Congratulations to James Heflin for taking home the 2nd annual Amherst Live Poetry Prize! His poem, “All West,” was superbly performed by Matthew Duncan. Gerald Yelle clocked a close second with his poem, “One of the Monuments Leans North,” read by Jenny Yelle.

The full list of semi-finalists:

Jacob Chapman, Amherst
Lori Desrosiers, Westfield
Oonagh Doherty, Northampton
Shawn Durrett, South Deerfield
Adam Grabowski, Holyoke
James Heflin, South Deerfield
Kathleen Kelley, Florence
Connolly Ryan, Florence
Ingrid Steblea, Greenfield
Gerald Yelle, Amherst


By James Heflin

At first I hardly noticed the itching of my heels.
I thought “bad socks” or “uh-oh! Fungus!”
I spotted a silver tip, subtle, undeniable,
nudging its way through the skin.
I thought, “What fair light in yonder window breaks now?!”

It wasn’t long till a couple more showed.
It got a little tough to explain my pacing
to the ladies in Accounts Receivable.
At last, upon flinging off my Florsheims,
the gig was up. Spurs. Silver. Clanky.

I’m not one to jump to conclusions,
but this struck me as unusual.
Why would I, so far from the prairie,
grow these rustic appendages?

No one seemed to catch the gleam beneath my cuffs,
but the itching wouldn’t stop.
Soon it was boots,
pointy-toed and creaky.
I was polishing like mad
all morning and night.
I figured a meeting with the gentleman
in the executive suite wasn’t far away.
Whispers filled the cubicles when I clunked by.

Soon enough, chaps sprouted and my knees spread.
A handlebar moustache waxed into curls that couldn’t be stopped.
My buckle weighed heavy and I pulled my Stetson low.
Somewhere out there I knew
was a cowboy fire and a cowboy cook,
and a cowboy airing out his feet while the cattle bedded down.

“Not long now,” I said to the horse, “it’s all West from here.”

by Gerald Yelle

There has to be an explanation:
erosion, tree roots, frost heaves:
something that tilted the monument
off its axis, so that it points
at the sky not directly overhead,
maybe in collusion with one of the
entities hiding in plain sight
at several points, real, or imagined,
on the continuum, more intelligent
than human, using the monument
to mark a landing zone or conduit.
And maybe it sits on the grave
of someone whose influence none of us
can fathom. Some Dickinson
or Stearns. Some Mabel Loomis
Todd or her well hung astronomer
husband. Or Susan Gilbert who
exhumed her parents and buried them
in Amherst. Maybe we could
get the family’s permission to set it
right as representing the way
a loved one ought to be remembered:
a spirit standing tall. Or maybe
we should drag the monument
off its pedestal so that, just as we
begin to understand the business
of leaning, the town begins
to deconstruct itself around us.