2017 Fall Contest Winner: 3rd Place, Traditional Form–Villanelle

Imagining Mrs. R who died at 114, according to her obituary       


My husband died in 1963.

He sold insurance (auto, fire, life).

Before we met I taught geometry,


nursed ginger ales in Newark speakeasies.

Bent-elbowed friends recruited me to drive.

My husband died in 1963,


his second heart attack, and Kennedy

was shot. The black convertible, as if a knife,

bisected Dallas sky. I’d taught geometry,


chalked arcs and angles, spheres and symmetry,

but axioms dissolved when I became a wife.

My husband’s death in 1963


did little to resuscitate the free-

thinker I’d been. Arthritis would arrive

before too long. I’d loved geometry,


and Chaplin’s silent films, Rudy Vallee.

I knew each verse by heart: “As Time Goes By.”

My husband died in 1963.

Before we met I loved geometry.


Judge’s comments

To prepare, I read villanelles by Bishop, Dunn, Kees, and Levertov. Then I looked in the 34 poems in this category for the traditional (19 lines, consistent syllable count, rhyme scheme) elements, plus intriguing choice of subject, image, diction, enjambment, and other characteristics of outstanding poems. A challenge; a pleasure.


“Imagining Mrs. R who died at 114, according to her obituary,” a 10-syllable-line villanelle, dares to rhyme a date (“1963”) with “geometry.” It subtly traces an imagined life in which the conceit of geometry tracks personal and political life/loss, including the loss of the narrator’s call to mathematics as a consequence of marriage. The restrained tone echoes the apparent impersonality of an obituary.


Kathleen McClung is the author of Almost the Rowboat (Finishing Line Press, 2013) and her poems appear in Mezzo Cammin, Unsplendid, Atlanta Review, Ekphrasis, West Trestle Review, A Bird Black as the Sun: California Poets on Crows and Ravens, Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace, and elsewhere. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, she was the winner of the Rita Dove Poetry Prize and finalist for the Morton Marr, Elinor Benedict, Margaret Reid, and 49th Parallel poetry prizes. She lives in San Francisco. www.kathleenmcclung.com

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