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2018 CONTEST HAS CLOSED

Announcing the winners of the 2018 May Swenson Legacy Student Poetry Contest:

 

First Place: Stacie Denetsosie, USU English grad student

Second Place: Mark Smeltzer, USU English undergrad

Finalist: Taylor Fang, Logan High School student

Finalist: Ashley Thompson, USU English undergrad

 

Congratulations to these students and to all who entered poems in the contest.

 

Sincere thanks to the judges: Brock Dethier, Shanan Ballam, Mary Ellen Greenwood, Russ Winn, Isaac Timm, Felicia Rose, and Brian Cook.

 

We hope you will attend the Swenson House Groundbreaking Ceremony Tuesday, September 18, 1:30 PM, 669 E 500 N, to greet the winners and hear Stacie read her poem, “Granddaddy, the Glowing Man.”







For more information on the Swenson House, please visit http://chass.usu.edu/swenson-house/index

PROMPTS

Swenson Walkabout Poems Selected by Student Committee  

 

QUESTION

 

Body my house

my horse my hound

what will I do

when you are fallen

 

Where will I sleep

How will I ride

What will I hunt

 

Where can I go

without my mount

all eager and quick

How will I know

in thicket ahead

is danger or treasure

when Body my good

bright dog is dead

 

How will it be

to lie in the sky

without roof or door

and wind for an eye

 

With cloud for shift

how will I hide?

 

May Swenson

Another Animal 1954

 

I’M ONE

 

I do not have.

I do not expect.

I do not owe.

 

I’m one,

the only one,

free in my life.

 

Each day perfect,

each day a thousand years.

Time is in me.

 

I swallow the sun.

I’m the one, the only

one in my life.

 

Oh, windless day

within me,

Oh, silence and sun.

 

May Swenson, Collected Poems, Library of America, 2013, from Poetry (February 1988)

 

 

OCTOBER (Excerpted stanzas and lines)  

 

2

Knuckles of the rain

on the roof,

chuckles into the drain-

pipe, spatters on

the leaves that litter

the grass. Melancholy

morning, the tide full

in the bay, an overflowing

bowl. At least, no wind,

no roughness in the sky,

its gray face bedraggled

by its tears.

 

3

Peeling a pear, I remember

my daddy’s hand. His thumb

(the one that got nipped by the saw,

lacked a nail) fit into

the cored hollow of the slippery

half his knife skinned so neatly.

Dad would pare the fruit from our

orchard in the fall, while Mother

boiled the jars, prepared for

“putting up.” Dad used to darn

our socks when we were small,

and cut our hair and toenails.

Sunday mornings, in pajamas, we’d

take turns in his lap. He’d help

bathe us sometimes. Dad could do

anything. He built our dining table,

chairs, the buffet, the bay window

seat, my little desk of cherry wood

where I wrote my first poems. That

day at the shop, splitting panel

boards on the electric saw (oh, I

can hear the screech of it now,

the whirling blade that sliced

my daddy’s thumb, he received the mar

that, long after, in his coffin,

distinguished his skilled hand.

 

4

I sit with braided fingers

and closed eyes

in a span of late sunlight.

The spokes are closing.

It is fall: warm milk of light,

though from an aging breast.

I do not mean to pray.

The posture for thanks or

supplication is the same

as for weariness or relief.

But I am glad for the luck

of light. Surely it is godly,

that it makes all things

begin, and appear, and become

actual to each other.

Light that’s sucked into

the eye, warming the brain

with wires of color.

Light that hatched life

out of the cold egg of earth.

 

5

Dark wild honey, the lion’s

eye color, you brought home

from a country store.

Tastes of the work of shaggy

bees on strong weeds,

their midsummer bloom.

My brain’s electric circuit

glows, like the lion’s iris

that, concentrated, vibrates

while seeming not to move.

Thick transparent amber

you brought home,

the sweet that burns.

 

6

In my head, now cool and light,

thoughts, phantom white flies,

take a fling: This discovery

can apply to everything.

 

May Swenson, from Nature: Poems Old and New, 1994

 

FEEL ME (Excerpted lines)

 

“Feel me to do right,” our father said on his deathbed.

We did not quite know—in fact, not at all—what he meant.

His last whisper was spent as through a slot in a wall.

He left us a key, but how did it fit?

                                                “Feel me, and emulate

my state, for I am becoming less dense—I am feeling right

for the first time.” And then the vessel burst,

and we were kneeling around an emptiness.

 

The dying must feel the pressure of that question—

lying flat, turning cold from brow to heel—the hot

cowards there above protesting their love, and saying,

“What can we do? Are you all right?” While the wall opens

and the blue night pours through. “What can we do?

We want to do what’s right.”

 

“Lie down with me, and hold me, tight. Touch me. Be

with me. Feel with me. Feel me to do right.”

--May Swenson, from Nature: Poems Old and New, 1994

UNABLE TO WRITE IT

 

Tears do not make good ink.

Their message invisible,

no one reads this hurt.

