Lorine Niedecker Winning Poems

As additional recognition for 2014 winners of the Council for Wisconsin Writers contests their winning work is being posted on this blog, starting today with Cathryn Cofell. 

Cathryn received the Lorine Niedecker Poetry Award for the following five poems:


Once a week, no matter how he begs,

I turn him over to Mrs. Hoff,

pay her $18 a week

to pound the pianist in, the petulance out.


he wails as he scales

the Minuets in G Major, G Minor,

his face a composition of black keys.

He curses the quickety-split timing

of Schumann’s Happy Farmer, says

he’d be happy too if he were farming,

would rather slop pigs than play

one more note that dead guy wrote

for his fat cow of a daughter.

He is forte and staccato as he belts out

Eminem’s I’m not afraid, to take a stand

to the tune of Fur Elise.

But today, as I wait in the car

for his lesson to end, after

Mrs. Hoff left to collect his coat, I see him

through the window stretch his arms

from pit to tip, caress the keys at each end.

I see him press his cheek to its brown chest.

I see his eyes close, as if in prayer,

and the fingers of his right hand compose the air.


Before the piano, it was any flat surface.

Before that, kettles and cups,

the splash of water in his bath,

his bare body dancing to dust beat.

It took me a lifetime to find a love this deep,

and then it bubbled from this fountain of son.

I know why he fights this fervor,

how bottomless he could tumble

in the pit of one slight hum.

Cathryn Cofell

published by Naugatuck Review,  September 2014



Mom dreams of a man she hasn’t seen

since high school and he calls.

My sister Carla dreams a rain

of money, and a window washer

drops his wallet at her feet.

Mom is restless, frets

about the dream of a lost boy

found dead or a deadly chemical spill.

She swallows amnesia, meditates

to turn her eye inward, prefers to be

the blinded horse.  Carla imagines

herself a super-hero, Dream Girl

in a 360 thread-count cape:

Power-ball numbers, activated!

Spill, averted!

She looks forward

to the R.E.M. of night,

the flannel periscope rising.


I have visions too.  Déjà vu.

A new room, re-entered.

Strangers met again.

A first kiss like cul-de-sac.

They feel sorry for my life

in the rear-view mirror, imagine

I tread in a vague pool of loss.

But I consider tomorrow

a boomerang,

each toss a chance to retrieve

old sins, to pitch them again

to the thundering sky.

I see our three lives

as trifecta, as trinity,

the weird sisters

with our contradictory natures,

familiars hovering

til the hurly-burly’s done.

Cathryn Cofell

2nd Place, 2014 Golden Quill Award, appeared on www.SLONightwriters.org October 2014



He ain’t no fat santa,

he ain’t no GI Joe,

no one voted him in or out,

he just rose up,

he just climbed up

like the original King Kong

scaling the Empire State

but in dazzling color, climbing

from a cave into

the cloudless noon color,

blinding! He’s only three feet tall

and except for a dishtowel cape

he’s naked as the trunk of a mango tree,

his naked brown body built

like a suitcase, like a carry-on bag,

he’s carrying on like a rock star,

jumping and grinding,

he’s yelling yippee ki aye and grinning,

a stupendous I-just-saved-the-day grin.

He’s got a big letter J painted orange on his chest

and there’s a piece of me that catches

when I see it, that knows this is no hero,

this is some hopped-up sports fan,

that the J is for Jets or Jaguars

and I’m sure now someone (maybe even me)

will call 911 and the sirens will wail

because he’s a phony or a suicide

who might just jump,

who might not catch me if I fall.

But there’s another piece of me that catches

on the J is for Justice or Jubilation

if all I do is look up and believe

in all three freaky feet of him:

I will believe—sweet Super J—I will,

because the alternative is much too cruel,

the alternative is the world, unsaved.

Cathryn Cofell

published in Drawn to Marvel, Spring 2014, Appears in Sweet Curdle (Marsh River Editions, 2006), Appears on Lip (2010)



I can’t open those plastic produce bags at Piggly Wiggly.

It takes ½ a dozen tries, or more if I don’t lick my fingers.

I saw a Candid Camera bit where they put out bags

that didn’t open on either end.  I’ve been worried since, look

around near any pyramid of lettuce or plastic on a roll.


I forget the reusable sacks.  I choose paper but plastic

stows away every time, melting sherbet or a can of Raid

and me afraid to use or toss the bags since Naples became

a volcano of trash. I’m not sure why the Camorra rule

the dumps, but I saw the plastic heaps of rot, Huggies erupted.

Now my own house looks like a Neapolitan side street,

and there goes the swarthy garbage man, rumbling by.


I read in the paper that newspapers are dying. Another

doctor reads a panoramic of my jaw and pronounces

it, too, nearly dead, strong as wet paper.  He advises less talk,

soft foods, a 24/7 splint or replaced with poly-something,

think mousetrap or chip clip.  Either way, I’m all slush

and slur.  Either way, I’m betting I’ll outlive USA Today

if I eat with a plastic straw, a diet of papier-mâché.


Does the paper gown open in front, or back? Two seconds

after the door shuts I’ve forgotten,  too focused on hiding

my panties under my skirt, although I’ll be uncovered

any minute, opening the wrong way.  The paper sheet

clings like plastic to my ass and the chill means

I’m exposed already but I flip casually through People,

as if this is natural, as if I’m not feeling like a sock puppet

when the doctor enters, barely says hello before his hand

is under and up.  Before he listens to my paper-thin heart

open in the front, or is it the back?

Cathryn Cofell

Finalist, James Hearst Poetry Prize, North American Review, published Spring 2015



No makeup or mirrors, nothing that reflects,

no TV screens, no tinted glass, no tin.

No clinging clothes or cameras,

no photos or frames,

no possibility of any shape, trapped.

No trappings of any kind,

no pedicure, no perfect pearl,

no clutch of orchids.

Not one thing for a kitchen—paring knives,

Pyrex bowls, decorator plates—no gift

to grace a plate, to place an appetite

on red alert, nothing that smells

of cinnamon or cherry, wet laundry on a line—

too many fresh skeletons, too thin that wind.

No erotica, no memoir, no thriller that kills

the ugly girl first. No words then, no sound,

no appeal to the senses,

not the bow-legged song of crickets,

not the hug of ribs or rolls—no two women

can touch and come away the better.


I settle on a watch.  I give my friend time,

the one gift that is not about her image,

the gift to hold closest to her pulse—

each anorexic tick, each uncontrolled curve

of a minute that she must learn to fill.

But when she puts it on I see this, too,

is wrong, the way it spins so freely

on her impossibly small wrist,

how the band is like a bangle of bones,

how she wants only to be bone.

Cathryn Cofell

     WI People & Ideas Prize for Poetry, 2009; published Spring 2009; The Scene, Nov.  2014


1 Comment

Filed under authors, children's books, poets, writers

One response to “Lorine Niedecker Winning Poems

  1. Pingback: Zona Gale Winning Short Story | Council for Wisconsin Writers News

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s