By David Lehman
January 13, 2015
Among the many excellent entries this week, a strong element of surprise is what distinguished the two best pieces. I would divide this week’s prize between Rachel Barenblat and Nin Andrews—or maybe I should say I will double the prize, as each of them will receive a complimentary copy of The Best American Poetry 2014.
Barenblat laces her prose with poetry, a poetic diction festooned with hyperbole, with flower petals and blank verse, for the purposes of satirical exaggeration. She captures the intoxication of a chance encounter with a stranger: there is buoyancy because there are no responsibilities and, alas, no future. I love how her piece functions as a critique of the poetical, with “business cards and Twitter handles” bringing us back to earth. Here’s her entry:
On the Sunday after Christmas, in a nondescript cocktail lounge at a forlorn Midwestern airport, two stranded passengers met and the planet tilted off its axis. Birds flew down from the rafters and offered serenades. Customer service representatives began speaking in blank verse. Children scattered flower petals. Glitter rained down from the ceilings. The passengers exchanged business cards and Twitter handles. Their steps released the scent of roses as they boarded their separate planes.
Andrews introduces the complexity of a human encounter between a self-described “bimbo” in lace stockings, black pumps, and red fingernails, and the man she has agreed to have a drink with: “I know what you are,” he says—and the writer leaves it unclear whether he speaks smugly, with menace, and toward what goal. But what charms reader most is the implication that the bimbo act is something worthy of attention, perhaps with Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life on our side. This is what Nin wrote:
On the Sunday after Christmas, in a nondescript cocktail lounge at a forlorn Midwestern airport, two stranded passengers met and ordered drinks. The woman, wearing a powder-blue dress, lace stockings, and black pumps waved her red fingernails in the air and fluttered nervously like a rare African bird. She was playing the part of a bimbo well, she thought, before the man leaned forward and whispered, I know what you are.
The runner up is Marlon Howell who scores with speed—the rapidity with which he reaches the plot twist. His description of a chance encounter between strangers on the way to the same funeral can stand on its own as a prose poem and should be published as such. The “two cheap bourbons” is a nice touch. I encourage him to come up with a good title for this two-sentence parable:
On the Sunday after Christmas, in a nondescript cocktail lounge at a forlorn Midwestern airport, two stranded passengers met and, while exchanging banalities and bemoaning the poor weather, learned that both were traveling to attend funerals. An hour and two cheap bourbons later they discovered that it was the same funeral.
Honorable mention: Frank Tomasulo’s Pinteresque dialogue, Maureen’s robotic future, Brian Tholl’s tattoos, and Alan Ziegler’s oenophilia.
My thanks to all who took part. As ever, I appreciate the creative effort.
David Lehman is a poet and the general editor of The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School in New York City.
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