July's Poetry Contest Winner: Portrait of My Family as a Pack of Cigarettes

Posted by Cybil on July 02, 2018


Every month, Goodreads and the ¡POETRY! group host a poetry contest. It's a great way to discover and support the work of emerging poets. Join the ¡POETRY! group where you can vote to select the winning poem each month from among the finalists. Aspiring poets can also submit a poem for consideration.

Congratulations to Melissa Stein, who is our July winner with this poem:

Portrait of My Family as a Pack of Cigarettes

by Melissa Stein

I’d barter your life
for a brief orange
flame & a lungful

of peace. My whole family
was like that, tobacco-
stained, curling

a little at the edges.
Singed. Whenever
the wind rose, a few

blew away, easy
as an exhale, & we let go
in the way one does

with paper, smoke.
Until the box lay
empty, on its side,

in some dump. Now & then
cold hands would
fumble it, in hope.




Comments Showing 1-48 of 48 (48 new)

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message 1: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana love this


message 2: by Maya (new)

Maya Enjoyed the direct hit


message 3: by Chang (new)

Chang Garcia Love it too.


message 4: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Congratulations Melissa


message 5: by MundiNova (new)

MundiNova Thanks for reminding me I should read more poetry. Anyone have any suggestions on good collections of poetry?


message 6: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl Really enjoyed this poem, well done! It has inspired me to pick up one of my poetry books and have a read again. Thank you


❄Elsa Frost❄ Wonderer wrote: "Poetry is dying.
Fewer than 7% of
the country read it in 2012

Down from 17%
in 1992
Why is poetry dying?

I can't imagine."


Actually, according to a recent statistic, it has slightly increased in the U.S. since 2012. Check here: https://psmag.com/education/why-are-m....


❄Elsa Frost❄ I think this is a pretty good poem selected from this contest. Excellent! I hope Melissa Stein will write and publish more.


message 9: by Vivian (new)

Vivian This poem really reminds me of the interactive story-telling game "What Remains of Edith Finch" on PS4. Beautiful game and beautiful poem.


message 10: by Paula (new)

Paula Briggs Wonderer wrote: "Poetry is dying.
Fewer than 7% of
the country read it in 2012

Down from 17%
in 1992
Why is poetry dying?

I can't imagine."



message 11: by Paula (new)

Paula Briggs Mary Oliver, Naomi Shahib Nye


message 12: by Dawn (new)

Dawn Enthusiastically agree on Mary Oliver and Naomi Shihab Nye, and I'd add Billy Collins.


message 13: by Eli(sa) ❤ (new)

Eli(sa) ❤ Vivian wrote: "This poem really reminds me of the interactive story-telling game "What Remains of Edith Finch" on PS4. Beautiful game and beautiful poem."

Sorry just had to say that yes! I'm obsessed with that game.


message 14: by Heather (new)

Heather Well done! So artful in evoking mood


message 15: by Gregory (new)

Gregory  Hunt No.


message 16: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Poetry is about emotion. If you don't like poetry that doesn't rhyme, then don't read it. But you don't have to cut down something that other people enjoy. That says a lot about you, not the poetry in question.


message 17: by Ward (new)

Ward Howarth ::yes::


message 18: by Joanne (new)

Joanne Cindy wrote: "Poetry is about emotion. If you don't like poetry that doesn't rhyme, then don't read it. But you don't have to cut down something that other people enjoy. That says a lot about you, not the poetry..."

Please don’t cut down “Wonderer”s comment... I quite enjoyed it.


message 19: by Hari (new)

Hari Brandl My favorite poets are Edgar Lee Masters and Elizabeth Bishop. I'm not up to date on modern poets. Not yet...


message 20: by ❄Elsa Frost❄ (last edited Jul 03, 2018 09:17AM) (new)

❄Elsa Frost❄ Cindy wrote: "Poetry is about emotion. If you don't like poetry that doesn't rhyme, then don't read it. But you don't have to cut down something that other people enjoy. That says a lot about you, not the poetry..."

It sounded to me like Wonderer wasn't cutting down anyone who likes rhyming poetry. Wonderer was just stating their opinion on poetry. Whether any of us agree or not is just--again--an opinion on poetry. We're all allowed to have opinions on rhyming poetry, whether we think it's the best poetry around or not. If you want to contribute and state why rhyming poetry is better/best or not, you're more than welcome to.

EDIT: Wonderer also stated some facts above about poetry book sales, so it wasn't just opinion. Wonderer talked about how "popular" poetry books are based on facts about book sales.


message 21: by ❄Elsa Frost❄ (new)

❄Elsa Frost❄ Wonderer wrote: "❄Elsa Frost❄ wrote: "Actually, according to a recent statistic, it has slightly increased in the U.S. since 2012. Check here: https://psmag.com/education/why-are-m...."

Thanks for the link. So I w..."


