George Franklin​

Poem Written to Win a Contest

A poem written to win a contest should have
A certain insouciance that tonight I can’t muster.
This means I should probably give up before
I begin, before I mention all the embarrassing things
Happening in the lives of people who don’t
Read New England Review or Poetry Northwest.
What life isn’t pathetic if you look closely enough,
Open the refrigerator door to find the jar of pesto
That’s not green anymore? When did you buy it,
And what did you expect when, instead of spooning it
Thickly onto tuna steaks and searing them in an iron
Skillet till the parmesan melted and browned, you
Ordered-in a pizza with beige canned mushrooms and what
They said were onions? Now, that jar of pesto has gone black
With disappointment, but the only Americans who even
Know what pesto is are the ones who watch the
Food Network and take notes. The really embarrassing
Stuff happens in the neighborhoods that can’t keep
A Burger King out of bankruptcy, where the malls
Are boarded up and only the church parking lots are full,
Where guys with more time than money urinate
Behind the schoolyard hedge, and the off-brand gas station
Covers its overhead selling six-packs and tallboys
That disappear into brown paper bags. They’re
The alcohol equivalent of a comb-over; it doesn’t fool
Anybody, but it’s a kind of courtesy that doesn’t cost extra.
Elsewhere, sitting around a secondhand kitchen table,
First-round editorial assistants are bent over their laptops,
Pulling contest submissions up from Submittable.
They’ve read too many poems about someone’s
Skin that someone else loved touching. It’s made them
Doubt that love exists, or if it does, that anyone
Should write about it, at least not for contests.
Their job is to distinguish the awful and the boring from
The poems their editor might at least want to glance at.
Not another sestina or, worse yet, a villanelle. And,
God knows, not poems about people who work at
Jobs that don’t pay enough for a subscription to
The Food Network or HBO or who start their day
With a six-pack. A good contest entry should
Juxtapose maple syrup and melted butter balanced
On a short stack so it doesn’t dribble off
With a traffic accident where somehow no one
Was killed. The narrator unbuckles his seat belt,
Brushes pellets of glass off his Levis, takes one of
Those I’m-so-happy-to-be-alive breaths, and decides
To go back to his wife who has been unfaithful –
Or maybe the poem doesn’t tell you he does that, but
You sort of know he will because he remembers
Those pancakes, and it’s an objective
Correlative for his life, except that nobody uses
Terms like that anymore – and the speaker already
Takes himself way too seriously to slip past those
First readers to reach their editor, who is also
Stuck at a laptop reading submissions, much less
To reach the final judge, who will read ten entries
Sifted out from at least four hundred. The judge,
Who is reasonably famous, will open an email
Attachment, read the poems with a thoughtful
Expression, choose the most insouciant, and return
To a short stack of pancakes with maple syrup and butter.
This poem will not be among the winners.

About the Author

George Franklin is the author of Noise of the World (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions), Travels of the Angel of Sorrow (Blue Cedar Press), Among the Ruins / Entre las ruinas (Katakana Editores), and Traveling for No Good Reason (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions). Individual publications include: Into the Void, Sequestrum, The Threepenny Review, Salamander, Pedestal Magazine, Cagibi, and The American Journal of Poetry. He holds a PhD from Brandeis University, practices law in Miami, teaches poetry workshops in Florida state prisons, and is the co-translator, along with the author, of Ximena Gómez’s Último día / Last Day (Katakana Editores).