Contests : Wergle Flomp Free Poetry Contest : Past Winners : 2007 : Judge's Comments
Thanks to everyone who entered our 2007 Wergle Flomp Poetry Contest. We received 901 entries. Most of them were bad. Some of them were truly horrible. Those were our favorites.
As you probably know, Wergle Flomp's main objective is to call attention to the absurdly low standards of certain well-advertised "free" contest scams. These vanity contests hold out the illusion of selectivity in order to flatter poets into buying expensive items personalized with their poems. Even when a well-written poem wins one of their prizes, Poetry.com reveals its crassly commercial nature by linking words in the poem to extraneous, jarring advertisements, disrespecting the artist's sincere feelings. For instance, embedded within one poignant 2006 Grand Prize winner about a dead father's watch you might see links to "wallets on ebay" and the "palms hotel las vegas". Calling all Wergle contestants...I'd love to see a poem making humorous use of this meta-textual incongruity.
This year's crop of poems contained many entertaining howlers, but not enough of you reached beyond the themes that have won in previous years: misbehaving Santas, junk food, teen girl slang, the empty promises of vanity contests, and the ever-popular excretory functions. My tastes can't be predicted that easily. I'm just too weird. More importantly, we're looking for a particular sensibility, characterized by a manic energy and a flair for absurd juxtapositions, which plays a larger role in a poem's success than the specific topic you choose.
These gifts are on display in our first-prize poem, "Pumpernickel". Erica Angle-Newman's mock-tragic ode to a cat run over by a Mary Kay saleslady ricochets from the heroic to the mundane with profane speedbumps along the way. A memorably bad poem is often completely oblivious to inconsistencies in its poetic voice, a trait that Angle-Newman exploits to the fullest:
O, I weep for you Pumpernickel—for you are dead!
And Iíll never wonder why your paws are all wet,
Nor find you puking hairballs on my bedspread,
Nor discover the carcasses of birds whom you've met,
Nor mend my Ethan Allen ottoman you loved to shred—
Never again! Ah me! Such regret!
"Keep your fuckiní hair outta my Cheerios," I've said,
But I meant it not, my sweet, sweet pet.
Our second-prize poem, C. Wayne Lammers' "The Castration of Sam McGee", is an elaborate parody of Robert Service's "The Cremation of Sam McGee" that manages to be an even worse poem than the original. Both versions begin with gold-miners braving the hazards of the frozen North, but whereas Service writes of the burial of a fallen comrade, Lammers has our heroes playing poker for rather unusual stakes. Rather than reworking the original poem line-by-line in a paint-by-numbers way, Lammers extracts the essentials from it—the melodramatic setting, the sing-song rhymes, and a folksy voice that careens from bathos to humor—and steers it in a much bawdier direction.
Ed Coonce received third prize for "And Now, the News", a satirical rendition of the endless stream of trivia that distracts us from serious issues.
"Katie and Tom. Tom and Katie. Katie Katie Katie. Fluffy vermin. Tom jackhammer justice riot flame. Katie. Tom. Katietom or maybe Tommykate. Fandango castle fans outstretched and breaking apart deadly."
What I appreciated about this poem, and honorable mention winner Arthur Virnig's "The Pajama'd Elephant", was how the author fought the Orwellian degradation of our language by yielding to it and taking it to extremes. The commercialized media, of which the vanity contests are an example, reduces all thoughts to fungible blips of data that can be packaged, sold, consumed and forgotten.
This year we selected 12 honorable mentions and 12 finalists, our largest number ever, to recognize the fact that once we get down to our favorite 3% or so of the entries, the distinctions get fine and somewhat subjective. All the finalists should feel encouraged that they are sick, twisted individuals with warped senses of humor that we cherish. We very much want to see more poems from you.
All the entries published here appealed to us for their uniqueness of voice and vision, from Benjamin Lally's 2.0 version of Auden's elegy for Yeats ("In Memory of W.H. Gates") to Rick Lupert's "Letter to a Gun from a Head of Oriental Lettuce".
"Oh gun, your mother and I is friends
she is a waste disposal cylindar
in Stockton. I met her in back of farmer market
she say 'my son go bang bang all time
why he can't be nice salad base?!'"
In my judging notes beneath Mr. Lupert's poem, I had written, "This person is completely mad." I meant it as a compliment.
Our 2008 contest is now open for business. The deadline, as usual, is April Fool's Day. Show me something I've never seen before...and hope never to see again.