2nd Singapore Poetry Contest – Third Prize Winner

I’m Supposed to Teach
by Sara Backer


the meaning of redundancy.
For example:

They went skydiving in mid-air.
Where else could you skydive?

I ask anticipating laughter,
receiving silent stares.

My students are somber.
A shy hand half-rises.

You can skydive in Singapore
over pure white sand.

Another hand. You could skydive
in the black spaces between stars.

Now, hands rise
by the handful.

Into a vast vat of chocolate.
Above the pyramids.

Through the Pope’s heart!
In Stephen Hawking’s brain!

The grasp I offer falls too short
of what they want to reach.


Judge’s comment: The theme–a teacher learning a humbling lesson from her charges–is not particularly original, but the execution of the theme is particularly well done. Lists are not easy to write, and this one, beginning with a non-obvious reference to Singapore (no orchids or merlion, thank goodness!), has variety, pattern, and momentum. The pun on ‘handful” is a nice touch and sets up the conclusion beautifully.


Photo 52








A former world-wanderer who has lived in Japan and Costa Rica, Sara Backer returned to her native New England where she teaches composition part-time at UMass Lowell. Her chapbook, Bicycle Lotus, won the 2015 Turtle Island Poetry Award. Poems have recently appeared in Gargoyle, So to Speak, Marathon Literary Review, Silver Blade, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. Follow her online publications on Twitter @BackerSara or sarabacker.com.

About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

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