2021 Jeff Marks Memorial Poetry Prize Winners

Posted on Thu, Jul 8, 2021

december is honored to present audio recordings from our winner and honorable mention for this year’s poetry contest. These poems are featured in Vol. 32.1; to purchase or subscribe click here.

John Okrent — 2021 Winner, Hold Tight


          for Zach & Laura

It’s like those birds whose name we don’t know

who’ve picked this place in a million pines

in the middle of nowhere in the middle of night

to sit and sing where we can’t see them —


though it isn’t really singing that they do.

What is it? Unearthly tones

from their earthy throats keep time

from pressing down on us too hard —


ghostly metronomes. Of all the lives

I could have picked, I keep on 

picking this one. The stars 

are scattered buttons from a torn-off shirt;


everything is loosened

or removed. Those birds, and no other sound

save Zach and Laura pulling on their cigarettes,

ice ringing in my nightcap, whatever


makes those burrows in the yard.

No sorrow in the birds

but we hear it. Why say hurtful things?

I love my friends and want them near.


Lawn chairs in the dark. 

I remember the benign belligerence of our drunkenness

in Buffalo, where the snow grew old around us

and we were young and lit in the trashcan-tipping night.


Now everything is different.

The night feels fragile as a windpipe.

The whole world dangles

from the roots of the trees. 

Margaret Ray — 2020 Honorable Mention, Disaster A/version / Re/vision



In one version, the evening is hot and I ride

my bike to the grocery for emergency

garlic replenishment, waiting carefully at each stoplight

until my phone buzzes in my pocket


in another, it rains and I take the bus downtown to meet Sarah

and my phone rings on the way home


Sometimes the dog at the corner barks as I pass


Sometimes I miss the bus and call Sarah for a lift


In one version I drive all the way to Fernandina

when I’m just supposed to go to the DMV on 39th,

and it’s on my way home that the call


interrupts my music, this could go on,


          and it is always evening when I answer, always just before


          dark as the phone rings, the word accident


          from the tinny speaker always sharp as cut

          glass, there I am, always


          lifting the phone to my ear [in the fading

          light], [looking


          straight ahead into a small gust of wind]