Special Issues » Poetry Contest

2012 Poetry Issue

The impossible art

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Second place

In ten minutes, everything
by Jill A. Coyle

3:00 There's a tag in my dress and my neck is itchy. I bite my lip. I shift my weight. I reach behind to scratch. I try to do it casually.

3:01 I pick at my hemline. I grab at loose threads. The hem is unraveling. My best dress is unraveling and I can't stop my fingers from pulling at things. My favorite dress is unraveling. Should I cut the string?

3:02 The clock burns. It is a burning pool of wax. Time melts and runs together and sticks there. The back of my neck is itchy.

3:03 I adjust my hair, then my belt, then my hair, then my sleeve. Now my lip is hurting.
Where's that paperclip? A paperclip now would solve everything.

3:04 I notice the floor. On the floor are my feet. I manipulate the straps of my sandals. I consider my bare feet. I consider the cut on my heel. It's been red for decades. I note its linearity.

3:05 I find the paperclip. I bend it out of shape. The metal digs into my fingers. I have to fight the paperclip. I have to make it straight.

3:06 What I need now is a stapler. A stapler now would be just the thing I need. Or how about some water? If only I had a drink....they make fountains for these contingencies.

3:07 That didn't take long- should've gone all the way to the sink. I find the stapler. The stapler is jammed. It's been jammed since last week.

3:08 There's a piece of lint on the desk. One can see the lint better if one regards it at an angle of 90 degrees. I regard it at 90 degrees. The lint is green. It reminds me of your sweater, your sweater reminds me of the sea, the sea reminds me of everything.

3:09 The clock burns; time glows, a white circle. I've seen jellyfish trailing tentacles like living strings. They're translucent, effervescent, beautiful, but I'm pretty sure they sting. This poison is ancient. It supersedes you and me.

3:10 The back of my neck is itchy.

Judge's Comment: Allen Ginsberg, in a poetry workshop, once told us that poetry is the perpetual asking and answering of the question "What is my condition?" This poem enacts that working definition moment by moment through a carefully braided series of time-stamped observations. The compulsive narrator of Jill A. Coyle's "In ten minutes, everything" is both attentive to and distracted by haptic minutiae, which determines her staccato sentences. Each logged minute ratchets up her anxiety level.

That ratcheting is dramatic. In early lines, the lip biting and itchy tag raise the possibility of trauma, which the cut heel confirms at the 3:04 mark. Her unraveling clothing, needing constant adjusting, sets a frayed psychological tone, which is explained at 3:08 when the second character is mentioned. The causal power that this other person has over the narrator is frightening—sweater lint instantly telescopes into the vast sea, and then into "everything." Yikes.

The poem's sole memory, of poisonous jellyfish tentacles, affords the narrator some way to re-center herself, but the final line suggests that this 10-minute sampling of thought is cyclic. And the most harrowing thing about the poem is how mundane the cycle seems to be. —Chris Vitiello

Jill A. Coyle - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

Contestants in the Indy poetry contest will sometimes include a wild card among their entries. This year, Jill A. Coyle found that the judges had been impressed by her dark-horse inclusion, "In Ten Minutes, Everything."

"It was experimental," she admits. "I was just playing around and making associations. The style and topic are unusual for me, and I wrote it indoors. Usually I write outdoors. I also use nature imagery—though I got nature imagery in there at the end, with the jellyfish."

The 37-year-old Pennsylvania native came to the area in 1996, and she now lives in Cary. Coyle earned a Ph.D. in classical literature from Duke, and this semester she's returned to school to work on a different course of literary studies: a master's program at N.C. State to study the connections between the classics and modern literature.

Did her poem come from an experience at work? "It did," she says. "I like to keep a notepad with me and I try to find 10 minutes [every day] to write in it."

Her contemporary influences include the modern contemporary poet David Lee ("He was the poet laureate of Utah a few years back. I love his stuff.") and former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins.

Other than a period of publishing ambition in middle school, Coyle has kept her poetry confined as a private pursuit for most of her life. But two years ago, she started submitting her poems for publication. Thus far, her work as appeared in Avocet, a New York-based journal of nature poetry; Main Street Rag of Charlotte and Blueline, a publication out of the Adirondacks. —David Fellerath

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