Yeah, the book sales are definitely determined (so far) by very small numbers, in part because we still have a fairly low number of people engaged in poetry. But there's also another reason why we don't necessarily see books selling as high as the new data seems to show: Slam Poetry. There has been a growth of engagement with slam poetry and it's showing through YouTube videos, increased venues for slam poetry, and more. So while they may not be selling books, they have been publishing or showcasing their work through other methods. The data seems to include this in the mix of reasons why there has been a growth in poetry.

Personally, I tend to prefer non-rhyming poetry. I read a lot of modern poets and have found some gems, just as I have found some poetry I already despise. Some of my favorite poets include Danez Smith (my most favorite poet), Tracy K. Smith, Joy Harjo, and Topaz Winters. I think it's possible to find favorites among modern poets, but I think it can end up being a long journey just trying to find them. I never really discovered these favorites until several years after I had begun my journey of seriously reading poetry.


message 22: by Holly (new)

Holly Walrath Lovely poem! Will there be an August contest?


message 23: by Breslin (new)

Breslin White Holly wrote: "Lovely poem! Will there be an August contest?"

Yes. There is a contest each month.


message 24: by Evers☯n (new)

Evers☯n Like last month, and the month before that, etc., this 'Poem' is a pile of letters that equates to nothing! I just read it, and I can't recall one word!


message 25: by Evers☯n (new)

Evers☯n Wonderer wrote: "Rudyard Kipling. He tells stories in verse that actually rhyme. No obscurity or pretentiousness."
Because he had what is known as writing skill and talent!


message 26: by Evers☯n (last edited Jul 29, 2018 08:17PM) (new)

Evers☯n Wonderer wrote: "❄Elsa Frost❄ wrote: "Actually, according to a recent statistic, it has slightly increased in the U.S. since 2012. Check here: https://psmag.com/education/why-are-m...."

Thanks for the link. So I w..."


I believe stuff like this is popular because of the times we live in. It's like returning to ancient Greece when philosophers said things like 'Call no man happy who is not dead'!
Rap, and rap culture bear a good deal of blame for the degradation of modern western society and the concept of poetry by its masses!


message 27: by Evers☯n (last edited Jul 29, 2018 08:17PM) (new)

Evers☯n Cindy wrote: "Poetry is about emotion. If you don't like poetry that doesn't rhyme, then don't read it. But you don't have to cut down something that other people enjoy. That says a lot about you, not the poetry..."

Like it or not, some of us are here to add our opinions. And our opinions of this 'poem' may not be popular with you or anyone else. Nevertheless, our opinions are still going to be written!


message 28: by Evers☯n (new)

Evers☯n The most humorous part of this incredibly lousy pile of words is that some of you are praising it like it was written by Shakespeare. Sure, everyone has an opinion, and there are some of us who appreciate islands wrapped in plastic sheets! Such is the lunacy of our times!


message 29: by Evers☯n (last edited Jul 10, 2018 08:59AM) (new)

Evers☯n MundiNova wrote: "Thanks for reminding me I should read more poetry. Anyone have any suggestions on good collections of poetry?"
I'm sure there's a lot of good poetry out there, but you won't find any of it via Goodreads or written by any of the members of this so called poetry club!


message 30: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Kendrick I loved this poem. How much it says in a few words about the author's family. Obviously, "crap," like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Everyone's entitled to their own taste, but I try to keep an open mind, & I don't think that's a bad idea for us all.


message 31: by Russell (new)

Russell Howen If poetry is dying, perhaps it is because we older people were raised on poems with rhythm and rhyme, of which there is very little written today.


message 32: by Evers☯n (new)

Evers☯n Russell wrote: "If poetry is dying, perhaps it is because we older people were raised on poems with rhythm and rhyme, of which there is very little written today."
There are at least a couple I can think of who still write good, rhythmical poetry, but you won't find any of them here or on tumblr. That's for certain!


message 33: by Evers☯n (new)

Evers☯n During the course of the last two Goodreads Poetry 'contests' I ran across at least two or three very well written, rhythmical poems. I cannot recall the authors, or the titles. But I know for sure that none of them even made it into the finals.
I've said this before, and here I go again: This is not a true poetry contest. It is a meeting of like-minded individuals who appreciate one, and only one style of poetic-like writing. The three judges and the group's moderator all share the same type of 'Look at me, I've been formally educated in poetry' style. I believe the correct category for their 'style' would be 'dadaist', a style which I find lacking in any structure and rhythm; and a style which I believe any 3rd grader should be able to pull off with little or no problem.
Sorry folks, but it actually takes talent to write good poetry. And, though there are some talented authors who've entered this 'contest', their poems never seem to appeal to the judges. This is what I like to refer to as biased judging - and a reason why I do not consider this a real contest.
That's all!


message 34: by Saarah (new)

Saarah Niña Wonderer- I share your opinion generally, most poems these days are too cryptic and short for my taste. So, I wanted to suggest that you also try spoken word poems. I enjoy them myself, they're a little more artistic and obvious in connecting to an audience which I quite like. These can be found on Youtube and are very passionate and engaging.


message 35: by Jan (new)

Jan Well done, Melissa!


message 36: by Saarah (new)

Saarah Niña Hey, just be glad that the classic works like Frost, Angelou and Kipling are timeless by nature- I certainly am!

