting souls free from cowardice, prophesying an end to sin and shame, levying the raw, unadulterated power of language to rally hundreds, thousands to his cosmic cause, and then finishes kind of lamely.
She didn’t know its name, the number of inhabitants, or any hard, faceless facts—she knew its feel, the shortcuts, the crannies and secrets, the scent of its damp stone and the taste of its breeze; a person who lived there all its life—ate, slept, breathed, walked about—could never come close to the level of intimacy that she shared with this, her land, her playground, her kingdom of rust and glass.
Then there was quiet for a while, and I stood in the middle of it, looking toward the dark and empty doorway of my home, a home without a door, a place for birds and foxes and other beings which pass through silences and leave them behind.
Chelsea Laine Wells
Richard stands outside the room with his eyes closed and his head bowed and thinks around the edges of the boy, the back of his neck and his bottom lip and the graceful architecture of his collarbone.
Fourteen is an awkward age for gift giving—too old to get away with giving macaroni portraits and too young to have enough money to buy anything good.
She remembered what it felt like to place her head in the lion’s mouth—the meated breath, the teeth like pearls about her neck, the sense of telescoping possibilities.
Mama always told me bad things happen on Wednesdays, ‘cause it’s the middle of the week and the Lord just ain’t looking then.
There’s nothing to say in this moment, sitting on the porch, listening like Merwin says, thanking the sky and the moon, and chrysanthemums and the other spring flowers, and Summerville and the cross-eyed garage doors, the neighbor’s television and the cat on the fence across the street, thanking the oaks for organizing the neighborhood, thanking all that can be heard within a near distance: ambulances and busses, some grandmother amid her last moment, the crowd of heads a field of love in the emblem of a city bus.
But for now I’m not thinking, not naming, not singing, just watching the roadside trees branch their plainer darkness across the night as you hum whatever song comes next.
So I’ve got a catfish, a spaceship, an intergalactic doorknob, and a ticket stub that says “Shirley Mittens” along with no idea how any of those relate.
She would know even as a child, in that flash of a twirl and rhythm on the dance floor, that when your family can’t own hardly a dish or a dog, let alone a house or a car, you lean your little-girl chest into the feel of claiming anything at all.
A corpse of an island, a deformity of basalt, and yet, atop her apex sat our lighthouse, a haughty gesture that the sea owned nothing unconquerable to man.
My father raked the leaves for four days straight when Michael came out.
3rd Place: Arun Jiwa ($50 honorarium)
The river created a rift between the two hemispheres of the city, an argument they negotiated daily in the pulse of one-way traffic crossing the bridge.
Why we loved it: This sentence is a perfect example of the work words can do when used sparingly. The river is not just a river, but a rift, a cut, a cleaving of two worlds. The one-way bridge transports me from my desk in a western city to the noise and push of places far away. Arun manages this panorama and its atmosphere in a mere 27 words, and not one too many.
2nd Place: Chelsea Laine Wells ($100 honorarium)
You will think of it again and again irresistibly, too often, the arc of Cain’s fall, his arms flung wide and his sick body like a bird skeleton picked clean and flattened in the sun, his head swept back like a doll’s head loosely moored, the balls of his arched feet rolling against the edge of the third story eave until he was horizontal and cutting down through still summer air past his bedroom.
Why we loved it: Not only is this an aching portrait of impending tragedy, it is well served by metaphor: the weight of “you” with regard to the reference of Cain, the flightlessness of dead birds, the helplessness of dolls, all the many ways summer can cut. Chelsea not only sets the scene, she does so with beautiful sweeps of prose.
And congratulations to our 1st Place Winner, Rasma Haidri ($10 x 44 words = $440)
What I loved most about Manhattan was the noise, the grit sound of traffic, the cab whistles, sirens, screeches, honks and shouts, and below it all the low rumble of the subway passing beneath the street, spouting steam through manholes like a subterranean whale.
Why we loved it: While metaphor and economy are well at use in our winning sentence—Rasma’s subterranean whale won us all over at each stage of judging—this sentence is also rhythmic with hard sounding words that, said aloud, help create the very noise she references. We can feel this sentence in our teeth and our feet. We see Manhattan, even if we’ve never set foot there. The urgent pavement rises beneath our feet.