July 10-16, 2017: Poetry from Ben Britton, J.P. Grasser and Jo Angela Edwins

​Ben Britton, J.P. Grasser and Jo Angela Edwins

(the judges of the 2017 Poetry Super Highway Poetry Contest)

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​Ben Britton

Bio (auto)

Ben Britton is a poet and short fiction writer currently living in Exeter, in the UK. He was brought up in London, and would like to think that as a youth he roamed through the disquiet of the city at ease. But instead he was brought up in suburbia (and not the gothic kind either). He alternates his time between writing, sleeping, and attempting to study literature and film at uni.

The following work is Copyright © 2017, and owned by ​Ben Britton and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.

Robin Hood Estate

i took a girl to look at it
right before the man knocked it down
to put up
whatever needed putting up.

the windows were boarded and
signs warned of asbestos
and conspiracy.
we went round under
Docklands Light trains so much
like Harlem Ls i see miraged – often –
in the empty garage’s broken glassed turds and pissed mattresses

and around the hungry evening nowhere to go light –
everything looked less black and white
and the little depression that pin-drops
from dirty concrete
kicked in.
and we don’t talk.

a graffito informs me
Mick’s mum is a whore.
Mick i’m sorry it must be the truth
just a few pot plants would change that
if you’re not boarded up inside
i hope you’re doing real good.


somewhere your own architecture
is more appreciated.

poor Henry

Henry died when he was just a year old –
my father held him in one hand

he was flopped theredrippingjust
out of the tank

i looked at him there
in that hand

three inches long i thought

his gray whiskers did not twitch
as dad carried him
carried him where?

the bin? the pissoir? the garden?
i remember
it was the garden

dad got all sentimentalperhaps more so
than i’d ever seen him getmore
than when his dad diedtho i
was young

of coursehis dad was no loach
and was far worse at digesting algae than Henry and
Henry had two working eyes

so grandad got cremated and Henry got a burial

Henryand his stretched out dull and cold and damp
bodymight not have burned so well



J.P. Grasser

Bio (auto)

A 2017-2019 Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University, J.P. Grasser attended Sewanee: The University of the South and received his M.F.A. in poetry from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. He is currently a doctoral student in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Utah, where he teaches undergraduate writing and serves as Managing Editor for Quarterly West. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI, Best New Poets 2015 (selected by Tracy K. Smith), The Cincinnati Review, Meridian, The New Criterion, Ninth Letter Online, and West Branch Wired, among others. 

The following work is Copyright © 2017, and owned by J.P. Grasser and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.


You took spent shotgun shells down
from the shelf, filled them to the lip
with blent black powder, hot-glued
fuses into their mouths to shut them up.
Even as a boy I knew their power.
Like clockwork, each time the well
clogged, you’d take one, spark it
with your cigarette, toss the screaming
charge into its closed throat. I imagined
the ribbed plastic casing bursting
at the middle in white-hot strobe.
What surprised me was the absence
of sound when one blew—just a plink
and a gentle plume—like a wished-on
penny. I think of you dying, your lungs
filled with fluid, a cruel inversion to life
on the fish farm. After the bypass,
they put you on nitrates. Your worn-out
jeans traded for gym shorts, boots
for Velcro no-slips. I didn’t know you.
We fished together anyway, and once
I dragged up a largemouth, bigger than any
before. Your hand on mine, we eased
the blade into the metallic mesh of her ribcage.
Out burst more blackness than I believed.
I could only see fire lapping up the diesel-slick
iridescence—like the look of certain
change—as it spilled into my palms.
I know now it was shells, eggs ready
to explode with life. When you saw me shaking,
you said roe, though I could not imagine
to what far shore, or with what boat.

(originally published in Ecotone,
reprinted in Best New Poets 2015)


Between the slagheaps, the waste and the slack,
three grackles hunker down for anthracite
season to explode into full-blown swing:

veins nicked open at the seams (fault and lack
in solid stone), not quite black gold. I cite
metamorphic rock in defense of wing,

caw, and claw. They call it crow coal up north,
where the silken cloth of a man’s bronchi
is dappled like snow beneath a feeder:

Sunflower seed reduced to powder-gray ort,
mined of potential energy; busted bronc
robbed of his wild for a nominal fee,

yet still robed in stipple, like the grackles
and their song, measured above the racket.