Personally, I'm not as fussed about style- all I ask for is something of substance and meaning, perhaps a story told... When I vote in these competitions, that's what I go for. Or, I opt to not vote. I missed the deadline this time.


message 37: by Saba (new)

Saba Idris I like the conceit. Family as a pack of cigaettes... Who knew?

I also like the factual, insensitive sort of sadness that gives an impression of objectivity and aloofness with such a personal topic as of ones own family.


message 38: by Evers☯n (last edited Jul 11, 2018 05:49AM) (new)

Evers☯n The Problem With Bad Poetry: It's simple, while bad poetry can be applauded by those who write it, more often than not it is laughed at or ignored completely by the masses. And, because there is so much of it out there, it keeps most of those who actually appreciate poetry away. In other words, bad poetry only gives the genre a bad reputation. Personally, I could care less about how many 4 and 5 star reviews I see here and on Amazon affixed to the books of Rupi Kaur and r.h. Sin. Their 'poetry' is popular tripe. Why is it popular? Because 'Everyone else is reading it', therefore it must be good. I don't believe most of the reviews on Goodreads at all, and I am inclined to believe only a slightly higher percentage on Amazon. Regardless of their efforts to prevent 'fake reviews' ScAmazon is filled with them!


message 39: by Becky (new)

Becky Congratulations! Nicely done. Poetry is such a great way of communicatingg. My favorite collection (other than Rod McKuenn from waaay back) is James Kavanaugh "Winter Has Lasted Too Long", for MundiNova.


message 40: by Afiya (new)

Afiya Khan My favourite so far.


message 41: by Russell (new)

Russell Howen For Everson: I wrote my first poem when I was in 3rd grade. It was for a safety contest. When I went with my father to pick up the $2.00 prize, I felt badly because the sponsor intimated I had not written. While in my twenties, I wrote a poem for our small town weekly newspaper over a four and a half year period. Most were about events in our hometown, such as the undefeated 8th grade basketball team.


message 42: by Poppy (last edited Jul 30, 2018 05:52AM) (new)

Poppy What is bad poetry? de gustibus, methinks. For me, bad poetry is any poem that seeks to confuse, irritate, confound me or makes me
have to work to understand its meaning. There is a lot of it about these days. But if the poem is a mystery, because it is meant to be, who is equipped to be its judge? No one.

As to rhyme, why not? It is rhythm personified, which makes the poem easy to remember, easy to quote, easy to like. Any form which draws my eye to the page, is likely to be quick to absorb, That doesn't make any rhyming poem a good poem, but the form, at least, invites the reader in.

That said, a good poem, in my estimation, is one that expresses an idea in a fresh way. It needs to be familiar enough to capture my attention, but new enough to make me respond to its truth. I am not very interested in poetry that is self-indulgent, or poetry that is contrived, or poetry that insults my intelligence by being amorphous and at the same time, dense.

I would love to hear other POVs regarding the definition of A GOOD POEM.


message 43: by Russell (new)

Russell Howen Well said, Poppy.


message 44: by Saarah (new)

Saarah Niña I'm with you, Poppy. I like the hidden messages that a poem's style may signify but usually that stuff is lost on me.

For me, a good poem is something that helps you make sense of something, or has you feeling something or recalling a memory. It doesn't try to be profound, just meaningful.

I especially like poems that give lessons or tell a story in an original way.

And, I agree that poems that seek to irritate and confuse are quite dull. If I don't understand, I'll skip. Though I love something original that makes you think of something in a new way.


message 45: by Saarah (last edited Jul 30, 2018 02:05PM) (new)

Saarah Niña Everson- Based on your first example, I think you'll enjoy the poetry collection 'You're Not Going Out Like That!' By Paul Cookson.

I still refer to it from time to time. It's incredibly funny.

Edit: Only one person seems to have reviewed it on Goodreads. And just one star. Strange for a book published in 2003.


message 46: by Saarah (new)

Saarah Niña Happy to share:) I've made a note of your recommendation also- going to see if my library has a copy.


message 47: by Evers☯n (new)

Evers☯n I've noticed that there is no particular date set when the voting for this monthly contest begins, or when the contest itself ends! Am I missing something?


message 48: by Saarah (new)

Saarah Niña I noticed the same thing- this month's voting is a little late. Usually it happens towards the end of the previous month (23rd and onwards) but there are no set dates.

I don't know why, but maybe this time there's been a greater influx of entries? This time, also, there were more comments in the entry section which isn't allowed ;)


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