 

I lie alone in dirt despair,

Alone beside one who does not feel

lighting strike and agony crackle

 

I sink into black, the inkwell

wordless, filled with tears.

 

May Swenson, Collected Poems, Library of America, 2013

 

 

SOMETHING GOES BY (Excerpted Lines)

 

What are you doing?

I’m watching myself watch myself.

...

I’m crossing a trestle over a river on the train . . .

the water’s gray and level there below,

with stroke-marks on it, in arm-length arcs,

like wet cement that’s just been planed.

My dad built our house, poured concrete for the basement,

sawed timber for the frame, laid the brick,

put on the roof, shingle by shingle,

lying along the ladder with nails in his mouth,

plastered the inside, laid the floorboards,

made our furniture out of wood:

of wave-grained oak our dining table . . .

my round, high stool he scooped in the center just like a

saucer . . .

There’s a hat on my lap that I mustn’t leave on the train,

new shoes on my feet, that fuse my toes to flatiron shape.

I’m watching myself being carried away.

 

May Swenson, Collected Poems, Library of America, 2013

 

 

Other Swenson lines selected by the student committee:

 

There unraveled/ from a file in my mind a magic notion/ I, too, used to play with: from chosen words a potion/ could be wrung.” –from “Snow in New York”

 

I hope they never get a rope on you, weather.

I hope they never put a bit in your mouth.

I hope they never pack your snorts

into an engine or make you wear wheels.

 

Reteach us terror, weather,

with your teeth on our ships,

your hoofs on our houses,

your tail swatting our planes down like flies.

 

Before they make a grenade of our planet

I hope you’ll come like a comet,

oh mustang, —fire eyes, upreared belly—

bust the corral and stomp us to death.

 

            --from “Weather,” 1962-4

 

 

“Tears do not make good ink./ Their message invisible,/ no one reads this hurt.” –from “Unable to Write It”

 

“the one you took of me as I took one of you. Who,/ or what, will it be—will I  be, I wonder? Can’t wait.” –from “Double Exposure”

 

“I like being at your apartment, and not disturbing anything./ As in the woods I wouldn’t want to move a tree,/ or change the play of sun and shadow on the ground.” –from “Staying at Ed’s Place”

 

When, hidden away in a damp hollow under moldy
leaves, I come upon a clump of heart-shapes
once red, now spiderspit-gray, intact but empty,
still attached to their dead stems—
families smothered as at Pompeii—I rise
and stretch. I eat one more big ripe lopped
head. Red-handed, I leave the field.

 –from “Strawberrying”

 

                     

 

 

 

Swenson Poems Selected by Student Nate Hardy



The Poplar’s Shadow

When I was little, when

the poplar was in leaf,

its shadow made a sheaf,

the quill of a great pen

dark upon the lawn

where I used to play.

 

Grown, and long away

into the city gone,

I see the pigeons print

a loop in air and, all

their wings reversing, fall

with silver undertint

like poplar leaves, their seams

in the wind blown.

 

Time’s other side, shown

as a flipped coin, gleams

on city ground

when I see a pigeon’s feather:

little and large together,

the poplar’s shadow is found.

 

Starting at here,

and superposing then,

I wait for when.

What shapes will appear?

Will great birds swing

over me like gongs?

The poplar plume belongs

to what enormous wing?

 

“A Cage Of Spines.” Collected Poems, by May Swenson and Langdon Hammer, Library of America, 2013, pp. 81–82.

 

 

The Seed of My Father

 

I rode on his shoulder. He showed me the moon.

He told me its name with a kiss in my ear.

“My moon,” I said. “Yours,” he agreed.

And as we walked, it followed us home.

 

Hold my hand, he showed me a tree,

and picked a peach, and let me hold it.

I took a bite, then he took a bite.

“Ours?” I asked. “Yes, our tree.”

Then with a hoe he made the water flow beside it.

 

When I was older he showed me the sun.

He made me a wooden wheel on a stick,

of pine wood, raw and bright as the sun.

I used to run and roll it.

 

A flashing circular saw was the sun,

like the one he made my wheel with.

“This little wheel belongs to me, the big one

to you?” “Yes,” he agreed, “just as we

belong to the sun”

 

He let me plant the corn grains one by one

out of a long hollow slip-box thrust in the ground.

“I who plant seeds for my father,

I am the seed of my father.”

 

And when the corn was tall, it swallowed me all up, all,

whispering over my head. “You are the seed of your father.”

And when the husks were sere, my father with a rake,

in the cold time of the year, made a bush of gold.

 

He struck the bush to burning for my sake.

I stood at his shoulder, a little higher.

I was the seed of my father, my father

outlined by the fire.

 

He made a garden, and he planted me.

Sun and moon he named and deeded to me.

Water and fire he created, created me,

he named me into being: I am the seed of my father.

 

His breath he gave me, he gave me night and day.

His universe is in me fashioned from his clay.

I feed on the juice of the peach from his eternal tree.

Each poem I plant is a seedling from that tree.

