Congratulations to J. Stephen Rhodes of Charleston, South Carolina on his winning poem, “Inheritance.” Poetry contest judge Marc Harshen writes of Stephen’s poem: I so admire the risk-taking in this poem, the way it reaches towards saying something about heritage and the testimony of our predecessors while avoiding both stereotype and sentiment. To do this and respect the mystery of the poetry, to do this and admit that the poet can only ‘grope toward what works,’ that he or she may ‘… pray, or something like it’ is a very real achievement. The thoughtful hesitance in so many of these lines I find perfectly convincing. Similarly, to dare such inventions as ‘unfear’ and ‘allshare,’ to conjure the imagery of ‘ideas and towns [ . . . ] bent/together like hot ingots’ dazzles me. Such daring, risk, imaginative vision—this is how great poetry gets written. 
Inheritance by J. Stephen Rhodes

That there were people.
That they carved life out
of other people and woods.

That we are their successors.
That ideas and towns were bent 
together like hot ingots

rolled out and hammered hard.
That not just blood
but a sea of bent backs

made them our testators
and us their spoor
in our vast land

now fenced in, no less lost,
no less hopeful.
That we are the offspring

of savage nobles and sweet souls.
That we pray, or something like it,
then grope toward what works.

We seekers, so often we long 
to breathe the thin air
of unfear and allshare.

Poems by J. Stephen Rhodes have appeared in over fifty literary journals including Shenandoah, Tar River Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, as well as journals in Ireland, France and Austria. Wind Publications has published his two poetry collections, The Time I Didn’t Know What to Do Next (2008) and What Might Not Be (2014). Before taking up writing full-time, he served as the co-director of the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center in Berea, Kentucky, Academic Dean at Memphis Theological Seminary, and as a Presbyterian pastor in Georgia and Kentucky. He is currently completing his third poetry collection, What You Don’t See.

return to poetry                 home