(originally published in West Branch Wired)

Cri de Coeuer

At first, we thought the air compressor
had sprung its last gasket or a fan belt
was chewed to tatters. The pump was the iron lung
for the business, we joked, how it infused
the water with oxygen, kept our trout

belly-down and our algae python-green,
enviable, even. A fix, no doubt, that’d require
gobs of elbow grease, some keen mechanic
from North Platte, and way more cash
than was on hand. Imagine our relief

when we finally placed the madcap crash
and fluster, pinpointed the chilling shriek.
It wasn’t a hart, exactly, but a yearling
fawn who’d fallen into the empty tank
behind the hatchery building. Bleating

for dear life, stock-still in place
where he’d sank into six inches of mud
and bluegill carcasses, sharpening
his newfound voice on the whetstone
of June air. A cry shrill and unanswered,

if not unheard. No choice in the matter,
we concluded—we’d have to climb down
to lift him up, wade the muck and mire
knock-kneed and unbalanced to save
him before he starved. Between the snap

and buck of his gently coiled neck, I held him close
to my chest and felt his blood coursing wild.
When he leapt free of me and cleared the vile pit,
my stomach lifted with him. Who knows
where life’s logic comes from—the once-broke

machine, fixed without repair, the fawn, spotted
like light below a stand of pines, who spoke
only the wordless tongue of loss, the knotted
muscle in the chest that undoes itself.
The chest that must fall in order to rise.

(originally published in The Adroit Journal,
tied for 4th place in last year’s PSH contest)


Jo Angela Edwins

Bio (auto)

Jo Angela Edwins teaches creative writing, American literature, and composition at Francis Marion University in Florence, SC. She has published poems in a variety of venues including Calyx, Sojourn, New South, and Adanna. She is the 2014 recipient of the Carrie McCray Nickens Fellowship Poetry Prize from the South Carolina Academy of Authors. Her chapbook, Play, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2016. 

The following work is Copyright © 2017, and owned by Jo Angela Edwins and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.

Old Wives’ Tale

With a kitchen knife I nicked my thumb
the night you left. But I want you to know
I washed it, wrapped it, kept going.

I peeled potatoes, freshly dug and smelling of rain,
chopped carrots, onions, tomatoes,
scraped Silver Queen from the cob
into the wide pot warming on the stove.
Like my mothers before me,
I gathered the ingredients, spiced and stirred,
and when the time came to let the stew simmer
uninterrupted, I sat and sipped tea,
falcon-eyed, watching the pot build its heat,
proving one old story, at least, untrue.

When at last my supper was ready,
I ladled thick liquid the color of blood
into a bowl deep as fists,
and when the tall shaker I never used fell,
salt spilled in tiny tracks, whitening the tablecloth.
With a folded napkin I wiped the fine grains
into my cupped hand and tossed them
first over the left shoulder, then over the right,
not, as they say, for good luck, but to keep
such stuff away from fresh wounds.

I finished my supper, down to the last spoonful,
and that night I slept like deep roots in winter
imagining the tremors of spring.

(Originally published in Calyx, Winter 2011)

Photograph of the Author at One Year Old

I look at it not
to puzzle out
what happened to dimples
and red hair, not
to reclaim innocence
or guess at the face
of the child I know now
I won’t have,
but to get back to
the parents who made
this moment, chose
this blue-ribboned dress,
these black Mary Janes,
who no doubt stood
behind the photographer,
waving a doll
or singing a song
to elicit that smile
like my mother’s,
that flash in the blue
eyes like my father’s,
that clench of my fist
a bit out of place and
neither hers nor his
but theirs together,
nothing here quite
entirely my own.

A Failure of Seeing

Ugliness is just a failure of seeing.
……………………………..–Matt Haig

My mother loved babies,
held them with ease in her wide hands,
laughed, sang to them,
spoke in silly voices,
did all the foolish things people do
around genuine innocence.
Sometimes, when the visitors were gone,
the house mostly quiet again,
she would smile and say with no cruelty,
“That baby is so ugly he’s cute!”
We knew just what she meant, the way
the off-center can be beautiful,
the way the scar proves the bearer
has a worthwhile story to tell,
the way the bruise-black funnel cloud swirls,
its irregular cone sleek and terrible
as a thousand tigers. Call it paradox,
call it sublime, call it the allure
of the alien, knowing nothing is alien.
The pulse of every particle,
however fair or plain, beats
in our own veins, where even blood—
a kingly crimson when spilling before us—
paints the walls of its airless tunnel
a shivery, sickly blue.




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