I plant the seed of my father.

“Selected Uncollected and Posthumously Published Poems.” Collected Poems, by May Swenson and Langdon Hammer, Library of America, 2013, pp. 598—599.

 

 

 

 

Weather

 

I hope they never get a rope on you, weather.

I hope they never put a bit in your mouth.

I hope they never pack your snorts

into an engine or make you wear wheels.

 

I hope the astronauts will always have to wait

till you get off the prairie

because your kick is lethal,

your temper worse than the megaton.

 

I hope your harsh mane will grow forever,

and blow where it will,

that your slick hide will always shiver

and flick down your bright sweat.

 

Reteach us terror, weather,

with your teeth on our ships,

your hoofs on our houses,

your tail swatting our planes down like flies.

 

Before they make a grenade of our planet

I hope you’ll come like a comet,

oh mustang—fire-eyes, upreared belly—

bust the corral and stomp us to death.

 

“Selected Uncollected and Posthumously Published Poems.” Collected Poems, by May Swenson and Langdon Hammer, Library of America, 2013, pp. 606.

 

 

It Rains

 

It Rains

Write a rain poem

it Stops

Write a stop poem

Shit

Write a shit poem

I love you

Write a love poem

Die

Write a dead poem

Fight

Write a fight poem

Hate

Write a hate poem

Write

Write a write poem

Wait

Make a wait poem

Sleep

sleep a    poem

Wake a   poem

 

“Iconographs.” Collected Poems, by May Swenson and Langdon Hammer, Library of America, 2013, pp. 306.

To a Dark Girl

 

Lie still and let me love you

first with my eyes

that feast upon you

as on deep skies

to count the constellations

Below your breast Andromeda

Orion and the rest

 

Lie still and let me love you

now with my hands

that dream over your body

as in wondrous lands

skiers ascend to snow-smooth hollows

where silence speaks

 

Lie still and let me love you

with my mouth

pressed among strange flowers

elixirs of the south

to drink their dewy musk

or like rich grapes

I nuzzle with my lips

until their wine escapes

 

Lie still and let me love you

with all my weight

urgent upon you

Deep-keeled elate

my body greets you a leaping boat

challenging your tide

to be the stronger

And not afloat

lie still no longer

Demand I love you

the more the more

while passion’s breakers

bear us to their shore.

 

“Selected Uncollected and Posthumously Published Poems.” Collected Poems, by May Swenson and Langdon Hammer, Library of America, 2013, pp. 559—560.

 

What I Did on a Rainy Day

 

Breathed the fog from the valley

Inhaled its either fumes

With whittling eyes peeled the hills

to their own blue and bone

Swallowed piercing pellets of rain

Caught cloudsful in one colorless cup

Exhaling stung the earth with sunlight

Struck leaf and bristle to green fire

Turned tree trunks to gleaming pillars

and twigs to golden nails

With one breath taken into the coils

of my blood and given again when vibrant

I showed who’s god around here


“Selected Uncollected and Posthumously Published Poems.” Collected Poems, by May Swenson and Langdon Hammer, Library of America, 2013, pp. 564.

Cause & Effect

 

Am I the bullet

or the target

or the hand

that holds the gun?

Or the whisper

in the brain saying aim, fire?

Is the bullet innocent though it kill?

Must the target stand unblinking and still?

Can one escape, the other stop, if it will?

Will the trigger-finger obey through force?

If the hand reverse command,

will the pregnant gun abort its course?

The brain,

the brain, surely it can refrain

unclench the gun, break open

the pod of murder,

let the target rise and run.

But first the whisper must be caught,

before the shot—

the single wasp be burnt out,

before the nest, infested, swarms with

the multiple thought—

each sting the trigger pressed!

 

“A Cage of Spines.” Collected Poems, by May Swenson and Langdon Hammer, Library of America, 2013, pp. 82.

 

Cabala

 

I will turn very dark,

dark as an idol

in a shady room.

And his eye, alive

because he is so still.

 

Or will I turn

dark as a horse

across burnished pasture

in the shade of a tree.

There will I be

 

the star on his brow, so still.

Dark as a target,

and as the flint

behind the white feather,

a mark that does not move

 

to draw all shafts.

Eye light and mind light,

lightening-taming leather

I will turn and be

a swiftness on the dark.

 

“Selected Uncollected and Posthumously Published Poems.” Collected Poems, by May Swenson and Langdon Hammer, Library of America, 2013, pp. 594.

The Universe

 

What

is it about,

the universe,

the universe about us stretching out?

We within our brains

within it

think

we must unspin

the laws that spin it.

we think why

because we think

because.

Because we think,

we think

the universe is about us.

 

But does it think,

the universe?

Then what about?

about us?

If not,

Must there be cause

in the universe?

Must it have laws?

and what

if the universe

is not about us?

Then what?

What

is it about?

And what

about us?

 

“To Mix With Time.” Collected Poems, by May Swenson and Langdon Hammer, Library of America, 2013, pp. 141.